Category Archives: Fortresses

Amdo Art China Fortresses Qinghai Tibet

The Buddha and the Gods of War, pt. 1: The Many Foundings of gNyan Thog Fort

(Part 1 of three, click to jump to Part 2 and Part 3).

gnyan thog panorama small

Above: The south-east gate of the southern fort of gNyan Thog, and a panorama of gNyan Thog village and monastery from the temple hill north of the village.

The village of gNyan Thog (ch. Nian Du Hu 年都乎, 35.533816, 102.021554) is located just south of Rongwo town in the valley of Rebgong, northern Amdo, or Chinese Qinghai 青海. There are perhaps fifteen hundred or two thousand people living there. Originally there were two little fortresses there, both of which survive now partially, and a new town spreading outside them. There’s also a large Tibetan-Buddhist monastery, nestled at the foot of a hill with a temple on top. The houses there are made of mud with flat roofs, packed in tightly so that one can step easily from the roof of one house to the next, gazing down into pleasant little courtyards.

Like the Rebgong valley generally, the people of gNyan Thog are a strange mix of things. Officially they are Monguor/Tu Nationality 土族; the Tibetans call them Dor Do or Dor sDe, although some say this is pejorative. At home they speak a language which is Mongolic but heavily interlaced with Tibetan and Chinese. This language is shared with a few other villages scattered down the valley, “Red Gate” sGo dMar (ch. Guo Ma Ri 郭麻日), “New Channel” rKa gSar (ch. Ga Sha Ri 尕沙日), and “Tuo Family [Fort]” Tho Gya (ch. Bao An 保安/Tuo Jia Tun 脫家屯). Everyone in gNyan Thog also speaks fluent Amdo-dialect Tibetan and this is their main written language. gNyan Thog people can pass perfectly for Tibetans and intermarry with them freely. Nowadays everyone in gNyan Thog also knows Chinese, and the language was spoken by some there in the past as well.

For a village of its size, gNyan Thog has attracted a decent amount of scholarly attention. There’s at least two articles on the place in English, notably by scholars lCags Mo Tshe Ring, Gerald Roche, and Kevin Stuart. In Tibetan and Chinese there is a whole literature on gNyan Thog, including two recently-published books. This partially has to do with the fact that a large block of educated and intelligent people in northern Tibet are products of the Rebgong school system and therefore writing short articles on villages in that valley has become a cottage industry among the unemployably literate class of Amdo. It also has to do with the fact that gNyan Thog is just an interesting place. It’s a fortress-village with its own language, an unknown ethnogenesis, a unique and very lively village ritual system, a large monastery, all sorts of artistic production (many of the inhabitants work in the Thangka-painting trade), and a number of sources speaking to its history.

I got interested in gNyan Thog because it’s one of the few village fortresses in Amdo which (a) still exists or can be easily reconstructed, and (b) more importantly, has multiple, detailed written sources pertaining to its creation, and (c), also has a remarkable amount of pre-Cultural Revolution art surviving within the village. For this reason I’ve made a series of trips there. The first was alone and on a lark in the summer of 2011 while walking, when just by chance I got invited to the town kLu Rol ceremony. The more recent two trips were with a more series research motive. Incidentally they were also in extremely good intellectual company. In spring of 2016 I went to gNyan Thog and sGo dMAr with Anna Sehnalova, a Tibetologist of Charles University and Oxford and expert on Amdowa Religion, and later that summer I visited gNyan Thog and Bao’an/Tho Gya with Hannah Theaker, a Ming-Qing history of the north-west, also from Oxford.

A map of gNyan Thog village is below, compiled by myself and Anna. Presently existing houses and fences are colored BLACK. I’ve outlined the now-destroyed routes of the walls in GRAY, as well as a few rough contour lines to indicate the location of slopes and hills. dMag dPon Khang “General’s Houses” are put in RED. Buddhist institutions are set in BLUE. These include the buildings of the large gNyan Thog Monastery, a sNgags Khang “Tantric Hall” for the rNying Ma practitioners of the village, and several Ma Ṇi Khang “Mani-Wheel Houses”, little shrine rooms with prayer wheels inside. The buildings within gNyan Thog Monastery which are not actually chapels (i.e. mainly monks’ residences) are outlined in blue and colored black. Click on the image to view the full-size map.

  1. Go’u Mo Ri Lang Gyi dMag dPon Khang – “The General’s House of Go’u Mo Erlang”. This is located on a hilltop dominating the village to the north. From left to right, the shrine contains images of Bya Khyung, A Mye rMa Chen, Go’u Mo Ri Lang in the center, then gNyan Chen, and dGra ‘Dul. 
  2. rMa Chen sPom Ra’i dMag dPon Khang – “The General’s House of the Great sPom Ra of the Region rMa”. This is located on a raised platform which straddles the northern gate of the fort, which leads under and out to the west. There is a large statue of rMa Chen in the center, a smaller statue in a palanquin on the left, and a statue dGra ‘Dul dBang Phyug. 
  3. gNyan Chen Thang Lha’i dMag dPon Khang – “The General’s House of the Great gNyan, God of the Plains”. On the upper story of what appears to be a renovated village house. We were not able to get inside of this one and thus don’t know precisely which gods are worshiped therein. 
  4. A Mye Bya Khyung Gyi dMag dPon Khang – “The General’s House of Grandfather Garuda”. Also on the upper story of a house, looking down towards the south-eastern gate. In the shrine, on the left is A Mye Dar rGya, in the middle is Ge Sar, and on the right is A Mye Bya Khyung. 
  5. [gNyan Thog Monastery] Tshogs Chen – “Great Assembly Hall”
  6. [gNyan Thog Monastery] Byams Pa’i Lha Khang – “Maitreya Chapel”
  7. [gNyan Thog Monastery] sGrol Ma’i Lha Khang – “Goddess Chapel”
  8. [gNyan Thog Monastery] mGon Khang – “Protector Chapel”
  9. [gNyan Thog Monastery] Sa ‘Dzin Lha Khang – “Earth Grasping Chapel”. There are also multiple other Ma Ni Khang chapels (not numbered) along the sKor Ra route going around the monastery. There are also several other large monastery buildings including dining halls, residences, etc.
  10. sNgags Khang – “Tantric Hall”. There are two buildings here, one of which was being newly built when we visited. This is the center for the rNying Ma community in gNyan Thog. 
  11. Ma Ṇi Khang – “House of Maṇi Wheels”. A little shrine in Chinese style.
  12. Ma Ṇi Khang – “House of Maṇi Wheels”. Just within the northern gate of the fort, in a little square at the road junction. 
  13. Ma Ṇi Khang – “House of Maṇi Wheels”. This is located over the main gate leading into the southern fort from the south-east. Locals aver that the same shrine existed before the Cultural Revolution.
  14. Ma Ṇi Khang – “House of Maṇi Wheels”. Located over the main gate leading into the northern fort from the south-east.

As for when and how the forts of gNyan Thog were built and what the name of the place means, there are at least four different sets of stories. Each of these accounts can be related to a broader theme in the city legends of China and Tibet, and for this reason they’re worth laying out one by one.

I have a few sources on this. The first is a Chinese-language book called “Vicissitudes of the Commanders of the Thousand Households” 把總千戶滄桑, which is a sort of memoir and family history by the former thousand-household commander of gNyan Thog village, Sha Bo Tshe Ring (given in Chinese in his book as Xia Wu Cai Lang 夏吾才郎). The second is a Tibetan-language book called “The History of the gNyan Thog Maitreya Monastery” gNyan Thog Byams Pa gLing Gi Lo rGyus, by one bLo bZang sNyan Grags. This contains a long section detailing the original Mongol progenitors of the inhabitants of gNyan Thog and their various deeds and wives. This account is reduplicated in Chinese in Sha Bo Tshe Ring’s “Vicissitudes” and has also been translated into English by lCags Mo Tshe Ring and published as “The Origin of gNyan Thog Village and the History of Its Chieftains”.

I had hoped to gather some of the primary sources for these accounts but so far have not been entirely successful. Sha Bo Tshe Ring has recently passed away and apparently due to funerary restrictions his son was unwilling to talk to me. According to people in gNyan Thog monastery, bLo bZang sNyan Grags has fled into exile in India. From one of his friends (a scholar named bLo bZang Don Grub) I was able to retrieve one short source text, titled “A Brief Clan Genealogy of gNyan Thog” gNyan Thog Gi Rus mDzod Rags Tsam. This gives an interesting account which informs that of bLo bZang Snyan Grags and Sha Bo Tshe Ring, but is not identical to their rendition – obviously it was one of several sources which they combined and rationalized to form composite accounts. The text doesn’t date itself and bLo bZang Don Grub wasn’t sure of its provenance, but I suspect it was probably composed recently. The text is attached below if the reader is interested.

gnyan thog gi rus mdzod rags tsam page 001

As for the other sources of these accounts, we may compile a short list. bLo bZang sNyan Grags’ book has a short bibliography (!), which lists mostly rnam thar biographies of spiritual leaders but gives two sources related apparently to the history of gNyan Thog fort (as opposed to just the monastery; sNyan Grags 397-8). The first is “A Limitless and Impartial Look at the Lineages of Rebgong” (Reb Gong Rus mDzod lTa Ba mKha’ Khyab Phyogs Bral), by rGya Za’i dGe bShes (rGya Za is a place-name, but it’s hard not to translate this as “The Chinese-Eating Geshe”). The second is “The Documents of the gNyan Thog Chieftains” (gNyan Thog dPon Po’i Yig Tshang), attributed to someone with the impressive name of “A-Krong, the Tantrin and Magician” (A Krong sNgags Pa mThu Ba). Who this is I do not know.

Sha Bo Tshe Ring mentions a series of sources in the context of his account, including two Tibetan language documents which “appeared one after another in the society of the 1990s” 九十年代社會上陸續出現, titled “The Origins of the Family of the Local Commanders of gNyan Thog” 年都乎土把總族源 and “The Generations of the Local Commanders” 土把總世家傳承. I don’t know the Tibetan names of these sources; they could overlap with the ones listed by bLo bZang sNyan Grags above. Sha Bo Tshe Ring also lists secondary sources which were compiled from documents held at gNyan Thog monastery and various oral reports, including “A Historical Inquiry into the History of the Tu People of the Four Forts (Five Tun) of Reb Gong” 同仁四寨子(五屯) 土族歷史考察, “A Summary of the Generations of the Local Commanders of gNyan Thog Village in Reb Gong” 同仁年都乎土把總世家要略, “The Gaze of General and Impartial (?) Emptiness” 普空不遍(偏?)之見, which is according to him a history of the Nang So chieftains of Rong Bo Monastery, “A Introductory Gazetteer of gNyan Thog” 年都乎簡志 , and “The Monguor of the Yellow and Huangshui Rivers Region” 河湟蒙古爾 (Tshe Ring, p.40-41). These sources apparently form the bases of both his and bLo bZang sNyan Grags’ accounts. I don’t have any of these texts, although I’d rather like to get my hands on them if I could.

At some point I would like to return to collect some of these primary texts and similar accounts about other fortresses in Rebgong. For now though we can use the secondary sources to relate in a general way the stories about the creation of gNyan Thog fort. At least three of them are already available in English and they’ve all been extensively picked over in Chinese and Tibetan so this is on the whole not actually anything new, but it’s interesting to me to try to get at them in the original languages, and I don’t think anyone’s tried to compare them against the larger body of Chinese and Tibetan fortress founding legends.

1) Founding a City on the Body of a God

The first story is basically etymological. The name “gNyan Thog” can be read literally as “atop (thog) the fierce one (gnyan)”. gNyan can be an adjective meaning “fierce” and is also the name of a class of wrathful demons. The below explanation recalls the ancient Sino-Tibetan mythos of cities founded atop the bodies of deities in order to suppress aquatic spirits. The most famous examples of this are the tales of the separate foundings of Beijing and Lhasa, of which the latter instance would certainly be familiar to the inhabitants of gNyan Thog fort. Many other instances of this trope can be pointed to, mainly from China, dating back at least to the Song Dynasty.

mkhas pa kha cig gis gnyan thog ni gser chen gzhung mdo’i phyogs thams cad nas ‘bab pa’i chu mig klu gnyan gnas pa’i steng du chags pas na de ltar grags zer la / yul dbus kyi gnyan thog gi sde nas mched par ‘dod ces yul dbus nas byung bar bshed ba’ang yod / a rol rin po che’i gsung las / che btsan gnyan gsum ‘dzoms pa’i thog ma’i sde zhes gsungs /

“Some scholars say that all of the fountains which flow down from the confluence at Middle Great-Gold are the domain of a fierce Naga (gnyan klu). gNyan Thog village was built on top of this, and hence it got the name. There is also the saying that they came from a village called gNyan Thog in Central Tibet. A Rol Rinpoche’s works have a section, “The Village Founded Upon the Great, the Powerful, and the Fierce”.

gNyan Thog Byams Pa gLing Gi Lo rGyus, p. 16

A Rol Rinpoche is a reincarnated lama (sprul sku) line from the White-Cliff Monkey-Fort monastery (Brag dKar sPrel rDzong) in rTsi Gor Thang county. I’ve not been able to track down this reference, although I hope find out in the future. One villager that I talked to opined that this passage refers to a small spring which is located in the gullies beneath the fort, now nestled in between new apartment blocks. This is the spring in which the men of the village and the images of the gods are washed during the kLu Rol and Wutu ceremonies.

2) Black-Clad Warriors, Daoist Thunder Magic, and Chinese Geomancy

The second account is elaborated at length in multiple sources. Although the chief protagonists of the foundation myth are all Mongol (hor), it is my view that this story can be read as being strongly Chinese in its themes. For one thing, the tale repeatedly credits its miracles to “Chinese Daoist knowledge” (rgya nag ta’o ca’o rig pa). The Mongols learn their war magic from Daoist adepts. Daoist geomancers divine the best spots for constructing forts, and only a Celestial Master of the Zhang lineage in Central China is able to understand the “heavenly letters” (eight Chinese characters) that portend the flourishing of the gNyan Thog chieftains. Further, the whole tale recalls the 16th century religious systems of the Xuan-Da north of Beijing, in which a black-robed Daoist martial thunder deity (The Perfected Warrior, Zhen Wu 真武) is the tutelary god of the fortress, invariably situated on an artificial mound built on the northern side of the fort. In gNyan Thog’s case, the main ancestors of the village are Mongol warlords who have mastered Daoist thunder magic and are associated with the color black. The foundation of gNyan Thog village in all accounts is symbolized by the creation of an offering pit and a temple to the gods of place (gzhi bdag lha khang) on the “rear mountain” (gyab ri) to the north of the village, the site of the present Erlang Temple.

The most detailed version of the story is given in “The History of gNyan Thog Manjushri Monastery”. Although it is reproduced in several other accounts. According to these stories, the original progenitor of the people of gNyan Thog was a Mongol chieftain named Black-Horse Hor Dor (rTa Nag Hor Dor), who was enfeoffed in the 1260s with a chunk of land somewhere on the Yellow River banks in Amdo. According to bLo bZang sNyan Grags, Black-Horse Hor Dor and especially his son Hor Tho Lung were powerful Daoist adepts.

hor se chen rgyal po la med du mi rung ba’i dmag dpon chen mo hor tho lung zer ba de nyid ni rgya nag da’o ca’o chos lugs pa’i slob brgyud nas gnam lcags thog ‘bebs kyi gdam ngag thob ste rlung ‘gugs byes nas gnam sa kha rdeb pa lta bu dang / ral gri’i kha nas me sbar ba / chu bo gyen du ‘dren pa / sku stod phyu chen nag po dgra ‘joms ber nag ring mo gyon pa / sku smad du me rlung ‘khrul ‘khor bcu gsum gyi brgyan pa’i smad gos dmar po rlung gi phur ma gyon pa ‘di la /

“At the time of the death of Khubilai Khan (AD 1294), an evil general named Hor Tho Lung studied the arts of China’s Daoist religion. He attained the oral instructions for the spell called “Iron-Sky Thunder (thog)”. By controlling the winds he could beat the sky against the earth. He could shoot fire from his sword and instruct water to run uphill. On his upper body he wore a great black chuba which was a long enemy subduing robe. On his lower body he wore a red lower robe which was the vessel of the winds, adorned with thirteen magic circles of fire and wind.”

gNyan Thog Byams Pa gLing Gi Lo rGyud, p.16-17

By force of his magic powers, this Mongol general formed an encampment at a ford called the Good Place of Using Boats (sa bzang gru spyod) on the Yellow River in the Amdo highlands. This became known as the Encampment (sgar) or Fortress (mkhar) of the Thunder Fierce One (gnyan thog) and was the first incarnation of gNyan Thog village. After Black-Horse Hor Dor’s death, the tribes under his command split up. A portion moved to the grasslands of present-day rGan Gya north of La Brang Monastery.

As to the historicity of any of this, there’s some circumstantial correspondences. A character named Black-Horse Hor Dor appears elsewhere in Tibetan histories – he is the leader of the first Mongol expedition to Tibet, which famously sacked Rwa sGreng Monastery in 1240. The name is usually give in Mongol as Doorda Darkhan, although I’m not sure in what other sources he appears (Gardner). We might point to this as one possible origin for the Tibetan name for the people of gNyan Thog, “Dor Do”. This in any case is the standard Tibetan reference for this name; I need to look deeper into it.

Just because nobody seems to have said this, it should be noted that there was a second and actually better-attested general who fought under the early Mongol Khans, also called Black Horse (ch. Hei Ma 黑馬). He was so named after a black foal born to the family’s white mare at the time of his birth. His father Liu Bolin 劉柏林 was a Chinese subject of the Jin who defected to the Genghis, and his son Black Horse was raised as a soldier in the Mongol armies. Black Horse fought in all parts of China under four Mongol emperors, and serving notably towards the end of his life (d. 1262) in the conquest of Sichuan and the governance of the city of Chengdu. He had twelve sons, of whom the Yuan Histories give biographies of two. Presumably as a mark of their Mongol loyalties and identities, Black Horses’ sons chose not to adopt their father’s surname Liu 劉 but instead to take on as a new surname the name of the Mongol dynasty, Yuan 元, eg. Tibetan Hor. The Yuan History notes that one of Black Horse’s grandsons, Yuan Wei 元緯, fought in the famous sieges of the Fishers’ Fort and, after his father’s death in 1281, became a military governor 宣慰司 of the Western Circuit of Sichuan 四川西道, eg., Kham and south-eastern Amdo. (Yuan Histories, Exemplary Accounts, 36 11-17 元史列傳三十六11-17, see Sturgeon, Donald.) We can also point that Du Shi’s AD 1280 account of the upper route of the Yellow River records that soldiers and officials, presumably Mongols, were stationed near the Yellow River bank somewhere in the riverine plains around modern mDzod dGe rDzong. Du Shi refers to this place with a Mongol name, Ha La Bie Li Chi Er 哈剌別里赤兒. (Ha La in Du Shi’s transliteration is usually Mongol Shar “yellow”, probably referring to the Yellow River.) Could this have been the Good Place of Using Boats?

de yang sras tha chung ‘di rab byung lnga ba’i bgrang bya nyer gcig pa me phag lor ‘khrungs shing / dgung lo nyer gsum pa rab byung lnga ba’i bgrang bya zhe gsum pa sa bya lor / sa bzang gru spyod sgang nas gnas gzhir spor te mdo smad bsang chu dang dgu chu zhes pa’i bar na / gser chen gzhung shes grags pa’i nye ‘gram na / sa ming la la ri dang dge ri zhes pa’i sa de gnyis kyi ‘dris mdo nas gnas gzhi bzung ste mkhar bskor ba la sngon ltar mkhar ming la gnyan po’i skar thog ces ‘bod cing kho tsho’i sde ming la yang gnyan thog gi sde dang gnyan thog gi mkhar zhes zer / sa bzang gru spyod rab ka la sngon ltar gnyan thog skar dang gnyan thog mkhar shul zhes grags so //

“The youngest son [of Hor Tho Lung, named O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun] was born in the twenty first year of the fifth sixty year cycle, or the fire pig year. In the earth bird year, or the forty third year of the fifth yearly cycle, he was twenty three years old. In this year, they moved from the place called the Good Land of Using Boats to near the place known as Middle Great-Gold, which is in mDo sMad between the gSang River and the dGu River. At the confluence of the rivers of the places which were named La Mountain and dGe Mountain, they began a new settlement and built [lit. encircled] a fortress. Originally this fortress was called the Thunder [thog] Fortress of the Fierce [gnyan] Ones. Their village was also called the Village of the Thunder Fierce Ones [gnyan thog] or the Fortress of the Thunder Fierce Ones. The original Good Land of Using Boats was then known as the Encampment of the Thunder Fierce Ones or the Ruins of the Fortress of the Thunder Fierce Ones.”

gNyan Thog Byams Pa gLing Gi Lo rGyus, p.20-21

There are in fact the remains of at least two fortresses on the plains of rGan Gya. One is a ruin in square Chinese style which Bian Qiang in “A History of Fortifications in Gansu” calls in Chinese “The One Lord Fort” 一公城. He also provides a transliteration for the Tibetan name, the Si Mao Fort 斯矛古城, but I’m not sure what the Tibetan meaning is. Bian Qiang claims that this fort was a Song Dynasty trading post built during the reign of Gusiluo 唃厮啰 (11th century AD). The second fort is the better known “Swastika Fort” g.Yung Drung mKhar / ch. “Eight-Corner Fort” 八角城, an unusual fortification in the shape of a cross surrounded by a circular ring of moats and moat walls. Whether either of these is the fort supposedly built by O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun and his tribe I don’t know. In any case, the Mongols remained at this location for about forty years and then moved once again:

dus der sa dpyad rig pa la mkhas pa’i ta’o ca’o chos lugs pa zhig gnyan thog to’u pa tsi’i mdon du phebs nas sa ‘di khod tsho’i mi rgyud mang po ‘phel ba’i gnas ma yin par reb gong gser mo ljongs su gnas bsang po mi phyugs longs spyod ‘phel ba’i sa zhig yod pas / khyod tshos sa der gnas gzhi spor na mi nor longs spyod ‘phel bar nges zhes lung bstan pa ltar sde ‘di’i khyim nyung shos shig da lta’i rgan gya […] nas bsdad pa la gnyan thog ‘brog zer zhing / sde ‘di’i mang shos ni hor o chi go bu me thu me lun dgung lo re drug pa rab byung drug pa’i bgrang bya nyer drug pa chu ‘brug (spyi lo 1352) lor reb gong gser ljongs yul gyi dgu chu sngon mo’i byang phyogs bse chu’i mdor gzhi bsung bas […] reb gong gser mo ljongs su hor rgyal khab chen mo’i dmag dpon chen po dor rta nag po’i rgyud dang rgya bod kyi btsun mo gnyan du bsdebs pa’i mi rgyud las reb gong gnyan thog zhes su grags pa’i sde ‘di chags so //

“At this time, a geomancer (sa dpyad rig pa) who was wise in the Daoist religion came before the head of gNyan Thog and said, ‘This place is not one in which your descendants will propagate greatly. In the Golden Land of Rebgong there is a good place, at which your men, herds, and wealth will increase. If you establish a settlement at this place, it is certain that your riches and people will grow.’ For this reason a minority of families who remained at rGan Gya now are called the Nomadic gNyan Thog. […] In the year that Hor O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun was sixty six, which was the twenty sixth year of the sixth sixty year cycle, or the water dragon year (AD 1352), the majority of the tribe moved to the Golden Land of Rebgong. They established their base in front of the dGu River on the north side and on the lower side of the bSe River. […] Thus in the Golden Land of Rebgong the descendants of the general of the great kingly house of the Mongols Black-Horse [Hor] Dor, mixed with Tibetan and Chinese wives. Their line became known as Rebgong gNyan Thog, and in this way the village was established.

de nas tho’i pa tsi o chi go bu me thu me lun dgung lo brgyad ju bzhes dus rmi lam du rgya mi’i cha byad mthong ba tsam gyis dngangs skrag skyes ba’i mi gsum yong nas nged gsum las gcig gis khed kyi mi rgyud la zhabs zhu yag po byed rgyu yin zer nas ko’i phyag gi ral gri ‘od ‘phro ba zhig to’i pa tsi’i snying khar shugs kyis btsugs pas / khong shin tu skrag nas gnyid las bslangs skabs kho’i dbu sngas su rdo leb gru bzhi ba zhig gi steng du gnam yig yig ‘bru brgyad gsal bor babs ‘dug pa la sus kyang klog mi shes pa de la mi yig gsal bor byas nas bris te rgya nag tu ‘kher te / ta’o ca’o pa’i slob dbon chen mo krang co hrin la gzigs rtog zhus skabs / yi ge ‘di lung bstan gyi yi ge yin pas gter du sbas shig dang de’i don phal cher ‘di ltar yin te /

gnas mchog ‘di ru sdod nus na /  / bskal ba mtha’ la ma stongs bar / /
skes bu grangs med dpon du ‘gyur / / shes rig bod kyi rgyan du ‘gyur / /
longs spyod ‘dzad med lhun gyis ‘grub / / mi la lha yi rgyab rten yod / /
dpon la rgyal bo’i cho lo ‘byung / / kun la bde skyid phun sum tshogs / /

zhes gsal bor bris te gnang zhing /

“After this, when the chieftain O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun was eighty years old, in a dream he saw three men dressed as Chinese. As soon as he saw them he was greatly afraid. The three men approached him and said, ‘we three have one task – we will do your descendants great service.’ Then one of them stabbed the chieftain through the heart with a beam of light from a sword in his hand, and with great fright O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun awoke. Upon his pillow he found a square stone upon which clearly appeared eight syllables in heavenly letters. However, nobody could read them, so in order to find someone who could understand these letters O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun brought this stone to China. There he asked the great Daoist master Krang Co Hrin [Perhaps Zhang Zhaocheng 张昭成?] to look at the stone. The master said, ‘These letters are a prophecy, which are a hidden treasure. The meaning is no doubt this:

If you dwell in the power of this holy place / The limits of your kalpas will not be exhausted /
Your numberless sons will become chiefs / And their wisdom will be the ornament of Tibet /
You will accumulate inexhaustible wealth / And your people will have the support of the gods /
The chieftains will achieve rank from kings / And everyone will achieve happiness and abundance /

In this way the Daoist master gave a clear explanation.

lung bstan gyi yi ge de hor rgyal drug pa chen po ye sun the mur la phul skabs / rgyal pos gnam yig rdo babs ma la gzigs pas / rdo yig de skyon gyis ma gos pa byas nas sa der gter du sbas nas gzhi brtan por gnas na / bdag gong ma’i bka’ yig las lhag pa yin zhes gsung nas / bka’ yig gser bris phyag bstar ma’i cho lo gnang bas / gnyan thog dpon tho’u pa tsi o chi go bu me thu me lun gyis gnam yig rdo babs ma de gong ma’i bka’ ltar gnyan thog sde ba’i rgyab ri’i steng gzhi bdag lha khang bzhengs te / de’i mdun ngos su ri zur gsum hom khung ‘dra ba’i steng du gter du sbas / de nas hor gnyan thog tho’u pa tsi o chi go bu me thu me lun dgong lo gya brgyad pa (spyi lo 1408) la ‘das so /

“These prophetic characters were shown to the sixth Mongol emperor, Yesün Temür (r.1323-1328, sic). When the king saw these heavenly letters which had fallen on a stone, he said “These stone letters are not tainted by any flaw. Hidden there as a treasure, it is a place which can form a firm foundation. This is greater than any decree of myself, the emperor.” Thereupon he gave the chieftain a decree written in his own hand in golden ink granting him a title. Then the chieftain of gNyan Thog O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun according to the order of the emperor and with the heavenly letters fallen on a stone erected a temple to the gods of the place on the hill behind gNyan Thog village. Then he placed the stone as a treasure in something which looked like a triangular offering pit in front of the temple. Then the chieftain of gNyan Thog village O Chi Go Bu Me Thu Me Lun, at the age of one hundred and eight, passed away.”

gNyan Thog Byams Pa gLing Gi Lo rGyus, p.21-23

The “Brief Clan Genealogy of gNyan Thog” gives a slightly different version of this story, which we can summarize briefly. Chenggis Khan has four generals, each of which is skilled in a different art. Black-Horse Hor Dor is one of these who has the ability of Daoist thunder magic (mthu). His descendants use this magic to unite the Mongols, Tibetans, and Chinese who live between the Yellow and the Yangzi rivers in Amdo. After some time they move to Rebgong. There they construct a settlement, and for divine assistance they erect palace of the gods and a triangular offering pit on the peak of the rear hill behind the town (gzhi bzung ste khong gi bsten pa’i grogs byed kyi lha’i pho brang gi zur gsum hom khung lha bu’i rgyab ri’i sna kha nas bzhengs pas /). This dual creation of the town and the temple of the gods of the place on the northern hill signifies the establishment of the village.

This account may or may not represent an accurate genealogy of the gNyan Thog chieftains. However, returning to the interpretation given at the start, we may postulate that the mythic interpretation in these accounts (Daoism, black-clad thunder mages, Chinese geomancy and divine intervention in village foundation) draws strongly on the themes of mid-Ming Chinese fortress legends. This makes some sense: in the next section we will see that the mid to late Ming was historically a time of fortress building and Han immigration in Rebgong.

There are also some nice if recent drawings of the twelve Mongol-Manchu warriors of Erlang / Ri Lang drawn on either side of the gate of his temple on the hill above gNyan Thog. This is the spot where the original offering pit and the temple to the god of the place were set at the mythical foundation of the village. With the central god Erlang in the temple itself, the figures make thirteen soldiers.

ri lang lha khang








Finally, the whole story seems to be reflected in village ritual. Below are scenes from the 2011 kLu Rol festival in gNyan Thog, in which the God-Descender (lha babs) shaman Rin Chen dByams is possessed by the god Er Lang on the “rear peak” (rgyab ri) and leads a procession carrying the god’s image down to the spring beneath the village. The image and the devotees are washed in the spring, and then the palanquin is processed through the streets of the village to the households of three hereditary leaders, ultimately arriving at the household of the Tu Ba Zong chieftains who are the descendants of Black Horse Hor Dor. Here it rests for three days before being returned to its temple. The chieftain at the time the below photo was taken was Sha Bo Tshe Ring, the author of one of the book which forms one main source on gNyan Thog history. He has since passed away and his son has assumed the position of symbolic village head.

Above: The Shaman Rin Chen dByams on the street in gNyan Thog fort.

Above: Er Lang’s palanquin entering Sha Bo Tshe Ring’s house.

Above: A narrow street within gNyan Thog fort.

So here we have a very nice set of correspondences. The story connects the Monghuor inhabitants of the village to the ancient Mongol empire, and, written in Tibetan, it also points to the larger body of Daoist and folk religion legends about fortress building current in late imperial China. It accounts for the creation of the village space in a way that has cosmological echoes – the recognition of an “axis mundi” at the “rear mountain” symbolically allows the village to take root. The story is represented in village art in a manner that points to a particular ethnic value system – the fierce depictions of Manchu-Mongol war chiefs on the walls of the Er Lang/Ri Lang temple recall the martial ideals of the inhabitants’ Mongol ancestors. Finally, the story and the spatial/social structures created by it are reproduced annually in village ritual – the god descends to a particular villager, who processes the deity’s image down from the “Rear Hill”, through the space of the fort, and into the home of the village chieftains who are this tale’s inheritors.

3) Ming Military Farms, Han Colonists, and the Imperial City Temples

The next account is not technically a story of the building of gNyan Thog fort, but nevertheless it is an account of fortress building which is located within gNyan Thog fort and involves its inhabitants. The story comes from an stele located outside the Earth-Subduing Chapel (sa ‘dzin lha khang, more about this later) of the gNyan Thog monastery, and relates the efforts of the chieftain of the fort, Wang Tingyi 王廷儀, to fortify the valley and specifically to reconstruct the fortress of Protecting-Peace 保安堡 / Tuo Family Military Farm (ch. Tuo [Jia] Tun 脫[家]屯, tb. Tho Gya). The stele bears the title “Stele of the Great Ming Dynasty” 大明碑, but the date is illegible, except for the last two characters …八年 “eighth year”. (This is according to the transcriptions, of which see below; no date is visible to me.) Sha Bo Tshe Ring notes that the events recorded in the stele took place in the second year of the Wanli Reign or 1574 – this is attested both by the “Gazetteer of Xunhua” 循化志 and by a stone tablet bearing this date which was found when the walls of that fort were demolished in the 1950s. He also points out that the wording of the stele seems to imply that its hero, Wang Tingyi, was dead at the time of writing. So we can put the date of the erection of the commemorative stele sometime between 1580 (eg., the eighth year of the Wanli Reign 萬里八年) and the end of the dynasty in 1636, with the added caveat that it be a year with a regnal period ending in eight.

The text of the stele itself presents a problem. The face of the stone is severely worn, with the bottom half of each line now essentially illegible. I have the text of two transcriptions, one of which was posted on a placard next to the stele itself and another of which appears in Sha Bo Tshe Ring’s book (52). Both of these transcriptions seem to have been made at a time when considerably more of the stele was legible, and one or the other of them seems to have relied upon the other, but they differ from each other in a number of places, and they also differ from the legible sections of the original stele. Most of these differences are minor, with the exception of one line which seems to have been skipped over entirely by the original copier. I have tried to reconstruct a composite version here, relying on the original stele when possible, adding in information from the transcriptions as necessary, and correcting mistakes in the transcriptions as I could (eg. 寧河武順王 for 寧何武順王, etc.). The language is sometimes difficult and the frequent breaks make the meaning in some sections difficult to interpret. In any case the general story and tone is clear enough.

In the previous narrative, while the Mongols were treated somewhat fearfully, they were nevertheless recognized as the ancestors of the village and therefore the protagonists of the founding narrative. This is not the case in the Great Ming Dynasty stele, in which they represent the un-named antagonists. In 1559 Altan Khan (1507–1582), chieftain of the Tümed and for the better part of the sixteenth century the great northern nemesis of the Ming Dynasty, raided into Qinghai. Altan Khan’s son Bingtu 丙兔 seized the region around Qinghai Lake, while his grand-nephew Bintu 賓兔 occupied the smaller but extremely strategic grasslands of Pine Mountain 松山. In 1570 Altan Khan raided into Qinghai a second time (Qing Hai Tong Shi, 287). Later on in 1598 the Ming were able to dislodge the Mongols from the pastureland around Pine Mountain and erected a fort and long walls there, thus cutting off the route between Qinghai and Mongolia, but Bingtu’s branch of the Tümed remained on the shores of Kokonor until the 19th century. Later in the seventeenth century other Mongol groups would follow. We can infer that the arrival of several tens of thousands of heavily armed warriors with their flocks and families on the pasture-lands of northern Tibet had an effect – beyond the Mongols themselves, the sudden conquest must have caused ripples of population displacement across Amdo. This is clearly felt in the gNyan Thog stele. Although the exact enemies remain unclear, it is clear from the text that there is unrest among the highland peoples, and the villages of Rebgong no longer feel safe. While the text never mentions the Mongols by name, it does once use the word lu 虜 “captives”, “wretches”, which in Ming dynasty sources frequently refers to the Mongols; I’ve translated it “barbarians” below. I’ve also conventionally translated the word fan 番 as “Tibetan” throughout the text, but in truth the word can refer to any of the plateau peoples of western China, including probably the gNyan Thog Monguor themselves. The text is as follows:

“In the region of Protecting-Peace which is located beyond the borders of River Prefecture of West-of-the-Long-River Commandery, forts were built, officials were installed, and military rations were increased. The man who achieved this, Wang Tingyi, gave succor to the Tibetans, achieved great deeds, and assisted the officials. For this reason we have truthfully recorded this with a worshiping stele:”

蓋聞西域之土羌之地乃唐世以來開創故得恢復中夏而逐遐慶矣 / 自我太祖高皇帝龍飛遺衛國公諡寧河武順王鄭公征崑崙從達河 / 海撫夷以邊馬忠靡[ ]不貢[ ][ ][ ]
“It is said that the lands of the local barbarians in the Western Regions were opened up from the period of the Tang Dynasty. Therefore the distant lands rejoice that they have now been restored to China. After our Great-Ancestor Emperor took his Dragon Flight (i.e., since Zhu Yuanzhang declared the Ming Dynasty in AD 1368), he sent out the Nation-Protecting Lord, also called the Pacifies-the-Yellow-River Makes-Obedient-by-Arms King, Lord Zheng (Zheng Yu 鄭愈, 1337-1377). Lord Zheng conquered the Kunlun and reached the [source of the] Yellow River and Qinghai Lake. He gave succor to the barbarians, and with horses on the border he scattered the [ ] who did not give tribute [ ][ ][ ].”

服以是[ ][ ]豢養之恩而番族從兹孚信者何可勝計也夫保安 / 者為三秦之咽喉挾九邊之鼎峙[ ] / 地東[ ]邊多[ ][ ]西接討來歸德南鄰捏工莽剌北抵果木黃河然而番部[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
“In service of this [ ][ ] nurturing benevolence and because of this from the tribes of the Tibetans those who served and had faith in him were beyond count. Therefore the region of Protecting-Peace is the throat of the Three Lands of Qin, and it holds up one leg of the tripod of the Nine Borders of the Empire. In the east of this land [ ] on the border there are many [ ][ ]. To the west it reaches to the Tao Lai River and Gui De, while to the south it borders on Nie Gong (Reb Gong?) and Mang La (Mang Ra?). To the north it reaches Guo Mu and the Yellow River. Therefore the regions of the barbarians [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]”

桀番無時(??)[ ][ ]已故是地無官守防無軍所恃如彼中廷儀向為屯首即心懷赤忠漢番皆並推益以 / 是倡義率眾並咨 / 各部院道築堡曰保安設官曰防禦並于計吳脫李四寨選士五百名均之以月餉河營協防兵一 / 百名加之以口糧在斯地比昔稱雖更□往時有加焉繼而招愆期荷 / 參台李公以廷儀撫番[ ][ ]創始[ ][ ]總理通?[ ]又蒙
“The fierce Tibetans at no time (??) [ ][ ] to the end. Therefore this place had no officials appointed and no military stationed here to rely on. In the midst of this, Wang Tingyi became head of the military farm (tun 屯). His heart held bravery and loyalty, and he wished that the Han and the Tibetans should unite together to work for benefit. For this reason he made a proposal for a righteous work and led the masses. He proposed to various bureaus, departments, and routes that fortresses should be built. He asked that Protecting-Peace have an official appointed and be defended. He also told the four forts of Ji (gNyan Thog) Wu (Seng Ge gZhong), Tuo (Tho Gya), and Li (rKa gSar and sGo dMar) that they should choose five hundred soldiers and give them a monthly ration. One hundred soldiers from the River Prefecture (Hezhou) Cooperative-Defense Army should be given additional grain. In this place this was more than the original amount, although it was increased [ ] in the past, it was also added to (?). As the plans continued they became delayed. He Cantai, and Lord Li, with Wang Tingyi gave succor to the Tibetans [ ][ ] and created [ ][ ][ ] the president, which reached to (?) [ ] and could also be inherited (?).”

協守河州付總兵周公以[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]委之以該堡中軍則鈴制漢番而地方頗為得人至如[ ][ ] / 逼臨虜穴無資戰守逐捐集[ ][ ][ ]民[ ]不頌戴如此在廷儀恩信馭之于番撫摩[ ][ ][ ]功 / 之不可盡述勞之不可盡[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]廷儀高士[ ]求隱逸不復出漢番(?)思[ ][ ][ ] / 俱接踵而至再三懇求欲為廷儀[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]其他向時廷儀勤于王事[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] / 來求雖不能文傳以述其往跡以示[ ][ ][ ][ ]其功耶故立石篆記云
“The vice head of the military at the cooperative garrison of River Prefecture, Lord Zhou, used [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] delegated it, in order that the military within this fort could govern both the Han and the Tibetans. Therefore many people arrived at this place, as [ ][ ]. As the place pressed closely to the lairs of the barbarians (lu) and there was not the resources to hold it in battle, therefore they gathered together money [ ][ ][ ][ ] the people [ ] did not praise it. In this situation, Wang Tingyi benevolently urged them to offer succor to the Tibetans [ ][ ][ ]. His achievements cannot be fully described, nor can his labors be fully [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] the great gentleman Wang Tingyi [ ] they all fled and hid, and did not emerge again. The Chinese and the Tibetans both thought [ ][ ][ ]. They all put their feet to the road and arrived in that place in redoubled numbers. They honestly wished for Wang Tingyi to [ ] [ ][ ][ ][ ] other than these. In previous times Wang Tingyi had labored at the affairs of lords [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] …arrived begging that although it could not be recorded by writing, in order to describe the traces of his works, in order to display [ ][ ][ ][ ] his deeds, therefore this stele text was erected as a record.”

欽差總督陝三邊軍務兵部左侍郎叶 / 欽差巡撫陝西都察兼院兼左付都禦史賈 / 欽差巡撫陝西川湖等處理檢查巡史李 / 欽差整臨鞏兵備道兼陝西按察史劉 / 欽差協守陝西臨河等處地方付總兵周

[The below titles are extremely approximate and elide details in many cases.]

“Appointed-By-The-Emperor Left Assistant to the Superintendent of the Soldiers’ Bureau Responsible for the Military Affairs of the Three Borders of Shaanxi, Surnamed Ye

Appointed-By-The-Emperor Mobile Capital Censor of Shaanxi Province, Surnamed Jia

Appointed-By-The-Emperor Mobile Inspector of Shanxi, Sichuan, and Huguang etc., surnamed Li

Appointed-By-The-Emperor Inspector of Shaanxi in Charge Of Strengthening the Military and Provisioning the Roads, surnamed Liu

Appointed-By-The-Emperor Cooperative Vice Comptroller of Soldiers for Places in Shaanxi Along the River, surnamed Zhou”

欽依保安堡築堡防禦蘭州衛指揮事張繼武 / 欽依保安堡防禦守備蘭州衛指揮事夏光裕 / 欽差保安堡防禦守備河州衛指揮事脫九勒镌 / 河州付將營把總河州實授百戶晚生何尚德頓首拜撰 / 本堡臨造刊篆糧房薛英邵希[ ]王天裕 / 督工防軍宋祥 / 總小旗劉[ ][ ]馬[ ][ ]馬[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] / [ ][ ][ ]郭關[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] / 劉[ ][ ]何七巴張大牙俞棠劉[ ][ ] / 馬[ ][ ]馬[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] / [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]張且把 / 上李寨總旗馬束李章他李棠李[ ][ ] / 南土木匠巴不如牙石匠馬巴落馬六禾 / 鐵匠吳屯王加保李屯[ ][ ][ ] / [ ][ ][ ][ ]八年八月朔日立石畫匠梁大智

“Depending-On-The-Emperor Protecting-Peace Fort Fortress Construction Defending Lan Prefecture Commandery Controlling Officer Zhang Jiwu

Depending-On-The-Emperor Protecting-Peace Fort Defense Preparation Lan Prefecture Commandery Controlling Officer Xia Guangyu

Depending-On-The-Emperor Protecting-Peace-Fort Defense Preparation River Prefecture Commandery Controlling Officer Tuojiu Lejuan

Written with head bowed respectfully to the floor by River Prefecture Vice-General and Commander of the Garrisons Hezhou Leader of a Hundred Households, the Late-Born Monk surnamed De

Fortress Engraver (?) Ciying Zhaoxi (tb. Tshe Ring bKra Shis?) of the granary [ ] …Wang Tianyu

Work Overseer of the Defensive Force Song Xiang

Small-Banner Leader Liu [ ][ ] Ma [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

[ ][ ][ ] Guo Guan [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

Liu [ ][ ], He Seven and Eight, Big-Tooth Zhang, Yu Tang, Liu [ ][ ]

Ma [ ][ ] Ma [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ][ ] Zhang Qieba

Upper Li Fort Banner Commanders Ma Shu, Li Zhangta, Li Tang, Li [ ][ ]

Southern Earth-and-Wood Craftsman Babu Ruya, the Right Craftsmen Ma Baluo and Ma Liuhe

Metalworker Wang Jiabao of Wutun Village and Li Fort [ ][ ][ ]

[ ][ ][ ][ ] eighth year, the first day of the eighth month we erected this stele, by the stone mason and painter Liang Dazhi.”

The basic narrative here is clear. Rebgong has been a strategic part of China since the Tang dynasty. Chinese armies entered the valley again at the start of the Ming (the late 14th century). Nevertheless at the present time (1574) the valley has found itself “beyond the passes” and without government troops protecting it. The highlands are in chaos and the military farm villages are exposed to raids. Wang Tingyi, the presumably Monguor head of the Ji Military Farm (eg., gNyan Thog), cherishes both the Chinese and the various non-Tibetan peoples. For this reason he decides to raise up a garrison and petition the authorities for more defensive troops. To do this he enlists a multi-ethnic cast which is given mostly Chinese names, but which also seems to include Muslims, Tibetans, and other groups. Wang Tingyi is so effective in this program of fortress building and military strengthening that the “fierce Tibetans” do not dare attack and many immigrants arrive to live in his new fortresses. The long-standing result is the creation of a Chinese-style walled administrative center in Rebgong – Protecting Peace / Tuo Military Farm 保安堡/脫家屯/Tho Gya. This settlement was and remains the main Han Chinese settlement in the Rebgong valley; until the 1950s it contained the entire adminstrative and symbolic apparatus of high-Ming Chinese governance.

I’ve appended a tentative map of the walled area of Protecting-Peace here. Myself and Hannah Theaker spent a good part of a day questioning villagers about the locations and identities of various structures here, but we were not always able to get clear answers. Particularly the associations of the two opera stages seem unclear to me, as well as the existence or non-existence of an articulated temple tower such as that found in nearby Gui De 貴德. The largest temple complex in the village, the Temple of the God of Walls and Moats 城隍廟, was razed entirely in the fifties or sixties and locals seemed to have only vague memories of what it contained, although villagers did note that the main god inside it sat on a high platform. There was also a Tower of the God of Literature 文昌閣 over the inner northern gate, and a small shrine to the God of the Earth 土地神 at the far eastern corner of the walls. Any, all, or none of these things may have constituted the fortress’ temple tower. The areas of both barbicans have been heavily altered and for the northern one I’ve more or less just filled in some houses in gray to give an idea of how it probably looked.

  1. 戲台 Opera Stage: Not sure of direction or related temple; it’s possible that it originally faced down the length of the fort to the Temple to Lord Guan at the other end, but this is speculative.
  2. 文昌閣 Tower to the God of Literature: This stood on a high pavilion over the gatehouse.
  3. 燕王廟 King Yama Temple: This is the original attribution of this structure. At present the plaque “Temple of the God of Walls and Moats” 城隍廟 has been placed on the outside. Inside there is an image of 地藏 Kṣitigarbha and some other small Buddhist images.
  4. 城隍廟 Temple of the God of Walls and Moats: This was the largest temple complex in the village; it is now completely gone and the space is occupied by the town middle school. We questioned various locals about this structure but got vague reports. The main god was named Imperial Grandfather 皇爺 (隍爺?) and sat on a high platform. There was also a shrine to the Empresses 娘娘 and an opera stage 戲台. 
  5. 衙門 Yamen: The old Ming- and Qing-dynasty center of government was converted into a school at the Communist takeover but has since been pleasantly restored as a museum and community gathering place.
  6. 廟宇 Shrine Room: There was a gatehouse 門樓 over the southern gate which contained idols 菩薩, but of which gods nobody remembered.
  7. 關公廟 Temple to Lord Guan: This was located within the southern barbican space. The keepers of the temple seemed adamant that it was built there in the forty sixth year of the Qianlong reign or 1781. Although they declined to present evidence, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason to disbelieve them. The shrine contains images of God of Fire 火神, Lord Guan 關公, and the Horse King 馬王.
  8. 土地廟 Temple to the God of Earth: This stood on top of the fortress wall, at the far eastern corner of the fort.

Above: The modern town of Protecting Peace / Tuo Family Military Farm (保安/Tho Gya). The photo is taken from the walls of the Iron Mountain Fort (鐵山城/lCag Ri mKhar), looking north. The old walled area is at center, while the lower Tibetan/Monguor town at the Bod sKor Monastery is at the left.

Above: The Lord Guan Temple 關公廟 in what was once the south-eastern barbican of the Protecting-Peace Fort. The remains of the inner wall are visible at top.

Above: The early Communist-era facade of the Protecting-Peace Yamen. After the prefectural seat was moved up the valley to Rongwo, the old Ming-Qing Yamen was converted into a school.

Above: The refurbished interior of the Yamen, now a small museum and community center.

None of these temples in Protecting-Peace have dates on them anymore, but as a set they’re fully consistent with the general mid-Ming accessories of a mid-sized fortress such as this. If all of these were indeed erected with the re-creation of the fort in 1574, then Wang Tingyi’s efforts represent not just a political step closer to the Chinese authorities and Chinese military protection but the introduction of an entirely new religio-spatial system into the Rebgong valley. In light of what comes next, it’s notable also that Wang Tingyi is praised for erecting a fortress to house Chinese soldiers, and for attracting presumably Chinese immigrants into the valley. We shall see below that this narrative had its discontents.

4) Sacrificing the Self to Serve the Dharma

In the final account of the building of gNyan Thog fort, we have moved from the sixteenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth. The story centers a historical chieftain of gNyan Thog fort named Wang Rab brTan 王喇夫旦, who was arrested in 1728 for usurping power in the Rebgong valley and ultimately executed. The events came immediately on the heals of the 1723 rebellion of the Mongol chieftain Lobsang Danjin (tb. bLo bZang bsTan ‘Dzin, ch. 罗卜藏丹津), whose revolt was crushed by the Qing armies with great destruction and loss of life. The war resulted in the decisive pacification of the independent Mongol Khanates of the region, the physical destruction of many of the Tibetan monasteries which had lent their support to the rebels, and the extension of direct Qing control over the previously independent or semi-independent highlands. This forms the background for the terse account below, in which the Chinese garrison in Rebgong, cut off from supplies and reinforcements by the war, turns to the chieftain of gNyan Thog fort for support. The account comes from the 1820 gazetteer of Xunhua: 


“In the seventh year [of the Yongzheng Reign, 1729], Shaanxi commander Yue Zhongqi 岳鐘琪 memorialized: I have exhaustively inspected the Protecting-Peace Fort (Bao An Bu) which belongs to River-District (He Zhou) of Western-Peace Commandery (Xi Ning Zhen). The region is isolated and located outside of the border passes. On all four sides it is surrounded by the Tibetans. In the past there was one official in charge of provisioning and one hundred and twenty soldiers, who garrisoned the place and keep the peace. The establishment of an official and soldiers was originally to quell the Tibetans. However, in accordance with the notices of requisition, the garrison conscripted soldiers on its own, and the number of local people in the garrison increased. Thus the original purpose was not completed. They raised soldiers from the Tibetan tribes in order to make up gaps in the units. This got to the point that the native commander-of-a-thousand Wang Rab brTan was able to coerce control over the garrison’s necessities. For all of the rations and all of the military appointments they relied only on themselves, and did not follow the garrison provisioning superintendent. The local Tibetan soldiers were all reinstated. Their tails were held high and would not drop (i.e., they were arrogant). Every day Wang Rab brTan indulged more of his greed and pride. Gradually he became wild and unrestrained. After this, the officials memorialized that soldiers needed to be sent to enter into his lair. Although Wang Rab brTan had his Tibetan tribesmen, they were awed and afraid of our soldiers, and Wang Rab brTan was captured. The Tibetan soldiers he had coerced into following him were not able to expand their previous crime, nor was it expedient to command as before that they draw rations from the Protecting-Peace fort. Therefore the original Tibetan soldiers were commanded to return to their [homes].”

Jiajing-Era Gazetteer of Xunhua, 27
嘉慶循化志, 27

In response to these events, Yue Zhongqi recommended that the garrison at Protecting-Peace should be increased from a hundred and twenty soldiers to two hundred, all presumably drawn from the interior. According to Sha Bo Tshe Ring, Wang Rab brTan was brought to Xining and executed (Tshe Ring, 57-58).

Even the rather hostile account here doesn’t actually accuse Wang Rab brTan of colluding with the rebels, and in fact his response to the whole thing was to provide his local garrison with food and locally levied troops in its time of need. One rather suspects that his real crime was just being a powerful local leader in the wake of a violent rebellion of minority peoples who was not ethnically Chinese. In any case the legend of the righteous chieftain unfairly executed by the Chinese spread – Sha Bo Tshe Ring notes the existence of a whole cycle of folk songs found as far north as Hualong 化隆, centering on an innocent chieftain named Ka Ji Jie Luo 卡吉傑落 who, when he is finally beheaded in Xining, bleeds pure white milk in the place of blood. And of course the legend lived on at gNyan Thog fort.

For the final account I will quote from “A Brief Clan Genealogy of gNyan Thog”, which gives an impassioned rendition of this story and its significance. Here the Gazetteer of Xunhua’s “Wang Rab brTan” has become dPal Chen sTobs rGyas “The Great Hero of Expanding Power”. In the story the chieftain’s unjust execution is tied in with the creation of gNyan Thog fort, the founding of the monastery next to it, and the general history of the Rebgong valley:

khong dgung lo nyer gcig thog rab byung bcu gnyis pa’i me byi lor rgya nang du gong ma ta’ chen rgyal rab gsum pa dang mjal te rgyal bos gnyan thog tho’u pa tsong la dmag dpon chen po pa gi tsi < yi ge brgyad > zhes cho lo gnang ste dmag mkhar bzo skrun gyi gron dngul srang stong lnga drug tsam gnang ba ‘id khyer la reb gong gser mo ljongs su dmag mi lnga brgya shong ba’i dmag mkhar gcig bskor gron dngul gyi mi ‘dang tse rgyal bos mdzod nas blangs na chog zhes zhal gsungs gang mang gnang / de nas gnyan thog dpon po tho’u pa tsong la dmag dpon gyi go gnas thob ste phyir rang yul du ‘byor nas / rab byung bcu gnyis pa’i sa glang lor gnyan thog mkhar zhes brtsigs te mkhar de’i ming la gnyan thog to’u pa tsong dmag mkhar zer bas gling gsum la gyang dang gling gcig [ ] mtha’ byas te dmag mkhar gyi ming btags te gling gcig la gron dngul gyi mi ‘dang zer bas /

“In the fire mouse year of the twelfth sixty-year cycle, [the chieftain dPal Chen sTobs rGyas] was twenty one years old. He went into inner China to meet the third emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty. The emperor granted him the rank of Great General of Eight Characters [ch. Ba Ge Zi 八個字]. He also gave him five or six thousand catties of silver for expenditure in constructing a garrison fort. The emperor said, ‘if this money is not enough to build a garrison fort in the Golden Land of Rebgong which can hold five hundred soldiers, then you may take more from the royal treasury.’ Therefore the emperor gave him as much money as possible. Thereupon the chieftain of gNyan Thog, having attained the rank of general, returned to his own land. In the earth elephant year of the twelfth sixty year cycle, he erected the gNyan Thog fort. The name of this fort was the Garrison Fort of the gNyan Thog Chieftains. On three sides there were walls and on one side there was [a cliff]. Because of this, it was also called ‘There Wasn’t Enough Money for One Side’.”

rgyal bo chen po la yar zhu phul te gong ma ta’ chin rgyal bos slar yang gnyan thog dpon po la dmag mkhar bzo skrun gyi dngul srang sum stong gnang nas dmag mkhar bzang bo zhig bskor dgos zhes gsungs te gnang / gnyan thog dpon po tho’u pa tsong ni chos la blo sems dkar ba dang / sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa’i sbyin bdag byed rgyu shin tu dad pa’i dmag mkhar bzo skrun gyi dngul lhag ma rnams gnyan thog dgon pa’i nang rten dang / phyi yi mkhar bskor te dgon pa de’i nang gi rten dang mchod rdzas rnams ‘dzoms po byung ba / phyi yis dgon pas lcags ri bzang bo bskor ba’i dgon pa de’i phyi nang kun mdzes par rgyan pa’i dgon pa zhig tu gyur ba de ni bla na ma mchis pa’i dpon po tho’u pa tsong dpal chen stobs rgyas khong gyis lus srog phangs med du gtong bar ma ‘dzems par dmag mkhar de’i gron dngul mang che ba rnams dgon pas phyogs su phul ba de gong ma ta’ chin rgyal bos gsal bor thos nas /

“After this a report was made to the emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty. The emperor said, ‘Give the chieftain of gNyan Thog another three thousand catties of silver, with which to build this garrison fort well.’ But the chieftain of gNyan Thog fort had a white heart turned to religion, and greatly wished to be a patron of the Buddhist teachings. Therefore he took this extra money for the building of a military garrison and used it on religious items for the interior of gNyan Thog monastery and a fortress wall for the exterior. Thus the sacred objects and offerings inside of the temple became abundant and the wall outside of it was erected as the Iron Mountain which encircles the earth – all within and without was adorned beautifully. After this the emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty heard clearly that the incomparable chieftain of gNyan Thog dPal Chen sTobs rGyas without regret to his life or body and without a care had given the majority of the expenditure money for the garrison fort to the monastery.”

reb gong gser mo ljongs kyi nang so la gong mas bka’ yig ‘byor te gnyan thog hor khri tsi’i dpon po tho’u pa tsong gi go gnas bzung yod pa’i skyes mchog chen po chos srid gnyis kyi bdag po dpal chen stobs rgyas ni yon tan nor bu phreng ba mgrin pa’i do shal du sprad cing dpal ‘dzangs rtul phod kyis zhwa ser bstan pa’i don la byas rjes bla na ma mtshis pa bzhag pa’i rgya nang du gong ma chen po ta’ chen rgyal bo’i sku mdun du dgung lo nga drug ste rab byung bcu gnyis pa’i lcags phag lor phebs dgos byung ste rgya nang nas gong ma’i khrims ltar rang srog shor /

“The Nang So government of the Golden Land of Rebgong received an order from the emperor. The chieftain of the Mongol fortress of gNyan Thog, who held the rank of Tu Ba Zong, that great and excellent being who was lord of both governance and religion, dPal Chen sTobs rGyas, the rosary of jewels of wisdom, his throat garlanded with necklaces, whose achievements for the teachings of the Yellow Hats are incomparable, was sent to the interior of China to the presence of the emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty. At the age of fifty six, in the iron pig year of the twelfth sixty year cycle, according to the laws of the emperor in the interior of China the chieftain lost his life.”

khong la sras gnyis yod pa’i che ba rdo rje bkra shis / chung ba ‘jam dbyangs rgya mtsho yin / rdo rje bkra shis kyis rang gi yab gi sku gdungs la bdag po rgyag par rgya nang du song ste sku gdung gdan drang nas ta ho rgya’i rdo ris khus khe rgyal mkhar nas sku gdung sa la sbas / dbu gdan drangs te gnyan thog tu yong nas rang gi pha mes dpon po rnams kyi gnas sa ru sbas / dus de nas bzung gnyan thog tho’u pa tsong dpon rab gang yin rung / gnyan thog dgon pas drin bzos ched gnyan thog tho’u pa tsong gi rgya lwa dang rgya zhwa rma bya de pho’i sgro dang / byi ru dmar po’i tog bcas mnabs (?) te dgon pa’i ser phreng gi mgor phebs srol yod /

“dPal Chen sTobs rGyas had two sons. The elder was named rDo rJe bKra Shis, while the younger was named ‘Jam dByangs rGya mTsho. rDo rJe bKra Shis went to inner China take possession of the body of his father. Having laid out a receptacle, the son buried his father’s body at the rDo Ris Khus Khe Royal Fortress of Da Ho rGya. (Perhaps ch. Da He Jia 大河家, a fortified town on the Yellow River bank. rDo Ris Khus Khe is obscure to me; conceivably rDo Ris = rDo sBis and Khus Ke = ch. Qi Tai 奇台?) The son took his father’s [severed] head to gNyan Thog, and buried it in the place of the ancestral chieftains. From this time onward, whoever held the position of the Tu Ba Zong chieftaincy, the custom existed for him to walk at the head of the line of monks at gNyan Thog monastery, wearing a Chinese robe and a Chinese hat with the feathers of a male peacock and red coral on top, all for the sake of the kindness which had been done to the monastery.”

dpon po ‘di’i sku drin la reb gong ni dmag sa chen po shig tu ma gyur ba yin / dpon po dpal chen stobs rgyas kyis rang srog phangs med tu bzhag nas / reb gong gi bde skyid la dmig nas rgya dmag reb gong phyogs su ma drangs pa dang / zhwa ser gyi bstan pa rgyas pas don la ta chin rgyal bo’i dbu bskor nas dmag mkhar ma bskor bar dgon pa’i phyogs su gong mas gnang ba’i dngul mang che ba sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa’i phyogs su btang ba’i mthar rang srog phangs med du gong ma ta chin rgyal bo’i mdun du phul te /

“By the benevolent sacrifice of this chieftain, Rebgong did not become a place with many soldiers. Because the chieftain dPal Chen sTobs rGyas laid down his own life without selfishness, for the happiness of Rebgong the Chinese soldiers were not induced to come there. For the benefit of the teaching of the Yellow Hat Sect, the Emperor did not from his inner regions create a military fortress, but instead the majority of the money given by the Emperor was sent to support the Buddha’s teachings. All this was the result of dPal Chen sTob rGyas without selfishness offering his own life before the emperor.”

dpal chen stobs rgyas kyis ta chin rgyal bo la zhu phul nang tu zhu rgyu / nga yi srog la babs pa ni rgyal bo’i khrims srol dang dmangs kyi lugs srol dang mthun no // on kyang rgyal bo chen po’i gser snyan du phul rgyu ni spyir rma chu sngon mo’i nang lung dang / sgos reb gong phyogs la dmag khral mi dgos zhes gong ma chen po sa skyong mi yis dbang bo’i sngon zhal bzhes gnang yod pa ni rgyal bo’i gsungs la ‘khrul ba med do / / dus ‘dir nges srog la babs dgos pa ni rgyal bos bka’ ni ri gzar gyi rbab rdo dang (?) mtsungs pa’i gzha’ thub med pa yin mod / on kyang sangs rgyas kyi bstan ba dang / sems can gyis bde skyid ni mi nyams gong nas gong du ‘phel bar smon lam ‘debs / nga ni skye ba nas kye ba’i bar du reb gong gser mo ljongs su sangs rgyes kyi zhal mthong ba dang / chos kyis gsung skad rna ba’i thos sar yang yang skyes par shog zhes gsungs nas rang srog blos btang /

“dPal Chen sTobs rGyas offered this request to the Emperor of the Great Qing Dynasty: “That my life should be forfeit is in accordance with Your Majesty’s laws and with the customs of the common people. The speech I melodiously offer to your golden ear is as follows: Your Majesty, the protector of the earth, previously gave a promise: ‘generally in the valleys which lay before the Yellow River or specifically in the region of Rebgong, we will not need to pay the military requisition.’ Your Majesty’s orders have no flaw. Now my life is forfeit – Your Majesty’s command is as a boulder plunging from a steep mountain, and no man can avoid it. But I pray that the Buddha’s teachings and the happiness of all sentient beings will imperishably achieve greater and greater propagation. From each birth until the next, may I be born again and again into that place of gazing upon the countenance of the Buddha and hearing in one’s ears the words of the Dharma, the Golden Realm of Rebgong!” Having said these words, he gave up his life.”

One rather suspects that the author of this had read the “Great Ming Stele” about Wang Tingyi and wrote the above story as a riposte. Wang Tingyi and dPal Chen sTob rGyas/Wang Rab brTan are mirror images of each other. Both are gNyan Thog chieftains in a time of war with the Mongols. Wang Tingyi builds a fortress for Chinese soldiers; dPal Chen sTob rGyas prevents such a fortress from being built. Wang Tingyi brings official, soldiers, and immigrants into the Rebgong valley; dPal Chen sTob rGyas sacrifices his life to keep them out. Wang Tingyi serves the emperor; dPal Chen sTob rGyas deceives the emperor and serves the Dharma instead. Wang Tingyi is associated with the Chinese religio-administrative edifice of the Protecting-Peace Fort; dPal Chen sTob rGyas built the gNyan Thog monastery. Both are lionized for their respective actions, Wang Tingyi in Chinese and dPal Chen sTob rGyas in Tibetan. It is almost as if one story was intentionally invented to negate the other. 

Even more strangely, both of their stories are found within a single small structure in gNyan Thog Monastery. The “Earth Subduing Temple” sa ‘dzin lha khang is the present location of the Great Ming Stele 大明碑. It is also the first building in gNyan Thog Monastery and it contains dPal Chen sTob rGyas/Wang Rab brTan’s image – I don’t have a photograph of this, but a small drawing of him can be found on the side-boards of the octagonal roof caisson 藻井. The walls of the Earth Subduing Temple contain images, painted at the time of the monastery’s founding, of the jātaka stories – stories which extoll the virtues of sacrificing oneself to serve the cause of righteousness. So they’re both found literally in the same small building in the monastery.

I’m going to turn to this fascinating structure in part 2, but for the moment, one last thing about the chieftains of gNyan Thog. Dotted around gNyan Thog village are four “Generals’ Houses” dmag dpon khang. One of these is the shrine to Er Lang/Ri Lang discussed above. Another is to A Mye rMa Chen, the Great Ancestor God of the rMa Region. These are the gZhi bDag “Base Lords”, “Gods of Place” of the village. Since the shrine to A Mye rMa Chen has lovely old paintings on the walls I’ve stuck them in here. They represent one more theory of space, religion, and authority, and one that is quite indigenously Tibetan – mounted warrior gods with their retinues, each located on a particular peak, each guarding the village from a different shrine.

The first set comes from the outer corridor of the rMa Chen dMag dPon Khang. The set here goes left to right. According to the elderly man who keeps the shrine and identified the deities to myself and Anna Sehnalova, these were painted in the 1940s or ’50s, but in some cases have been re-touched recently.

001 and 002 dgra lha and ge sar

Above Left: dGra Lha rTa Thug dKar Po – “The Enemy-God of the White Stallion”
Above Right: Ge Sar gLing Gyi rGyal Po – “Gesar, King of gLing”. The hero of Tibet’s famous oral epic.

003 bya khyung

Above: A Mye Bya Khyung – “Grandfather of Garuda [Mountain]”. Garuda Mountain is a prominent peak that flanks the Rebgong valley on the west.

004 rma chen 'gri gzhugs

Above: rMa Chen Khri gZhugs – “The Great Grandfather of the Yellow River, Seated on a Throne”

005 go'u mo'u ri lang

Above: Go’u Mo’u Ri Lang – “Go’u Mo’u Erlang”. Go’u Mo’u is apparently a transliteration of something in Chinese, but nobody seemed to know of what.

006 dgra dgul

Above: dGra ‘Dul – “The Suppressor of Enemies”

007 rma chen

Above: rMa Chen Khri bZhugs – “The Great Grandfather of the Yellow River, Seated on a Throne” (again)

008 gnyan chen

Above: gNyan Chen Thang Lha – The Great gNyan Demon, the God of the Plains. According to the locals, this refers not to the famous gNyan Chen Thang Lha in Central Tibet but to another mountain between gTsos and Linxia 臨夏, called in Chinese the Mountain of the Prince 太子山.

009 and 010 brag dkar and ra rdzong

Above Left: Brag dKar sPun gSum – “The Three Brothers of the White Cliffs”. The White Cliffs in question are presumably those north of Labrang.
Above Right: A Mye Ra rDzong – “Grandfather of the Goat Fort”

The below are from the interior of the shrine room. They represent the inner retinue (nang ‘khor) of A Mye rMa Chen. It was not possible to photograph all of these due to hangings covering parts of the walls, therefore I think in total two panels of the set are missing. Also the shiny finish of the wood and the bright electric light in the room made it difficult to take pictures without a glare. The figures include: four deities in each of the four directions; several un-named daughters, each mounted on birds, and one daughter who is a queen among the nāga; sons numbered one through four and six through nine, and another character named Nab sTeng gSer gZhi who may or may not be the missing fifth son. Sets of paintings displaying these deities are rare and this specific assemblage is probably unique.

small cardinal gods combined east and west

Above Left: Shar Du ‘Dzum Chen lDong Khrom – “In the East, [mounted on a] Great Dzum, the Thousand-Garrison [Leader]”

Above Right: Nub Du ‘Bri lDong dNgul Gar gShog [sic] “In the West, [mounted on a] Female-Yak, the Thousand-Gold Military Wing”

small cardinal gods combined south and north

Above Left: Byang Du gNyan Chen Thang lHA – “In the North, the Great Fierce One, the God of the Plain”

Above Right: lHor dByi Chen Rab sDe – “In the South, [mounted on a] Great Lynx, of the Best Tribe”

small sras mo 009 dbyangs can sgrol ma

small sras mo 008 illegible

small sras mo 007

small sras mo 004

Above: Sras Mo – “Daughters”

small sras mo 002 - klu rgyal ma

Above: Sras Mo / kLu rGyal Ma – “A Daughter, Queen of the Nāga”

small unclear - nab steng gser gzhi

Above: Nab sTeng gSer gZhi – “Golden Base [Lord] Upon a Nab [perhaps his mount?]”

small sras combined 001 and 002

Above Left: Sras Dang Po / bKra Shis Don Grub – “The First Son: bKra Shis Don Grub [a common Tibetan name]”

Above Right: Sras gNyis Pa [illegible] – “The Second Son: [name illegible]”

small sras combined 003 and 004

Above Left: Sras gSum Pa [illegible] – “The Third Son [name illegible]”

Above Right: Sras gZhi Ba – “The Fourth Son”

small sras combined 006 and 007

Above Left: Sras Drug Pa [illegible] – “The Sixth Son [name illegible]”

Above Right: Sras bDun Pa – “The Seventh Son”

small sras combined 008 and 009

Above Left: sras brgyad pa [illegible] – “The Eighth Son [name illegible]”

Above Right: sras dgu ba [illegible] – “The Ninth Son [name illegible]”

(Continued in Part 2)

Art China Fortresses Hebei Shanxi Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

ILLUSTRATING GROOTAERS, or, the Principle Gods of Rural Xuan-Da and their Iconographies, Part 1

[Note that this post has been broken up into four parts; click to jump to part 2, part 3, and part 4.]



zhangjiakou old pictures

Images from the Xuanhua region in the early 20th century, taken from this blog.

Willem Grootaers (1911-1999) was a reverend father in the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae, a Belgian Catholic missionary organization that operated in East Asia and especially in northern China and Mongolia. Grootaers was posted to Datong in northern Shanxi and spent over ten years there, surviving through the civil war and the Japanese invasion of the ’30s, until he was finally expelled with the rest of the CICM missionaries at the Communist victory in 1951. He was a deeply intellectual man, whose abiding scientific fascination seems to have been the spread and flow of abstract traits across geographic space – beyond the mapping of village cults discussed below, he produced some of the first serious studies of Chinese and especially Japanese dialectology.

In the mid and late-1940s, with the Chinese civil war raging around him, Grootaers set out to produce a series of studies illustrating “the geographical method applied to folklore”. What this meant essentially was that he walked to every single village in three different counties of war-torn northern China and wrote down all of the temples that he could find in each one, noting any inscriptions or other interesting information he could acquire. The surveys were published in several volumes: (1945) Les Temples Villageois de la Region au Sud de Tat’ong (Chansi Nord): Leurs Inscriptions et Leur Histoire”, (1949) “Temples and the History of Wan-Ch’uan 萬全 (South Chahar): The Geographical Method Applied to Folklore”, (1951) “Rural Temples Around Hsuan-Hua (South Chahar), Their Iconography and History”. He also published a survey of the temples of Xuanhua City, “The Sanctuaries of a North-China City: A Complete Survey of the Cultic Buildings in the City of Hsuan-Hua (Chahar)” and a brilliant study of the movement of cultural traits between Chinese villages, “The Hagiography of the Chinese God Chen-Wu: The Transmission of Rural Traditions in Chahar”. These studies represent the most complete survey we have of the religious and cultural monuments of any chunk of the Chinese countryside, anywhere in China, before the Cultural Revolution wiped it all away.

grootaers young in xuanhua

Grootaers’ survey team in 1948 Xuanhua: Left to right, William A. Grootaers 賀登崧, Li Shiyu 李世瑜, a student named Delinger, and Wang Fushi 王輔世. Image from “Sanctuaries”, p.177.

grootaers old in tokyo

Left to right Wang Fushi 王輔世, Willem Grootaers 賀登崧, and Li Shiyu 李世瑜, reunited in Tokyo 1994. Image from “Sanctuaries”, p.235. Grootaers would pass away in his home in Japan five years later.

The villages that Grootaers saw have been changed totally in the last fifty years, and nearly none of the temples that he recorded now exist. That said, there is one place where the physical and religious culture he described can still be seen. Apparently due to a policy difference in building new villages starting from the 1970s, the three counties of Yu 蔚縣, Guangling 廣靈縣, and Yangyuan 陽原縣 have preserved in a somewhat intact state the original pre-Communist form of Xuan-Da villages. I spent nearly a year in 2014 surveying villages in this area, is adjacent to and more or less culturally coterminous with the areas that Grootaers worked in. Below is a map of our respective survey areas, in which my area is marked in ORANGE and Grootaers’ area is marked in BLUE.

Xuan Da Research Areas Map (small letters)

The temples in my research area were heavily impacted by the Cultural Revolution, and have been further decimated by neglect and looting since. I’m not aware of a single religious statue which survives from before the Chinese takeover, but in some cases frescoes have made it through wholly or partially intact. From these I’ve attempted to gather together here examples which can illustrate what Grootaers was talking about. The value of these is that they exist in archaeological situ – that is, with some minor regional variation, they can be securely tied to the cultural assemblage which Grootaers describes.

It’s also my opinion that Grootaers was wrong or at least confused about a bunch of things, and that later scholars haven’t understood him particularly well. To that end I’d like to offer a brief explanatory guide to both the works of Willem Grootaers and to the Xuan-Da villages and temples he was writing about, in the hopes that future scholars using him as a source will google this and find it useful. Those who aren’t interested can just skip down to the pictures.





Making Sense of Willem Grootaers:

1) The Villages and their History


inside the southern barbican of warm-springs fort

The villages surveyed by Willem Grootaers belonged to a specific cultural assemblage which was common to the whole area north of the Taihang Shan 太行山 and Yan Shan 燕山 in northern Shanxi and Hebei provinces. This area is known as Xuan-Da 宣大, referring to the cities of Xuanhua 宣化 and Datong 大同. The rural cultural assemblage was defined first by the existence of fortress walls around each village, and second by a specific package of temples which were built into and associated with these walls. (Unfortunately, Grootaers doesn’t really differentiate which settlements he visited were walled, although it’s clear from his descriptions that almost all of them were.) For all their emphasis on mapping regional variation, Grootaers’ studies clearly demonstrate that the form of these villages and the main religious figures worshiped within them were broadly common to villages across all of the areas he surveyed.

Although particular elements of this culture have existed all across China from antiquity, the cultural assemblage that Grootaers described essentially came into existence in the late fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth century. This can be demonstrated simply enough by graphing the dates given in Grootaers’ surveys. Although Grootaers doesn’t provide a full range of all collected dates, for each different cult he gives a series of “earliest dates” found in temple epigraphy. These represent the earliest point from which he was able to establish the existence of a particular cult. The below graph represents all of these “rural” dates from the countryside of Datong, Wanquan, and Xuanhua. This omits dates from sites which Grootaers specifically notes were not villages, as well as dates from the small collection of stone dharani pillars found in Datong county. (If you want a detailed methodology, I suppose you can just email me.)

grootaers dates graph

The graph tells a fairly clear story: The religious landscape that Grootaers was describing came into existence basically out of nowhere in the second half of the fifteenth century and the first half of the sixteenth. The reason for this explosion of dates wasn’t clear to Grootaers; my research in Yu County and its surrounds can provide the answer. To make a long story short, it turns out that the villages themselves came into existence in the same period, or at least were destroyed and rebuilt en masse at this time. The below graph represents dates given on village fort gatehouses from my research area, which as we have seen in the map above lay adjacent to Grootaers areas in both the east and the west. These dates represent the year in which that particular walled village was constructed.

fortress dates from yu county

The reader will see that the two graphs match each other almost exactly. Historical records allow us to elaborate. After the Tumu Incident in 1449, the Ming dynasty gradually lost control of its northern borders and suffered repeated and destructive raids from the Mongols. Government policy during this period was to build walls – the present Great Wall system across northern China largely dates from this period. In the rural areas along the frontier, policy encouraged population consolidation and fortification. Even without this government encouragement, yearly Mongol raids made it imperative for villages to take defensive action. The result was the massive reshaping of the rural landscape over the course of roughly eighty years, and the large scale (re-)creation of villages and temples. The change was so complete that, as these graphs indicate, almost nothing remained from before the start of the fortification period.

Further, the religious culture Grootaers described physically could not have existed before the fifteenth century. These temples were built as structural and geomantic elements of the fortress, such that they could not have pre-existed it. Many of the most important cults were associated with the cardinal axis route of the fort (The Perfected Warrior 真武, the Jade Emperor 玉皇 and Avalokiteshvara 觀音), the fortress gate (Wenchang 文昌 and the Kui-Star 魁星), or crossroads within or without the fort (The God of the Five Ways 五道神). Even in cases where the temple habitually sat at some distance from the fort, the precise direction and distance from the walls could be strictly dictated by custom (The Dragon Kings 龍王). If the fortresses did not exist before 1475, then this culture of temple building could not have either, and the concurrence of the two graphs indicates that the fortresses and the temples came into existence hand in hand. Further, the epigraphy of these village temples strongly supports the idea that villagers were actively thinking about the geomantic relationship between temple and fort during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Out of the chaos of the Mongol wars in the mid-Ming, a new religious system was created in the villages of Xuan-Da. (The one important exception to this story is the existence of large Buddhist monasteries, which were often fortified in their own right and seem to have been spared the brunt of the Mongol attacks. These are the only type of structure in rural Xuan-Da which was sometimes able to persist through this period.)

So to summarize here, Grootaers’ temples belong to a very specific village culture which existed in the region along the Sino-Mongol frontier, characterized by fortified settlements and a specific set of gods worshiped in temples that were structurally connected to the fortresses. This culture came into being as result of Mongol raiding and population consolidation schemes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I would caution the reader on this basis to treat with extreme caution Grootaers’ attempts to push his geographic analysis back beyond the mid-fifteenth century. It’s also worthwhile to note here that this was a culture that tended to think spatially – these temples were intentionally set in particular relationships to the village walls and streets, often in ways that suggest interpretation. We will return to this point when we talk about the composition of the temple frescoes.

2) The Temples and the Gods


a ruined temple to the three officials outside of a fortress gate

When looking at Grootaers’ numbers it’s crucial to understand that he was not counting temples, he was counting instances of worship of a particular god. Grootaers refers to this as a “cultic unit”. The need for this term arises from the fact that in some cases a god might be worshiped in its own temple, which is known by that name to all of the villagers, and in other cases a god might be found worshiped in a lateral shrine or image in the temple officially devoted to another deity.

The “cultic unit” is actually a very useful and necessary concept, but organizing a survey on this basis also elides some extremely important differentiations. According to this method of counting, all temples are created equal. Massive Buddhist monasteries with recorded histories stretching into the Song or even Tang periods are unceremoniously lumped in with tiny one-room village shrines, simply because the deity worshiped therein is called “Buddha” 佛. Particular deities jump or dive in the ratings because of this. The God of the Five Ways 五道神, a minor deity worshiped at small crossroad shrines, is the second most important god when measured by number of “cultic units”. Meanwhile the Perfected Warrior 真武, who is worshiped on immense towers which loom over the Xuan-Da landscape even today, drops down to the sixth most important god according to this metric.

Nor does this type of tallying explain the spatial or compositional relationships between gods. To give an example, the Jade Emperor  玉皇 takes a place on a tall tower attached to the northern wall of the fort, identical to that of the Perfected Warrior. In rare cases other male gods (for instance the Three Officials 三官) can occupy this tower as well. These towers are nearly always connected with a temple to Avalokiteshvara 觀音 or the Grandmother 奶奶 at the southern end of an axial street which runs through the fort. From this we can deduce that there is a sort of meta-cult: that of a paternal, martial god who watches over the fort from a high northerly tower, axially connected to a maternal, merciful god located at the other end of the village. This particular “meta-cult” or composition of temples, when counted either by total numbers of “cultic units”, by the resources involved in building all of these structures, or by its centrality in organizing the physical space of the village, is undoubtedly the most important expression of Xuan-Da village religion. Nevertheless the reader would have to read Grootaers’ descriptions extremely closely to realize its existence.

All this is not to say that the tallying of “cultic units” isn’t useful and important, but to stress that it cannot be used as the sole or even the main metric of a given cult’s actual importance or function in Xuan-Da society. (Nor, to his credit, did Grootaers ever take it as such.)

With that said, here’s the list of Grootaers’ cults. These are compiled from the combined rural surveys of Wanquan and Xuanhua; at the time of the Datong survey Grootaers had not yet developed the idea of a “cultic unit” and thus does not give such numbers. I’ve attached a brief and extremely unscientific note as to what it seems to me that the cult was “about”; the reader should take these with a grain of salt.

  1. 龍王 The Dragon Kings: 202 units [including the Black Dragon Kings 黑龍王,  the White Dragon Kings 白龍王, the Eight Dragon Kings 八龍王, and the Dragon Kings of Wells and Springs 井泉龍王] – Granting rain, regulation of the weather, successful harvests. 
  2. 五道神 The God of the Five Ways: 197 units – Guarding travelers, guiding the souls of the dead to the underworld, the registry of events in the lives of people. 
  3. 觀音 Avalokiteshvara: 155 units – Maternal compassion, Buddhist miracle working and succor to those in need. 
  4. 馬王 The Horse King: 113 units – Care of horses, mules, and other livestock.
  5. 關公 Lord Guan: 107 units – Association with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and related folk traditions, embodiment of values such as martial strength, loyalty, etc.
  6. 真武 The Perfected Warrior: 104 units [including the Southern Perfected Warrior 南真武] – Father figure who watches over the fort from a high tower, guardian of the northern frontier against Mongol attack, center of a complex series of hagiographic tales.
  7. 河神 The River God: 72 units – Presumably regulation of irrigation and floods, although I’m not certain. Possibly synonymous with the cult of Erlang 二郎, a popular god in southern China who was known for great irrigation works.
  8. 三官 The Three Officials: 70 units – Bureaucratic Daoist deities who governed Heaven, Earth, and Water.
  9. 佛 The Buddha: 59 units – In some ways the center of two practices. In some cases the Buddha is simply another village “pusa” 菩薩 to whom incense is lit, and in other cases he is worshiped with the whole monastic and philosophical apparatus of the Buddhist religion.
  10. 胡神 The Barbarian God: 59 units – Unclear, but connected in some way with the bringing of rain and to the cult of the Dragon Kings.
  11. 文昌 Wenchang: 32 units – Ostensibly the god of Literature, although in practice this cult seems to be tied to that of the Kui-Star and be a god specifically associated with village gates. 
  12. 奶奶 The Grandmother: 27 units – The granting of children, mothership. This cult has been con-fused with that of Avalokiteshvara and also with the wives of the Jade Emperor, the Daoist deities referred to as the Empresses 娘娘.
  13. 玉皇 The Jade Emperor: 27 units – The Jade Emperor is ostensibly the head of all of the gods in the bureaucracy of heaven. In practice his cult is similar to that of the Perfected Warrior; a martial, paternal figure who sits on a tower overlooking the village.
  14. 魁星 The Kui Star: 20 units – Ostensibly astrology, in practice a sort of demon tied to the worship of Wenchang and set atop fortress gates.
  15. 地藏 Ksitigarbha: 20 units – The judgement of souls after death and the successful passage of the dead through the underworld, associated with the worship of the Ten Yamas 十閻王.
  16. 土地神 The God of the Soil: 19 units – A small god of specific localities.
  17. 大仙 The Great Saint: 17 units – According to Grootaers, the worship of fox spirits. 
  18. 火神 The Fire God: 16 units – Regulation of fire.
  19. 財神 The God of Wealth: 14 units – Accumulation of wealth. 
  20. 普明佛 The General-Enlightenment Buddha: 14 units – A recent (in Grootaers’ time) cult which involved the millenarian belief that a particular man named Li Bin 李賓 was the incarnation of Maitreya. 
  21. 玄壇 The Dark Altar: 13 units – According to Grootaers, protection against hail storms. 
  22. 蟲王 The King of Vermin: 13 units – Protection against vermin.
  23. 靈官 The Spiritual Official: 13 units – Protection against malicious geomantic influences.
  24. 彌勒佛 Maitreya: 11 units – The end of the world, and also being fat and happy, I’m not sure which variant.
  25. 山神 The Mountain Gods: 11 units – Mountains, and also the return of livestock lost there. 
  26. 三郎 The Three Youths / Sanlang: 9 units – Unclear. According to Grootaers, bringing rain, the cult of Yellow-Sheep Mountain 黃羊山, and a connection to secret societies. 
  27. 三皇 The Three Emperors: 7 units – According to Grootaers, this actually represents a confusion of two separate cults, one to the Holy Farmer 神農, Fu Xi 伏羲, and the Yellow Emperor 黃帝, and a second to the Emperor of Heaven 天皇, the Emperor of Earth 地皇, and the Emperor of Men 人皇
  28. 城隍神 The God of Walls and Moats: 7 units – A god of administratively designated cities, who holds a position in the heavenly bureaucracy analogous to that of the country magistrate on earth. Also involved in the judgement of souls after death. 
  29. 灶王 The King of the Hearth: 5 units – A hearth spirit which reports the doings of the household to the Jade Emperor, and therefore must be placated. 
  30. 達摩 Bodhidharma: 5 units – The original patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China, and the center of many legends.
  31. 三教 The Three Teachings: 4 units – Ecumenical respect for the Buddha, Confucius, and Laozi. 
  32. 韋馱 Weituo: 4 units – Guards the Dharma and Buddhist temples.
  33. 瘟神 The God of Disease: 3 units – Protects against disease. 
  34. 五穀 The Five Grains: 3 units – The god of cereals. 
  35. 三清 The Three Purities: 3 units – A trinity of philosophical Daoist deities. 
  36. 三星 The Three Stars: 2 units – The three stars are 福祿壽 “Happiness, Advancement, and Longevity”.
  37. 青苗 Green Shoots: 2 units – Apparently a harvest god.
  38. 眼光 Eye-Glow: 2 units – A Daoist goddess, according to Grootaers, worshiped in rural areas as a goddess of eyesight. 
  39. 黍神 The God of Millet: 1 unit – A harvest god.
  40. 倉官 The Granary Official: 1 unit – The god of granaries, and thus of plentiful food. 
  41. 牛王 The Ox King: 1 unit – Uncertain, possibly has some kind of tantric function due to his appearance and his association with the rite of the Great Feast of Water and Land. It’s not clear to me that this is even the correct name for the god Grootaers describes.
  42. 喜神 The God of Happiness: 1 unit – No idea, other than the name.
  43. 酒神 The God of Wine: 1 unit – No idea, other than the name.
  44. 老子 Laozi: 1 unit – The legendary founder of the Daoist religion. 
  45. 風神 The God of Wind: 1 unit – No idea, other than the name. 
  46. 北嶽 The Northern Peak: 1 unit – The worship of Mount Heng, located nearby in Shanxi province. 
  47. 譚公 Lord Tan: 1 unit – Lord Tan was a local hero who fought the Mongols in the early Ming. 

The reader will appreciate from this list that while a great number of gods might be worshiped, there was a small set which were obligatory and present in nearly every village. (Further, it could be pointed out that some gods were associated with the fort, while other gods were obligatory for the village, whether it consisted of one large fort or several smaller ones in close conurbation.) In any case, broadly speaking the sine qua non of village temples might be listed as the Dragon Kings, the Perfected Warrior, Avalokiteshvara, Lord Guan, and then a small shrine to the God of the Five Ways. Add to this an elective selection of a few more deities depending on means and inclination, and the village’s religious equipment is complete.

3) The Frescoes and their Compositions:


dragon king composition example

As noted above, rural Xuan-Da was a society which often expressed meaning through the composition of space. This was the case with the placement of temples around the village as it was with the interior accoutrement of the shrine rooms. Each temple was generally a square room with an altar on the main wall or stretching around on three walls. The walls would ideally be covered in frescoes, although some villages might have been too poor to afford this. In some cases statues would be set atop the altar with the frescoes as background, in other cases the room was devoid of statues and the images on the walls were the main object of devotion.

No religious statuary has survived the Cultural Revolution in my area, although many examples have been re-built more or less in traditional style. I also don’t have anything in particular to add to Grootaers’ comments on this subject, and so I won’t deal with the statues here. Rather, I will attempt here to define a general typology of Xuan-Da village temple frescoes. Of course there will be many exceptional cases. This typology will also need to be divided into those images found on the rear (ie. central 正) wall of the temple, upon which there is essentially only one composition, and those images found on the two lateral 側 walls of the temple, in which case we may define up to five different compositions.

We will begin with the rear wall of the temple, which faces the viewer directly as he enters:

The Front Court:



All of the rear temple walls contain essentially the same scene: the main god holds court facing the viewer. To his left and right stand civilian 文 and martial 武 attendants, palace ladies, generals, fan-and banner-bearers, and other supernatural flunkies as appropriate. The analogy to an imperial court is made clear by the throne upon which the main god sits and the hu 笏 (note-taking boards) held by the attending figures. In this case the human worshiper takes the spatial role of the supplicant approaching a king or magistrate in a palace or yamen hall. The statues which would have been commonly placed on the central altar and potentially the two lateral altars as well would only have accentuated the simile. 

We may point to one exceptional fresco on a lateral wall of a Temple to the Perfected Warrior 真武廟 which literally depicts this scene. In this case a supplicant has entered into the Palace of the Northern Polestar 北極宮, which is depicted as half-palace, half-fortress, and thrown himself upon the steps of the dais upon which the Perfected Warrior sits. Surrounding them in the court are the same collection of Primordial Generals 元帥 and palace ladies who surround the god in his depictions on the rear temple walls. (It should be noted here that the below fresco is in some sense an exception that proves a rule – it does not fall into any of our set categories below.)



A clear visual simile is being made of the rear wall of the temple as court, the god as emperor, magistrate or judge, and the worshiper as supplicant. We may also point out that the Perfected Warrior’s domain is depicted as being part fortress, and thus synonymous with the village itself. 

With respect to the compositions of the lateral walls flanking the rear one, we may define five different compositions. Of these the final two are somewhat conditional. These are numbered in rough order of commonality:

1) The Procession, or, The Pursuit of the Evil Ones: 


Grootaers uses the latter name, I prefer the former; anyway the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. In this case the gods are seen to ride out along right-hand wall of the temple and ride back along the left-hand wall, usually accompanied by their many attendants, generals, warriors, mounts, etc. Grootaers states that peasants in his areas identified this to him as 拿八怪 “catching the eight monsters”, and indeed in some cases these monsters are visible being led back in chains. 

I would, however, point out that the object of the expedition is not always the capture of demons. In the case of the Dragon Kings it can be clearly seen that the gods are involved in dispensing water on the world below, and no demons are to be seen. Another important aspect of these drawings which Grootaers does not note (although it can be seen in his photographs) are the small images of common people going about their business beneath the main scene of the gods riding around in the sky. In many cases these scenes culminate with a religious procession arriving at a recursive drawing of the very temple in which the frescoes are housed. 

To me it seems that these drawings might be better understood as depicting a homology between the gods’ motions across the heavens and the motions of their devotees on earth. (The fact that the gods move clockwise around the space of the shrine room inevitably suggests the Tibetan practice of sKor Ra or circumambulation.) I myself have attended temple festivals in Yu County in which the entire village, led by a Daoist priest, processes with banners and instruments through the space of the fort, visiting each temple in turn. This scene is immediately familiar from the frescoes in the temples. The below images are dated to 1709, and depict a religious procession arriving at a Dragon King temple, which is accurately depicted down to the ancient pine tree 松樹 outside. The last scene was witnessed by the author in the village of Northern Gate 北門子村, during a temple fair in the summer of 2014:

temple process 001

temple process 002

temple process 003

temple process 004

For these reasons I’ve chosen to refer to this composition as “The Procession”, over Grootaers term “The Pursuit of the Evil Ones”. The procession in question can refer both to the procession of the gods across the temple walls and to the earthly processions which reflect this celestial motion. This seems like a useful and interesting analytical standpoint from which to understand these images. In any case this is probably the most common composition in Xuan-Da: it is found almost universally in temple to the Dragon Kings 龍王 and less frequently in those of the God of the Five Ways 五道神, the Three Officials 三官, the Grandmother 奶奶, and others. 

2) The Panel Series:

laoye miao lefthand wall full

The Panel Series is as described, a long sequence of “comic book” style images which either tell a story or visually portray a list. Grootaers refers to this as “illustrated biographies”; I would point out that while hagiographic content does predominate with these drawings, it is far from the only topic that can be portrayed this way, and some of these series are not even narratives. In some cases the content of the drawings is identified by small cartouches; in other case the viewer is assumed to know the story already or be able to understand it from the image. Grootaers produced an excellent study of the transmission of this type of paneled hagiography in “The Hagiography of the Chinese God Chen-Wu: The Transmission of Rural Traditions in Chahar”.

I have seen Panel Series in Yu County depicting the following topics: the hagiography of the Perfected Warrior; events in the life of Guan Yu, drawn from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms; the hagiography of Sakyamuni Buddha, drawn from various sources; scenes of Avalokiteshvara working miracles, in all cases that I’ve seen drawn from the Universal Gateway 普門 section of the Lotus Sutra; scenes from the Fifty Three Stations of Sudhana 善財童子五十三參 of the Entering the Dharma Realm 入佛界品 section of the Flower Garland Sutra; scenes of the “Hundred Trades” 百工, depicting various professions. These are the common topics in Yu County at least, and they seem to match well enough what Grootaers describes. I’ve also seen isolated examples of a few others: “The Old Gentleman’s Eighty One Transformations” 老君八十一化圖, a Daoist hagiography of Laozi; one heavily damaged set apparently to do with Wenchang 文昌 the god of literature. Grootaers mentions a few other examples of Panel Series; no doubt before the Cultural Revolution many more topics existed.

3) The Martial Array:


The Martial Array is in some ways simply a continuation of the images from the rear wall “Court” onto the two lateral walls. In all cases that I’ve seen this involves the retinue of some martial god, namely the Perfected Warrior 真武 or the Jade Emperor 玉皇. In this case the “Primordial Generals” 元帥 line both lateral walls, standing in a row facing the viewer, all striking martial poses. The effect is to accentuate the metaphor of the court on the rear wall and cause it to flank the worshiper on either side, with the added suggestion of a military drill. 

It’s also worth noting that even in temples which do not have this type of frescoes, the effect would frequently be replicated by the statues set on altar-tops along all three walls. This was the case in many temples dedicated to the Perfected Warrior, in which the Panel Series hagiographies simply provided background to a Martial Array of statues. So far as I know no intact pre-Revolution examples of this survive in Xuan-Da now, but Grootaers describes the scene, and I have seen analogous ones rebuilt since. 

4) The Judgement of Souls:

dizang full wall 01

This is some sense not truly a composition but more of a topic, which can be portrayed in a variety of ways. Nevertheless the format of some of these images matches none of the other tropes and so it must be included here. In this case the presiding god sits at a table surrounded by lackeys and yamen runners and judges the cases of souls brought before him. Underneath or on the flanking walls, we see scenes of the torture of souls. Grootaers notes that this scene is commonly found in temples dedicated to Ksitigarbha 地藏, and more occasionally in temples dedicated to the God of Walls and Moats 城隍神, the God of the Five Ways 五道神, the Three Officials 三官, and others.

5) The Feast of Water and Land:

taken from 故城寺壁畫, 16-17

[image from “Gucheng Monastery Frescoes” 故城寺壁畫]

Like the previous example, this both a composition and a topic. The argument could be made that the composition is some kind of very great elaboration and combination of the Panel Series and Procession themes. Images of the Feast of Water and Land are also found almost solely in large Buddhist monastic halls, in which the space is large enough that the statues can be set in the center of the room and all four walls be given to frescoes. In this sense it’s not truly a composition native to village shrines. Nevertheless it was an extremely popular theme in north Chinese Buddhist art (I’m aware of four examples in Yu County alone, and there were undoubtedly more before the Cultural Revolution), and the scene would certainly have been familiar to all villagers. The theme dates back to at least the Yuan Dynasty in Xuan-Da, and thus pre-dates the creation of most of the villages that concern us here. 

The image is that of a ritual titled, “The Great Feast of All on Water and Land” 水陸大齋. In this ritual a priest enumerates the names of the entire canon of Buddhist and Daoist gods and ghosts, in order that they descend to receive an offering and in the process be converted by the reading of scriptures. To this end, we see all of the luminaries of the heavens, earth and seas processing clockwise around the interior of the temple, often bearing long banners that identify each group. The cast is markedly textual, in that the members of the procession seem to have been drawn from some canonical list and many of the common deities worshiped in village shrines are not to be found. I have discussed this trope at length in previous posts

A few last comments can be made about the analytical use of this categorization. Gods can be depicted as doing something, (the Procession, the Judgement of Souls); as being associated with a particular story or list (the Panel Series); or as being positioned in a particular way (the Court, and especially its extension, the Martial Array). Generally speaking, the form of the depiction follows the function of the cult. The Dragon Kings do something; each year they either do or do not ride out to dispense rain, and so they are universally depicted via the Procession. Lord Guan is important because of a story, and the values associated with that story; he is universally depicted via the Panel Series narrating this story. The Perfected Warrior is important because of his position, the high tower from which he projects his axial, paternal, martial power; therefore he commonly has a Martial Array depicted either in frescoes or in statues.

And so, having got all this background down on paper, let us turn to the frescoes themselves.

Continued in Part Two, below:

Art China Fortresses Hebei Translation Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

ILLUSTRATING GROOTAERS, or, the Principal Gods of Rural Xuan-Da and their Iconographies, Part 2

Continued from Part 1:

1) THE DRAGON KINGS  龍王 – 201 Units:

dragon king temple


Temples to the Dragon Kings are most numerous in all of Xuan-Da, and therefore I have the most and the best preserved examples from this type of temple. In Yu County, these temples universally sit outside the village walls and at some distance. The direction of the temple with respect to the fort was governed by geomantic custom, to the extent that Grootaers was in some areas able to map the boundaries of particular cultural regions as defined by the angle to the fort at which the Dragon King temple sat. The Dragon Kings were aquatic deities, and hence in semi-arid Xuan-Da, their cult was mainly involved with the regulation of rain, and with rituals to that effect.

The images below come from a temple originally built in 1566, and then renovated again in 1709. The frescoes inside date from this later reconstruction, in which the name of the artist is given as Cui Wenxin 崔文新.

“(a) The back wall: It has the image of a female divinity, properly called Shui-mu 水母, “Mother of the Water,” by whose sides stand, first, some male Lung-wang, “Dragon kings,” secondly, the gods of Thunder and Lightning, having human shapes but with the beaked face of a bird of prey; finally, behind the main image is a numerous retinue of heavenly spirits, among them the spirits of Hours, Days, Months, and Years.

Whenever the temple is big enough, the western and eastern thirds of the central wall have frescoes of quite distinct gods, namely, of those who in still larger villages would have a separate sanctuary.”

Wan-Ch’uan, p.228

I’m not certain which the lateral gods are in this spread; they don’t seem to be the ones Grootaers suggests are most common.



Below are the “Four Officials of the Amounts” 四值功曹, who regulate the lengths of hours, days, months, and years, and thus presumably the timely passage of the seasons with their rains and harvests.



Who this colorful fellow is I’m not sure.


“(b) The lateral walls of the Lung-wang temple: The theme of both lateral walls of the Lung-wang temples is “The Pursuit of the Evil Ones”, as described in chapter 2, Wu-tao temples. Only temples too poor for elaborate frescoes have nothing on their walls; 56 Lung-wang temples have those frescoes, more than half of the total number (see map 1). A few peculiarities of this kind of fresco as represented in this type of temple ought to be noted: the “Mother of Waters” does not herself participate in the expedition but is shown seated under the archway of her palace Shui-ching kung 水晶宮, the “Crystal Palace”, surrounded by her female attendants; she either greets the leaving expedition (eastern wall) or welcomes it back (western wall). The members of the expedition are very numerous; they ride on dragons when going out (eastern wall), and on horseback when returning (western wall). The upper parts of the fresco show the heavenly spirits putting in action their instruments: the Thunder spirit rolling his thunder machine, the Rainbow spirit pouring a rainbow out of his urn, and so on. In the foreground of the Crystal Palace, two small figures are standing apart from the others, wishing godspeed to the expedition or making the ceremonial salute with both hands to welcome it back: they are the Wu-tao god and the Earth god (T’u-ti); at their sides stand the tiger and the wolf, which we find in the Wu-tao temple as companions of the two gods. In the upper right-hand corner of the western wall fresco a huge hand is thrust out of the clouds, to which a small figure on horseback presents a yellow scroll. This is the Yu piao 雨表 or “Report to Heaven on the Rain” (see photograph 11).”

Wan-chuan, p.229-230

The eastern lateral wall of the temple, in which the procession rides out from the Crystal Palace. Note the small figures of farmers and traders going about their business beneath the clouds.


A great flood bearing down from the upper left corner of the scene, bearing a red sun. Daoist depictions of the creation of the world tend to bear the image of red suns rising from water, although I’m not sure what the significance is.

sun wave

The Crystal Palace, with the Mother of Waters seeing off the procession.


On the way out, the riders are human and the mounts are dragons.






The central figure of each side of the composition is a palanquin being carried by draconic bearers. The occupant of the palanquin is always invisible behind the drapes. Grootaers states (Hsuan-hua, p.35) that in some of his areas the Mother of Waters remained within the palace, and in other areas she was visible sitting in the palanquin. In this case, it seems that the painter chose a compromise by depicting her in the palace and then hiding the palanquin’s precise occupant.


A thunder-drummer.


Meteorological scalies pour down rain.


Another thunder-cymbalist.


The western lateral wall of the temple, in which the procession returns to the Crystal Palace. On this side of the composition, the dragons have changed into horses.




This is the fellow who leads the palanquin.


The thunder-drummer from the western wall, having packed up his drums after the storm and carrying them back to the Crystal Palace.


The image of the Rain Report being presented to heaven in the upper right corner of the composition is the counterpart to the red sun being borne upon a flood on the opposite wall. This hint of a higher deity elicits some excitement from Grootaers:

“In the upper right hand corner of the western wall, a huge hand is thrust out of the clouds, to which a small figure on horseback presents a yellow scroll. This is the yupiao 雨表 Report to Heaven on the Rain. (fig. 15, top center, fig. 44, top left.) […]

There is a final personage whose importance must be stressed. If we ask ourselves to whom the “Rain Report” is destined, we see it must be a god higher placed than the Dragon Kings themselves. In the general description above, we found how a huge hand comes out of the clouds to receive the report. In fact more often than not, a moon-gate is painted in the upper corner of the western wall; this gate is called nan-t’ien-men 南天門 which could mean as well “Gate of the Southern Heaven” as “Southern Gate of Heaven”; the latter is more probable. We found a couple of times this name inscribed on the gate, as f.i. at DV 95. In some cases, all in the Liu-Ho plain (Dv 87, 95, 98, 122b, 125b, 125d), the hand of the unknown god is thrust through the half open gate, instead of through the clouds. But in most cases, a young being stands in front of the gate (fig. 44, top left), clothed in a checkered dress, with white and black squares; this dress is called ba-gua-i 八卦衣 “the dress of the eight hexagrams.” This youth standing in the southern gate of heaven sometimes sends a rainbow from his hands. As a corresponding feature on the opposite wall, in these cases where the Mother of Water joins the expedition, no Palace of Crystal is shown. Its place is taken by a youthful person (the same as in the Nan-t’ien-men?) from whose hand pour forth the clouds on which the expedition rides out. This is clearly shown in fig. 16. […]

The supreme god who lives behind this door is shown twice on the frescoes of the Lung-wang temples, at Dv 122b and Dv 125d; his head only peeps through the nan-t’ien-men. He wears a round cap with a semispheric ornaments jutting out above the ears; he has a small round beard in the center of the chin and a drooping moustache. No such god was noted elsewhere in our survey.”

– Rural Temples, p. 35-36

I don’t have any pictures of the South Gate of Heaven or the deity of heaven. In Yu County, these figures are represented by the giant hand reaching down from a flood to receive the report. Here they are:



Below are the God of the Soil 土地神 and the God of the Mountains 山神. Grootaers describes these as welcoming the expedition back at the Crystal Palace. In this temple this is not quite so; in fact they stand in the lower, “human” part of the image, behind a recursive image of the temple itself, welcoming the human participants of a religious procession which has arrived with music and offerings. I’ve not put up pictures of that procession here, since Grootaers doesn’t mention it and it’s interesting enough to deserve a full post of its own.


Here is the full set of photos from this temple:

Here’s a second set, from a different temple in a similar style, undated.



2) THE GOD OF THE FIVE WAYS 五道神 – 197 Units:



The relative importance of this cult can be overstated by the numbers of temples devoted to it. Unlike the other cults, all of the temples devoted to the God of the Five Ways are extremely small, being simple shrines set at crossroads, often no more than waist height. Despite its popularity, the precise purpose of this cult seems a little obscure. Grootaers points out two uses of the temples which might explain the iconography:

“In everyday life, the Wu-tao temple is used for the announcements which in a modern state are made at the registrar’s office: births, marriages, and especially deaths are called out loudly by the head of the family in front of the Wu-tao temple.

Another role still may be ascribed to this cult, i.e., that of the protector of the roads and of the people walking on them. This is implied by the name itself of the main god, Wu tao, “Five Roads”; this is even more clearly expressed by the vertical inscriptions referring to the person of the god; we have a great number of such inscriptions; here follows one typical example:

The body covered in golden armour, he wanders on all the roads;
The hand holding the precious sword, he patrols all the directions.”

Wanch’uan, p.238

These observations on the function of this cult are corroborated by Sidney Gamble in Ding County of southern Hebei. In this county, deaths in the family were reported with incense and paper money at the Temple of the Five Ways. Importantly, in the absence of such a temple nearby, the same announcement could just be made at the nearest crossroads. (Gamble, p.387)

With respect to interiors of the temples, it’s noted that the God of the Five Ways (wu-dao) is not always the central god worshiped in the Temples of the Five Ways (wu-dao miao). That said, there is more or less a set iconography:

“(a) The images of the northern wall: The main images (see photographs 4 and 5) are: In the center, the Wu-tao shen, “God of the Five (viz. all) Roads,” a benign, white-faced and black-bearded personage (most often having a three-pronged beard), wearing a military cap and a red coat under an armour, and holding a sword; in the east, the Shan-shen  山神, “God of the Mountain,” a fierce, blue- or black-bearded person, wearing a military cap and a blue-black coat under an armour, holding a sword or a whip; in the west, the T’u-ti shen 土地神, “God of the Earth,” a smiling, white-faced and white-bearded person, dressed like a scholar, with a yellow robe, holding a fan or simply having his hands in his sleeves.”

Wanch’uan, p.234

In total honesty, the inhabitants of the village in question identified the below temple as a being to the Three Officials 三官, not to the Five Ways 五道. However, it’s fairly clear from the iconography that this is a mis-attribution. It’s also one of only two good surviving example that I’m aware of, so it’s worth putting up:



“Finally, in front of the main images, two animals, a tiger and a wolf, are attached with iron chains to a stone pillar or a rock; the tiger is normally found in the east, and the wolf in the west. Their role will become clear when we describe the lateral frescoes.”

Wanch’uan, p.235

Here are the tiger and wolf, with a little statue of what I think is The Great Scholar of the Face 面然大士 or the King of Demons 鬼王.


“(b) The frescoes on the lateral walls: […] A narrow strip of territory in the west [of Wanquan County] has one theme that we may call “The Judgement of Souls”, whereas the whole region has another theme, found uniformly everywhere, viz., “The Pursuit of the Evil Ones”.

“The Judgement of Souls” represents Ch’eng-huang 城隍, the god of the city walls (on the eastern wall), and Yen-wang 閻王, the god of Hell (on the western wall), both sitting in judgement on the souls brought to them. The first step in the judgment is the torture of the souls before Ch’eng-huang – whether as a punishment or for extracting the truth is not clear. Subsequently they pass before Yen-wang, where the souls of the just are led across a bridge over Hell’s fire.

“The Pursuit of the Evil Ones” is a very important theme in the local iconography and with some variations is found in several types of temples (see Introduction, 4.). In the Wu-tao temples, this type of fresco pictures the three main gods of the temple (Wu-tao, Shan-shen, and T’u-ti) on horseback. On the eastern wall, we see them start on a punitive expedition with a great display of wrath; they are led by the Devil and the Judge (the two auxiliary figures in front of the main wall) and accompanied by the Tiger and the Wolf. They pursue evil spirits 捉妖, or, as local people say sometimes, na pa kuai 拿八怪, “catch the eight monsters”. These monsters – there are seldom eight of them on the walls – represent the powers of evil who lead people to sin and hell; one at least has always the head of a chicken, another that of a hare (both symbols of homosexuality), sometimes serpents are amongst them.

The western wall of the temple pictures the returning expedition, the three main gods cantering back in an orderly row, bearing a satisfied expression. The Tiger and Wolf carry between their teeth some of the vanquished foes, the Devil and the Judge lead a chained procession of captives (see photographs 4 and 5).”

Wanch’uan, p.236

The left wall, in which the procession rides out.


The right wall, in which it returns.


Some details of the riders and their attendants:






The capture of the monsters:



I’ve only seen one other surviving set, which has much the same basic arrangement. The front wall shows the God of the Five Ways flanked by his attendants:

The two side walls show the same procession scene.

There’s also this mammary-headed individual, giving us a thumbs up:




A gatehouse and a small temple

guanyin miao front flags

wushisancan panorama

In both Grootaers’ areas and in Yu County, temples to Avalokiteshvara are commonly found at the southern end of the fort, facing in (north), either outside the main gate or on top of it. The cult is in some cases confused with that of the Grandmother 奶奶, another female deity associated with mercy and the bearing of children. Grootaers says of the iconography:

“The Kuan-yin temple has almost everywhere the same interior decoration. On a central throne, made of a lotus flower, sits Kuan-yin, in the feminine shape found often in Buddhist iconography. The image has here always a bonnet made of cloth and a great mantle hanging from the shoulders. The lotus throne sometimes rests on the back of a red horse. It is only in a few cases that the Kuan-yin image is a fresco painted on the central wall.

In about fifteen Kuan-yin temples, irregularly scattered over the area, Kuan-yin has her two associates, Manjushri 文殊 and Samantabhadra 普雨 [sic], whose names are unknown to the people; those images are also sitting on lotus thrones, one resting on top of an elephant (western image), the other on top of a green lion (eastern image). This type of triple image was never found in painting. […]

The ceiling of the Kuan-yin temple disappears sometimes under a canopy of clouds, from which a multitude of heavenly spirits look down; among them and nearest to the main images, we find often the dove-like bird with a rosary in its bill that is a common companion of Kuan-yin.”

Wan-chuan, p.242-3

guanyin miao front

With respect to the lateral walls:

“On both sides of the temple, the 18 Arhat or Lo-han 羅漢 are disposed in two rows, either as images standing on the floor or as painted frescoes. Behind or above the Lo-hans a row of panels on the wall represents miracles wrought by Kuan-yin in favor of the people who invoke her: a drowning man is shown rescued out of the water by the hand of Kuan-yin thrust from the clouds; robbers attacking a traveler are driven off by her, and so on; the number of miracles represented is ordinarily 12 or 8, divided on the two walls.”

Wanch’uan, p.243

I have one partial example of the Eighteen Arhats; since this was found within a large multi-hall monastery 寺 I have put it in that section beneath, since Grootaers mentioned it was also occasionally found in that context in his areas. In both of the two cases where I have paneled images of miracle working, the source of the text is the Universal Gateway 普門品 section of the Lotus Sutra. I’ve already translated the best-surviving and most artistically attractive example in a previous post. The other intact example is translated below. The panels come from the heavily damaged temple building pictured below, in which the space was originally divided into two separate shrines, one to Lord Guan and the other to Avalokiteshvara. The text seems taken more or less at random from the sutra, so I’m not sure of the order.

guanyin miao panorama w guangong

guanyin panel 02

Or if three thousand great-thousand realms of Yakshas and Rakshasas wish to come and beset a person, if he calls out the name of Hears-the-Sounds, these evil demons will not even be able to turn their evil eyes upon that person, let alone do him harm.

guanyin panel 01

[Cartouche illegible; I’m guessing from the picture it’s probably this, or another passage like it:]

Or else if there is a person, whether he is innocent or guilty, if he has been put in chains or in the cangue, if he calls out the name of Hears-the-Sounds, then his restrains will be broken, and he will attain release.

guanyin panel 03

Or if you are floating upon a great water, cry out this name, and you will arrive at a dry place.

guanyin panel 04

[Cartouche illegible, I’m assuming from the picture it’s the following]

If you rely upon the name of Hears-the-Sounds, if you are thrown into a great fire, this fire will not be able to burn you.

guanyin panel 05

雲雷鼓掣電  降雹澍大雨  念彼觀音力  應時得消散
Amids clouds and the rumble of thunder and striking of lighting, as hail falls and a great rain pours down – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and in response right at that moment the clouds will all vanish and clear away.

guanyin panel 06

或在須彌峰  為人所推墮  念彼觀音力  如日虛空住
Or if upon the peak of Sumeru, you are pushed off by someone and fall – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you will travel as the sun across the emptiness. 

guanyin panel 07

蚖蛇及蝮蝎  氣毒煙火然  念彼觀音力  尋聲自迴去
If you meet with vipers and scorpions, with evil vapors, smoke and fire – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and immediately hearing the sound they will flee back from where they came.

guanyin panel 08

或被惡人逐  墮落金剛山  念彼觀音力  不能損一毛
Or if you are thrust by someone evil, and fall from the Vajra Mountain – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you cannot be diminished even by a single hair. 

guanyin panel 09

或遇惡羅剎  毒龍諸鬼等  念彼觀音力  時悉不敢害
Or if you meet an evil yaksha, or a poisonous dragon or any other demon – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and at all times they will not dare harm you. 

guanyin panel 10

若惡獸圍繞  利牙爪可怖  念彼觀音力  疾走無邊方
If you are encircled by evil beasts, with sharp teeth and claws so fearsome – think only of the power of Hears-The-Sounds, and you will be able to rapidly flee without any obstructions.

guanyin panel 11

[Cartouche illegible, I’m guessing the text might be this section, but maybe not:]

應以童男、童女身得度者,即現童男、童女身而為說法,應以天、龍、夜叉、乾闥婆、阿修羅、迦樓羅、緊那羅、摩 [目+侯] 羅伽、人非人等身得度者,即皆現之而為說法
For those who might be saved by a boy-child or a girl child, she will appear in the body of a boy-child or a girl-child and speak the Law. For those who might be saved by a heavenly being, a dragon, a yaksha, a gandharva, an asura, a garuda, a kinnara, a mahoraga, whether in human or in non-human form, she will appear in that shape and speak the Law.

guanyin panel 12

For those who might be saved by a spirit bearing a golden vajra, she will appear as a spirit bearing a golden vajra and speak the Law.

guanyin panel 13

And at that time, Hears-the-Sounds pitied the four assemblies as well as the beings of heaven, the dragons, people and non people, and received the necklace [from Limitless-Intentions]. He divided it into two, offering one part to the Buddha Sakyamuni, and the other to the Buddha-stupa of manifold treasures. 

guanyin panel 14

我為汝略說  聞名及見身  心念不空過  能滅諸有苦
假使興害意  推落大火坑  念彼觀音力  火坑變成池
I will explain it to you: if you hear her name or see her form,
if you think of her without idleness, then she can extinguish all suffering.
If a person has intent to harm you, and pushes you into a pit of fire,
Think only of the power of Hears-the-Sounds, and the pit of fire will become as a pool of water.

Grootaers says that in his areas, the main fresco subjects within temples to Avalokiteshvara were the figures of the Arhats and this miracle-working text of the Universal Gateway. As mentioned above, the Arhats are not in evidence in the surviving temples of Yu County (although they probably existed before the Cultural Revolution as statues along the altar-top). Further, a third iconographic topic, not mentioned by Grootaers, is common: the Fifty Three Stations of Sudhana 善財童子五十三參 from the “Entering the Buddha Realm” 入佛界品 section of the Gandavyuha Sutra. I’ve seen two or three examples of this, although unfortunately I neglected to completely photograph any of them. In any case the images are fairly repetitive: Sudhana, a small boy dressed in red, worships and studies at the feet of a series of Buddhas and other figures before eventually attaining enlightenment.

wushisancan detail 01

wushisancan detail 02

wushisancan detail 03

wushisancan detail 04




4) THE HORSE KING 馬王 – 113 Units:

mawang miao

qun miao

According to Grootaers, the Horse King (Ma Wang) seems to have been mainly associated with the worship of the Dragon Kings, being venerated as one of the lateral images in that shrines. I’ve not been able to securely identify him in that context, and in my research area only one temple specifically dedicated to the Horse King survives in even partially intact state. Nevertheless, the iconography is quite interesting.

“All representations of the god are unmistakable: he has three faces, one looking in front, the other two, to left and right, all identical, of a deep brown colour and with a fierce expression; his body is covered in armour; he has six arms, two in front and two on each side, brandishing a sword, a bell, a magic seal, or making a magic sign with his fingers. Among his attendants the principal ones are two generals, whose appearance varies a great deal in the different temples; the one at the right often leads a horse. On the whole, there seems to be a great liberty in the decor surrounding the main figure, and the local peasants are unable to give the names of most figures. One will get an idea through the description of the set-up as found in one place, Cz 254: Behind the usual image of the god, a boy and a girl similar to the chin-t’ung 金童 and yu-nv 玉女 found in burial ceremonies; at his left, a devil with a benign white face, at his right an old tribunal official with a black beard; in front, two generals, the one at the left holding a stone, the other at the right leading a horse. […]

Wanch’uan, p.256

I have one example of this frontal iconography, from the same late-Qing shrine as the second God of the Five Ways iconography above.

The two flanking walls show the six-armed Horse King riding out in procession with his generals. Grootaers describes this briefly:

The lateral walls of the few Ma-wang temples sometimes have frescoes. In three of them (Cz 315a, 353c, 278a) the theme is the Pursuit of the Evil Spirits (see ch. 2), with of course Ma-wang as the leader of the heavenly procession. In one instance, a small-sized temple at Dv 163, the frescoes represent two men, one on each wall, leading one horse by the bridle; the man on the western wall carries a headdress in the shape of a lion head; on the eastern wall, the man has an elephant in his headdress. We cannot identify these personages, but similar headdresses were found for the attendants of the God of the Fire (ch.13). At Dv 124, Ma-wang has the God of the Fire and Lao-tzu (ch. 24).

Hsuan-hua, p.57

These are from a different shrine. The right wall:


And the left wall:




The rather Indian or Central Asian appearance of this god (multi-armed, mounted, bearing banners and weapons) prompts Grootaers to speculate on a relationship to the Indic deity Hayagriva, “The Horse-Headed”.


In the first shrine above, there’s also this interesting horse with tendrils of fire coming out of it:

The remainder of the images from the first shrine:



5) LORD GUAN 關公 – 107 Units:

guan gong miao outside 03

axial guan gong miao

guan gong miao outside

Lord Guan is the late Han-dynasty general, Guan Yu 關羽 or Guan Di 關帝 “Emperor Guan”, hero of the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” 三國演義. He’s also called “The Grandfather” 老爺, presumably in complement to the “Grandmother” 奶奶, another common village god. Grootaers says of the iconography:

“We found only three temples where the central image of Kuan-ti was painted on the wall. All the others have statues. These now may be of two different types: the military type, showing Kuan-ti as an army general, with full armour, either standing (seven cases) or on horseback (five cases); another type is that of Kuan-ti as a literate, sitting on a throne (29 cases). There is the possibility of a combination of the two types, one type of statue standing in front of the other; Dv 97 for instance has Kuan-ti as a literate, in front of which he is represented on horseback, and more to the front yet another smaller statue as a literate. The Kuan-ti on horseback has a special name in the spoken language, Le-ma Kuan-ti 勒馬關帝 ‘Guan-ti restraining a horse.'” […]

Hsuan-hua, p.64

Below is the only temple I’m aware of where back-wall frescoes of Lord Guan survive. Grootaers identifies the standard list of generals flanking the main image as Zhou Cang 周倉, Liu Hua 劉化, Wang Fu 王甫, Guan Ping 關平, and in one case Zhao Lei 趙累.

laoye miao front

guan gong miao interior panorama

The latter image comes from a different temple than the one examined below; although it’s heavily damaged the reader may get an idea of what the layout might have looked like in Grootaers’ time.

With respect to the flanking walls:

“Another important part of the set-up of the Kuan-ti temples are the frescoes of the lateral walls. There are a few themes less often found, as the horses of Kuan-ti (see above) or the two genii of wealth Tz’u-t’ung 梓潼 and Ts’ai-shen 財神 (ch.11) at Cz 279a. But most of the Kuan-ti temples have their lateral walls covered with a great number of panels depicting incidents from Kuan-ti’s life, without a doubt according to the same novel San-kuo-chih yen-i […]. We found these panels in 26 temples; in a few cases there were as many as 72 (Dv 87) or 48 (Dv 176a) of them. But in no case did we find titles along each panel as is the case for the Chen-wu temples. We had therefore no possibility of taking down a detailed description of each panel.”

Hsuan-hua, p.66

In Yu County, it was in fact quite common for these paneled stories to have titles. The right wall:

Frescoes narrating the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1)

The left wall:

laoye miao lefthand wall full

I’ve translated the upper three rows of the left wall. The order is in bottom-to-top boustrophedon:

laoye 3.6

大戰周公瑾 – A Great Battle with Zhou Gongjin

laoye 3.5

鎮守荊州府 – Taking Control of the Government of Ji zhou

laoye 3.4

單刀驚魯肅 – Startling Lu Su with a Single Blade

laoye 3.3

胡班投降 – Hu Ban Makes his Surrender

laoye 3.2

興帥伐曹操 – Raising an Army to Campaign Against Cao Cao

laoye 3.1

用計取襄陽 – Taking Xiangyang by Stratagem 

laoye 2.1

立斬夏侯存 – Immediately Beheading Xia Houcun

laoye 2.2

進兵攻樊城 – The Army Advances to Attack the City of Fan

laoye 2.3

大戰龐令名 – A Great Battle with Pang Lingming

laoye 2.4

決水淹七軍 – Damming the Waters to Drown Seven Armies

laoye 2.5

于禁乞性命 – Yu Jin Pleads for his Life

laoye 2.6

箭射成何將 – Shooting General Cheng He with an Arrow

laoye 1.6

周倉擒龐德 – Zhou Cang Seizes Pang De

laoye 1.5

怒斬龐令名 – Beheading Pang Lingming in Anger

laoye 1.4

用水淹樊城 – Using Water to Submerge the City of Fan

laoye 1.3

大戰徐公明 – A Great Battle with Xu Gongming

laoye 1.2

活捉呂子明 – Capturing Lu Ziming Alive

laoye 1.1

 玉泉山顯聖 – A Saint Manifests Upon Jade-Springs Mountain

Here’s the full set from this temple:

Another late-Qing set from a different temple, now partially collapsed. (There’s a stele text saying when these were made, but I can’t be bothered to go hunting for it right now.)

Continued in Part Three, below:

Art China Fortresses Hebei Translation Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

ILLUSTRATING GROOTAERS, or, the Principal Gods of Rural Xuan-Da and their Iconographies, Part 3

(Continued from Part 2)

6) THE PERFECTED WARRIOR 真武 – 104 Units:

temple tower multi level


In Grootaers’ areas as well as mine, temples to the Perfected Warrior are almost universally built upon tall towers attached to the northern wall of the fort. In villages where for whatever reason this is not possible, some form of artificial mound is usually devised. Often these towers would also have held bell and drum pavilions for signaling to those outside the fort in the fields. As Grootaers comments, “The Chen-wu temple with its high tower is a pronounced feature of the Wanch’uan landscape.”

(a) The central image and attendants: Chen-wu is round faced, wearing a round cap, a thin mustache and small pointed beard. His body is covered with an elaborately decorated armour, his feet are bare. He holds nearly always a sword in his right hand, while his left is forming a kind of magic sign, his thumb touching the third finger with the little finger extended and the two remaining fingers intricately knotted above the third finger. He is sitting on a low throne; on both sides, half turned towards him are two standing images: the eastern one is that of a young girl, T’ao-hua nü 桃花女, “peach-blossom girl,” who is carrying a seal on a piece of cloth, held by both hands; the corresponding image in the west is that of an old man, Chou kung 周公, the Duke of Chou. Both are favorite in popular legends.”

Wanch’uan, p.251


“The central gangway of the temple is lined on both sides by twelve statues, facing each other in a double row. In a few smaller and poorer temples their number is not complete, and only four or six are present. On the other hand, they are sometimes represented by wall paintings, instead of by statues…”

Wanch’uan, p.251

No such statues survive in Yu County, but frescoes do. From the style, the below appears to have been created by the same artist who was responsible for the Temple of the Five Ways presented previously. The right wall:


The left wall:


It should be noted that these people have great shoes.




In other cases the twelve generals are depicted on the back wall, flanking the Perfected Warrior to either side.


(b) The lateral walls: The Chen-wu temple has often frescoes on its lateral walls; we have already seen seven villages where the 12 attendants of the god are depicted on those walls. This seems to be a make-shift; a great number of Chen-wu temples, 25 in all, have on those walls an illustrated biography of the god. The whole wall is divided into small panels, between which a separation is made by some ornamental rocks with trees; those panels sometimes are even continued on narrow strips on both sides of the central image on the back wall. The sequence of the panels varies considerably, the tale unfolding itself horizontally or vertically, starting on the eastern wall or on the western one. The panels carry each a title (having 4 to 10 words), except in seven cases in which no titles are given, and of which we therefore can say nothing. Of the eighteen remaining two are practically undecipherable. The sixteen complete frescoes with their 756 panels give us a highly interesting account of the legend of the god, the number of panels running as high as 88 in one place (Cz 250). A detailed study of these inscriptions ought to be made, with due attention to their many differences; it would, however, take too much space here, and we limit ourselves to a general outline of the legend, which runs as follows: born after his mother swallowed the sun in a dream, and with the accompaniment of miracles, the Imperial Heir studies a while, then leaves his family to practice holiness. Yü-huang, the Jade emperor, gives him a sword with which he fights devils and subdues other spirits, who become his attendants; (among them we find Chou kung, Tao-hua nü, and the 12 attendants standing before the image in the temple). The rest of the account is taken up by miracles, in which many popular deities are involved, as Lung-wang, Kuan-yin, Kuan-ti, and others.”

Wanch’uan, p.252-253

A few semi intact sets of this hagiography exist in Yu County. The best preserved is an early 20th century set on the northern temple tower of the Northern Quarters Fort 北坊城. Visitors are disallowed from photographing this and anyway it’s been anthologized in “Yu County Temple Frescoes” 蔚州寺廟壁畫, so I shan’t bother with it here. Below is the left wall of a different temple, undated:

zhenwu left wall full

As alluded to in the above passage, Grootaers produced a long and very interesting study on this particular type of narrative fresco, titled “The Hagiography of the Chinese God Chen-wu: The Transmission of Rural Traditions in Chahar”. I quote here from the conclusion, which is very relevant to understanding the creation and transmission of all of the iconographies dealt with here:

“The frescoes of Chen-wu’s life in the various villages of South Chahar not only present some similarities by which one may trace the influence of the same painter, their differences are much more striking. No two frescoes could be written in parallel columns and have any number of episodes in one column matching a good number of similar episodes in the other column. The stories are mixed up and some artists have lost the thread of the story. One may even find Chen-wu leaving his parents long after his asceticism on the mountain is finished. 

On the other hand, it is undeniable that the villages of the same neighborhood use the talent of the same local artist. I have spoken with two of them during my exploration in the Wan-ch’iian region. One of them living at Cz 276 was kept sufficiently busy in the large city itself, but the other at Cz 284 accepted orders from at least half a dozen villages of the vicinity. However, he explained to me that he could fulfil any order presented by the customers.

In conclusion, we should like to venture an hypothesis. The legend of Chen-wu as found in these rural temples is painted by local artists who decide freely the subtitles of the panels when executing an order. They rely on traditional themes handed down by their masters or transmitted by the story tellers. Since the Chen-wu temple needs a new coat of paint only every hundred years, if at all, we find now the story of Chen-wu in different stages of its evolution and also in various stages of its corruption by oral transmission. There is, furthermore, the lower or the higher grade of skill one may expect from each painter-farmer. Finally when repolishing a fresco partly in need of repair, the artist may be following the older text found on the wall, improvising more or less aptly when a few words have become undecipherable.”

Hagiography, p.180-181

To this we may add a few additional comments. The first is that in many temples we can see spaces left for subtitles which have not been filled in. This suggests that the probably illiterate painter and the author of the titles were often not the same person, and that a village may first have had its frescoes painted and only later filled in the captions when a suitable writer could be found. This may explain some of the discrepancy and generally garbled state of the paintings and captions.

A second point to be made is that there certainly were textual sources for the hagiography of the Perfected Warrior available to Xuan-Da villagers, and these sources were demonstrably used for the image captions. These sources turn up easily enough just by googling the captions given in Grootaers text. This only seems to complicate the situation though, since not all of the captions Grootaers records seem drawn from one particular text, and in some cases one temple will have some captions which seem to be drawn from a particular written source and other captions which apparently are not. There are also captions which seem to be truly captions – i.e., they explain the content of the image – and other captions which seem to be more titles – i.e., they refer to a story in a textual or other source. In this latter case the accompanying picture on the wall is simply one scene from a long text, and the meaning of neither the caption nor the picture is comprehensible without this story. This difference between captions and titles seems to me to correspond very broadly to images which are part of the core hagiography of the Perfected Warrior (more likely to be familiar to villagers, and thus depicted explicitly and captioned) and to images which come from an extended body of sundry miracle tales associated with the god (more likely to be drawn from some external textual source, and thus titled.)

Grootaers took the length of a long paper to unravel part of this mess and I shan’t try to improve upon him. Nevertheless I’ve set up here one set of panels which I have fairly intact, translating the titles from the upper two lines of the left wall. The titles turn out to be mostly drawn from a text called”The Record of Achieving Sagehood of the High Emperor of the Dark Heavens” 玄天上帝啟聖錄, a hagiography of unclear provenance which probably (according to Baidu Baike) originated in the Yuan period (1271-1368). This text seems to have been the main source for the frescoes below and provided one important source for the panels Grootaers examined. Of my text given below, the texts given in Grootaers study, and the text of this book, all overlap to a considerable degree, but none are exactly in accordance with the others.

The book is divided into eight volumes (juan), of which the first is an account of the life and ascension of the Perfected Warrior and the latter seven are filled with sundry miracle tales. These miracle tales are short, typically not more than a thousand characters long. Each one accounts a formulaic little story, in which the Perfected Warrior intercedes on the behalf of some beset upper-class individual, and which almost always end pointedly with ceremonies and monetary offerings made to temples in thanks for these intercessions. Each story has a four character title, the meaning of which cannot usually be understood without first reading the accompanying tale. These titles are the source of the cartouche texts in the Yu County temple; some of what Grootaers identifies in his paper as mistaken characters are actually correct readings which are simply incomprehensible without the stories in this book.

Interestingly, what at first appear to be unconnected miracle stories are not precisely so. Characters and places re-appear unexpectedly throughout the book, to the extent that there appear to be little story cycles scattered through the text, at times linking to other cycles by a shared name or location. There’s also thematic connections between the stories – the wars and diplomacy of the Song Dynasty against the Khitan, Jurchen, and Tanguts appear repeatedly as story elements, and the Perfected Warrior is often associated with particular geographical locations along this frontier.

I’ve translated a couple episodes from this book which appear in my or Grootaers’ lists of titles and which seem interesting to me. In light of the Perfected Warrior’s later importance as probably the most important god of these border fortresses, I’ve picked stories which stress his role as an arbiter of the frontier, and a defender of the Chinese against foreign attack from the north. The first two stories are not illustrated in my selection, although they do appear in Grootaers lists. I should also say that these stories are surprisingly annoying to translate. They seem slightly garbled with many mistaken characters in the version I have (from, and the storytelling at times is rather disconnected and hard to follow. I’ve done my best and provided the Chinese if you want to read it yourself.


Lü Dafang was a scholar of the Pavilion of Dragon Images. He was sent as an emissary to the Western Barbarians [ie. the Tangut or the Tibetans]. As he was crossing over a river in the midst of a forest, he suddenly was beset by wind and lightning along with pelting rain. The waves became mad and the billows angry, and the entire river was darkened, to the point where Lü Dafang was extremely terrified.

At this place there was the remains of a holy altar where the gods had been worshiped by people of both nations. The households that belonged to the place told him that directly to the north there was a mountain, which was called Blue Net Cave Heaven. This mountain sat on the side of the border which belonged to the Great Song Dynasty. Upon this mountain could frequently be seen a light, and frequently there was also wind, fog, rain and hail there. The common people from both sides of the border would cut firewood in this place, and at a distance from the mountain they could hear the sounds of holy men speaking there. If one climbed to the top of the mountain and gazed in the four directions, one would see jade clouds covered all things like topknots and bristles of hair. There in the clouds sat a man, with his hair hanging down, golden armor, and a black robe. This man was nearly a hundred meters tall, seated on a great stone. Before him were a turtle and a snake, and behind him was unfurled a black flag. and before him were more banners, canopies, and resplendent coverings. It was known that this was the Perfected Warrior descended to earth.

On this day the envoy Lü Dafang was passing this place, and not only that but it was the first day of the new year. He wished to see for himself the Perfected Warrior descending to earth, but the place was covered in clouds and rain. Lü Dafang waited until the wind and rain lifted, and then prepared some incense and started towards this Blue Net Mountain. When he reached a place distantly across from where the Perfected Warrior descended, he made offerings and burned incense, hoping that his journey into the foreign lands would be without worry, that he would soon be on the road home, and pleading that no harm befall him and that all would be auspicious.

Thereafter he took his leave, and continued on to meet the king of the barbarians, Li Chengye. His mission was to make peace in the region of the Fan River by creating two thousand border markers. At the start, the border was at the fort called Barbarian’s Rope. During the time when this was divided up there had been unrest, but now all was peaceful. Afterwards an envoy from the western barbarians was received, stating that they intended to seize back the land up to the Fan River, in full two thousand li of border. Our court had ordered that the villagers be concentrated into settlements [for defense], set in places where the agriculture was advantageous. It was decided that a return envoy should be sent back across the border to the barbarian regions, and this was how Lü Dafang found himself entering the foreign country. [But now he discovered that] Li Chengye the king of the barbarians wished to have peaceful relations with the Song, and that he had already given an order that there should be no hostilities between them.

The next morning Zhang Yanzu [this is apparently a name?] and all the other barbarian ministers saw Lü Dafang off. When they had gone about fifteen li, a scattered cloud of all the colors came fluttering over the sky. When they tossed things up into it [?], these things all transformed into sweet dew. They tasted this dew and it was as delicious as yogurt. After a little while, a miraculous red light gradually spread over them. Lü Dafang arrived once again at the Blue Net Mountain, and made a ceremony to thank the Perfected Warrior. In this place all the flowers on the mountains were dead, but the branches of the trees had burst into bloom, a truly wild forest. Lü Dafang picked these flowers, and held them in his hands [as an offering] of his thanks.

Lü Dafang returned to the Song, and reported in person to the emperor, who outlined the program ahead. Lü Dafang was sent back to Blue Net Mountain and to make rituals to the Perfected Warrior. The emperor especially commanded that on the roads to the left and right of the mountain, Daoist priests by stationed, and that when emissaries passed the place they should make their respects. He also commanded that a Golden Dragon Jade Letter be set up at the place, marking it as the spot which bore the traces of where the Perfected Warrior had descended his perfect spirit. 

This second story is from a cycle of three stories to do with a place called Ying County 瀛州, a place on the North China Plain which lay on the Song-Khitan border during the early part of that dynasty. (Ying County 瀛州 is not to be confused with the famous Daoist paradise called Ying Island 瀛洲.) The story below is actually chronologically last in the cycle. The first story (“The High Sage Lets Down a Sail” 高聖降凡) relates the arrival of a barbarian in Ying County named Yin Shouxian. Yin Shouxian and his six brothers are actually incarnations of the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets. They create a temple south of the Ying County seat, which was named after them. I haven’t translated this because it’s super long and not actually that interesting. The second story (“The Song Dynasty is United” 宋國一統) relates the miraculous role of this temple in inducing the Perfected Warrior to aid the founder of that dynasty. This story does turn up in my temple panels so I’ve translated it further down. The final story, below, relates another miracle related to this temple and its miraculous defense of the dynasty’s borders.


During the Tianxi era (AD 1017-1021), Fang Zhicai, an officer of the department of military affairs took up the position of the superintendent of Horses and Soldiers at the Gaoyang Border Station of Ying County. He humbly reported to the emperor that he had assumed the position. After three months, the captain of Duckweed Fort of the Shallow Barbarians, Lu Jicheng, and two thousand others invaded across the border on the night of the sixteenth day of the eighth month of the first year of that era. They plundered the grain of the Blue-Wood Fort up to five hundred thousand kilos. After an inspection, the fourth general of the border station Zou Shu and the official Liu Yi led two thousand soldiers out to the barbarian border to demand an explanation.

The next day an army of the barbarians ten thousand strong appeared. A general arrived from them and said, “I am an official from Yan, the Lord of Yan in the north, Nie Huxi. Because the Blue-Wood Fort every year receives military rations of grain and beans in the tens of thousands, I have raised an army of twenty thousand to steal it. In the night when we arrived at Duckweed Fort, the captain of the fort Lu Jicheng presented us a plan. He told us that Blue-Wood Fort was not prepared for an attack, and that in the night on the sixteenth, we should cross the border and steal the military rations.”

Zou Shu replied, “We are now at peace with the Son of Heaven of Great Yan. This Lord of Yan in the north Nie Huxi, does he dare like this to raise soldiers and plunder us? I do not wish to have to write to our court, and have an emissary sent into the country of Yan and demand that the stolen grain be returned to Blue-Wood Fort.”

The official from Yan did not agree to these demands. The situation came to war, and the barbarian army inflicted [?] a great defeat. Following on its heals, Nie Huxi led an army of two hundred thousand to the two gates of Ying County from the north-west. They surrounded the moat at the distance of about half a li, and for six days did not retreat. On the seventh day, which was precisely the ninth day of the ninth month, suddenly a wild wind came scraping the earth, with a great confusion of cloud and rain. You could only hear the barbarian army shouting, and then their formations were overthrown and they fled running.

Soldiers were collected to pursue. Under Zou Shu and the others they were able to capture several wounded barbarians on the paths through the grassland. Fang Zhicai gathered them together and questioned them. One of them said, “We didn’t know which god’s Dao it was inside that city. We only saw that from the north-west gates there came a wild wind that shook the ground, throwing up dust and sand, striking at our eyes. We did hear the sound of arrow-feathers pelting down like a rain, and countless serpents pursuing and biting men and horses. Nie Huxi was on his horse, gave a single shout, then gathered the army and quickly fled. Many of us suffered from various snake bites and arrow wounds, and when it was time to flee we could not move, and so we were captured here.”

At this time they examined the wounds of the captured men, and saw that they were indeed the marks of snake teeth and the scars of bites, as well as the wounds made by arrows. And yet there were no tracks or markings of how these things came and went – it was clearly the work of a god’s power.

After a few days, the patrols on the border found two officers of the barbarians, who had been entrusted with a message in a leather tube. Within it was written: “To be opened by, the Great Fixing Dynasty, Ying County Gaoyang Border Station superintendent Fang Zhicai: We announce that from today onward we will not dare to send out horses and soldiers against you. Nie Huxi took an arrow in his right eye. When the arrowhead was pulled out, in his hands it transformed into dusty powder as if from the paint of a fresco. And through inner alchemy, this wind and dust transformed into poisonous snakes and godly monsters, which defeated and set to flight our barbarian army of two hundred thousand. We do not know what god was worshiped in this border station, which could be as powerful as this. Today we have sent an offering of one of this God’s arrows; all of our generals [wish that you place it?] in a famous shrine, in order to repay our responsibility, and in prayer for peace and that Nie Huxi’s eye will recover.”

Fang Zhicai closely examined the arrows, and saw that they were truly as the paint from a wall. Therefore he went to the abbeys, monasteries, and temples of the place and saw that there were no such frescoes as this. After this he went to a shrine which has been newly built south of the county seat, called Shouxian’s Temple. On the central wall here was drawn the Great Emperor of the Purple Infinitesimal Northern Polestar [the Perfected Warrior]. On the two sides were drawn the Four Sages, all standing in golden armor, each with a quiver full of arrows. In the quiver of the Perfected Warrior, there was one arrow missing. The color of the painted arrows was exactly the same as that which had been brought by the barbarians.

Fang Zhicai burned incense. With his own hand pasted the arrow onto the place where one was missing from the quiver, and in accordance with the fresco made it as it had been, although you could still faintly see the lines of it as evidence of what had happened. The whole department no longer had any problems after this. The emissaries returned to the barbarians, and diplomatic notes were sent over. The court granted imperial incense to the temple, and held a ceremony at Shouxian’s Temple in Ying County. Thereafter it was decreed that all monasteries under heaven, if they did not already have a hall dedicated to the Perfected Warrior, should build one. Gaoyang Border Station was given a reward.

Here are the upper two rows of the left wall of one temple. I’ve translated two more stories from the Record of Achieving Sagehood with the accompanying images below.

zhenwu 3.8

玉京較功 – In the Jade Realm He Weighs the Merits

zhenwu 3.7

天賜票麥 – Heaven Grants Millet and Wheat

zhenwu 3.6


zhenwu 3.5

施經救災 – Granting Scriptures to Avert Disaster

zhenwu 3.4

鬼船退散 – The Demon Boats Retreat and Scatter

zhenwu 3.3

天降青棗 – A Blue Date Falls from Heaven

zhenwu 3.2

瓢傾三萬 – Distributing Thirty Thousand Ladles [Worth of Provisions]

zhenwu 3.1

助國一統 – He Assists in Uniting the Nation

In the Record of Achieving Sagehood, this is titled “The Song Dynasty is United” 宋朝一統. I’m assuming this is the same story, just that the paintings were made probably six hundred years after the fall of the Song (AD 960 – 1279) and so the author changed it to the generic “nation”. This is an earlier chunk of the cycle in Record of Achieving Sagehood about Yin Shouxian’s temple in Ying County. Parts of this story are hard for me to understand, and so some of the below is a guess; if anyone wants to point out the correct readings please do so. Nevertheless the connection between the Perfected Warrior, locations on the northern border, and the establishment of imperial power is interesting to me.

The Song Dynasty was established, and the vertical pole descended [sic]. Afterwards the founding emperor Taizu granted a gift of fifty thousand strings of cash to the Gaoyang Border Station in Ying County in thanks for the benevolence of the Perfected Warrior. [掛念于此?] It was also reported that a barbarian traveler had arrived in Ying County. His name was called Yin Shouxian, and he was travelling together with his brothers, altogether seven of them. Yin Shouxian was the head of a temple on the border with the barbarians. The seven of them were in fact the spirits of the moon, sun, and five planets, descended to earth. It was only their surname Yin which was not known [sic]. Therefore they descended to Ying County and chose a plot of land on which to build this Northern Polestar Seven Primordials and Four Saints Temple. When the paintings of these heavenly ministers [on the temple walls] were finished, officials intimate with the emperor were sent to burn his personal incense as an offering.

One morning, all of the officials were accompanying the imperial carriage to the Hall of Brilliant Rectitude [in the imperial palace]. This day they intended to consider grants of land and estates for all of the various lords and kings of each region and the local magistrates. At this time, unexpectedly fog and rain, wind and hail came down, and all of the officials backed away and scattered. Only the highest minister Zhao Jin remained with the sagely imperial carriage. The two of them were beckoned into the Hall of Filial Achievements by a child. The emperor remained in the carriage for some time, in the fog in front of the hall. Then he glimpsed the glow of a god – the god was wearing a crown of stars, draped with a golden scarf carved with gold, holding a board for taking orders and bowing his body in obeisance to the emperor.

The god began to speak: “Grand foundations, the nation granted prosperity, perpetual renewal and flourishing! May the sage emperors Yao and Shun support you, admire you, and protect you. No future inheritor of your throne will commit excess, nor will anything contrary, debased, faulty, or disordered be carried out. I am the Capital of Heaven Northern Polestar Perfected Warrior Miraculous Response Perfected Gentleman. I have humbly received the report that you granted a gift to a temple in Ying County, and even that you sent a messenger to hold a ceremony there in thanks. Today I was passing by this place, and arrived here to express my gratitude. I have heard that the lords and kings who hold dominion in your land, as well as those who simply control one place, have not held dear the orders of your ministers. Recently I myself met the Emperor On High to find the truth, and you will unite the whole country under the Song Dynasty, and your imperial works will flourish for ten thousand generations. Beyond the regions along the Huai and Han rivers which you have already taken back into your possession, the remaining places are predestined to fall to you and their years are limited. Their pasts and futures are already set, and none will last longer than a score of years. You will take the region east of the Yellow River as your capital, and from there you will reach Tang in the south, Shu in the east, Guangdong, Fujian, then the two Zhe provinces, and in that order take all of them.”

The Perfected Warrior then took his departure, and returned to the palaces of heaven. The emperor returned with the minister Zhao Jin, and met the guards who stood on his left and right. The officials took up their places in the Hall of Brilliant Rectitude and awaited orders, and then followed the emperor’s wishes with delight. A day was chosen, and in the inner halls a ceremony was held, in order to receive and respond to the holy muscles. [sic] From then on, all things turned out just as the sage had taught.

zhenwu 2.8

風霖鄒遷 – Moving Away the Downpour

zhenwu 2.7

符吏借兵 – The Messengers Borrow an Army

This is just another nice story on the theme of, the Perfected Warrior upholds the borders of China against the barbarians. The figure of Fu Bi 富弼 was a historical official in the northern Song dynasty, who was active in trying to achieve peace between the Chinese, the Khitan, and the Tangut. He reappears as a character in several other tales within the Record of Achieving Sagehood.

Lu Shoucong was an official charged with carrying out the orders of the Inner Court. He was sent out to the Three Borders region of Hebei to inspect the state of affairs along the frontier with the Khitan. While on the west bank of the Yellow River, he met two men who each were carrying written orders with verified seals. Lu Shoucong asked them about this, and they told him: “We two were out travelling amidst the world, when today we arrived at Ding County. There we suddenly met that soldier, the Northern Polestar Perfected Warrior Miraculous Response Perfect Gentleman. He told us, ‘The soldiers of the northern Barbarians have gradually increased into the tens of thousands. Because the horses and men of the Song Dynasty are few, they are not able to repel this enemy. When I descended this time into the common world, I did not bring with me my heavenly soldiers and knights. Therefore I am searching for two men with which to entrust an urgent order. In the flash of a eye, I will send you galloping to the Eastern Peak of Mount Hua to meet the god called Lord Bright Spirit. From him you will borrow ten thousand ghost soldiers and godly generals in emergency. In the ren zi month on the wu zi Day and at the bing zi hour, they will all gather in formation. They will aid the southern dynasty in destroying the barbarians, and pacify the border regions’.”

The two messengers bearing the seal finished their tale and crossed over the Yellow River [to the east]. Lu Shoucong returned to the court and met with the emperor to report. The emperor ordered that a record be made of his oral deposition. Afterwards the high official Fu Bi from the Board of Punishments, who was the superintendent of the Three Borders region in the north, arrived at the court to receive a commendation. He made the following memorial: “Recently the northern barbarians, the Khitan, have all suffered a great disaster. They have no ability now to raise an army with intent of war. We captured the Lord of the Masses of Yan. He offered to us documents of surrender, and so we released him back to the barbarian side.”

They asked Fu Bi at what time this victory was achieved. He told them that it was in the geng wu year, in the ren zi month on the wu zi day at the bing zi hour. This was exactly the same as the prediction given by the official of the inner court, Lu Shoucong. Therefore the court not only granted rewards to all soldiers and generals, but they also held performances of ritual music and pardoned all crimes. Then they built the Abbey of Sagely Assistance in Ding County and proclaimed a holy day, as well as issued an imperial edict of appreciation [?] in order to express gratitude.

zhenwu 2.6

七從借名 – The Seven Followers Use His Name
(Not in the Record of Attaining Sagehood.)

zhenwu 2.5

陳妻附魂 – The Wife Chen is Possessed by a Spirit

zhenwu 2.4

魅纏安仁 – Anren is Ensnared by a Demon

zhenwu 2.3

當殿諒法 – Facing the Throne, He Comprehends the Law

zhenwu 2.2

洞真認厭 – Tongzhen Perceives the Evil Influence

zhenwu 2.1

朱氏金磚 – The Zhu Family [Receives] a Brick of Gold

zhenwu 1.8

華氏殺魚 – The Hua Family Kills a Fish

zhenwu 1.7

火煉金經 – In the Fire He Smelts a Golden Scripture
(Not in the Record of Attaining Sagehood.)

zhenwu 1.6

荊王雙美 – The King of Jing’s [Wife and Child] are Both Healthy

zhenwu 1.5

玉伟中計 – [Unclear]
The literal meaning of the title is “Plotting Amidst the Jade Greatness”, but I’m guessing it’s a typo for the title given in Record of Achieving Sagehood as 王虎中計 “Wang Hu Plots Amidst [the Darkness?]”. What this title should mean isn’t entirely clear from the attached story either, although Wang Hu does indeed plot.

zhenwu 1.4

陸傳招誣 – Lu Chuan Confesses his Mistakes

zhenwu 1.3

守榔懷蟲 – Shou Xiang Cherishes the Vermin
Record of Attaining Sagehood has the much more comprehensible 守卿禳蟲 “Shou Qing Exorcises the Vermin”

zhenwu 1.2

柯誠識奸 – He Cheng Perceives the Corruption

zhenwu 1.1

降伏青龍 – A Blue Dragon Submits To Him
(Not in the Record of Attaining Sagehood.)

To sum this all up, we can quote one last paragraph from Grootaers’ study of the Perfected Warrior hagiographies:

We really have no clear evidence from which to decide whether the oral tradition or the written tradition is predominant in the transmission of the Chen-wu legend in the rural communities of Chahar. To tell the truth, we are rather inclined to accept a third or intermediary solution. There must have been a huge body of popular legends, both the oral in the repertory of itinerant theatrical troopers and the written in devotional pamphlets and in the case of temple restorations, the text of the previous frescoes which are done over by a later artist.

Hagiography, p.175

From all of the above we can adduce that this is basically accurate, but also that it’s possible to learn more about the immediate textual sources of these panels than Grootaers himself was able to. One could probably produce a paper revising Grootaers’ conclusions on this and identifying other textual sources than the Record of Achieving Sagehood; the question is who exactly would read it. Below are images from another temple to the Perfected Warrior with faded but legible panels:

7) THE RIVER GOD 河神 – 72 Units:

No extant examples. In fact, this cult seems to have been almost entirely absent in Yu County. Grootaers describes the iconography briefly:

We have already said that the main personage represents Yang Chien. He is shown as a young man, sitting on a chair, wearing a yellow robe and a yellow cloth cap without ornaments. At his feet sits a dog, which is the main reason why we identify this figure with Yang Chien. This identification gets a confirmation through the inscription found on a fresco in one of the grottoes in the P’u-fo ssú 普佛寺 (see chapter 16) at Cu 775: Yang Chien Erh-lang 楊戩二郎. The popular tradition of Hopeh province seems to link with Yang Chien the designation Erh-lang. This would then be a feature of the cult of the river in North China, whereas the god called Erh- lang in Southwest China, especially in Szechwan, is the son of Li Ping, the Han dynasty official.

In the Ho-shen temple at Cz 284, besides the main image we found a statue with a lance and a loincloth made out of leaves, prob- ably representing Na Cha 哪吒, one of the sons of Li T’ien-wang 李天王 (with Mu Cha 木吒 and Chin Cha 金吒), who is commonly associated with Yang Chien.

Wanch’uan, p.263

8) THE THREE OFFICIALS 三官 – 70 Units:

khram sanguana dva

The Three Officials (San Guan) are the Official of Heaven 天官, the Official of Water 水官, and the Official of Earth 地官. On the iconography:

The San Kuan are represented mostly by statues, seldom by paintings. The three gods are shown as three scholars with a literate’s mortar-board cap. The Shui-kuan 水官 Official of the Water is always on the western side, and has a black face.

Our photograph taken at Cz 320 shows two female attendants near the central god (see fig. 37),the female attendants with elongated body found in Wanch’iian were not noted in this area. On both extremities of the main wall, two smaller attendants seem to be the Shan-shen 山神 Mountain God (in the west) and the Wu-tao 五道 God of the Roads (in the east). 

In front of the main images, one finds often one or more pairs of the heavenly attendants who belong also to the Chen-wu cult (ch. 5,section 4). We found three times four of them, viz. Wen, Liu, Chao and Ma, once only painted on the lateral walls; there again we found three times four of them, and twice a larger number, 10 or even 28. As there were no names indicated, and as the fancy of the local artists had brought many variations in these representations, we could not identify them.

The lateral walls of.the San Kuan temple, when not showing the heavenly attendants, show two other themes. Three temples have the “ Pursuit of the Evil Ones•” Indirectly belonging to this type are the frescoes at Dv 133 with the genii of the Days and the Hours, Jih-ts’ao 日曹 and Shih-ts’ao 時曹 (on the western wall) and these of the Months and the Years, Yueh-ts’ao 月曹,Nien-ts’ao 年曹(see p. 33 and note 19).

A different type of frescoes is represented by the ‘‘ biographies ’’ of the San-kuan, on the model of these of Chen-wu. The walls are divided in small panels, each depicting some incident of their legends, or some miracle attributed to them. Four villages have such frescoes: Cz 353,Cz 307a, Cz 315a, Dv 139.

Hsuan-hua, p.69

I’m not aware of any fully intact temple to the Three Officials surviving, but there are a few with partially preserved frescoes. The below matches Grootaers’ description of the iconography, although the village in question was abandoned and so there was nobody with whom I could confirm the identification of the temple.

san guan back wall

The below temple to the Three Officials is very unusual in that it sits on an axial tower at the northern end of a fort, in the spot usually occupied by the Perfected Warrior. The frescoes are faded but broadly legible.

The back wall, with the trinity of Officials:

sanguan set 03 trinity


They are flanked on either side of the back wall by fierce generals and beautiful palace ladies. To the right:



And to the left:




In the rear are these earnest-looking young people bearing platters with miniature animals on them.




Another strange element are the one-legged chicken and hare with fire in their bellies, standing to either side of the trinity of officials. I don’t know what these represent:

hare and chicken



The left wall, showing a procession with chariots.


And the right wall:


Here are a few more from a different temple, which has more heavily damaged but sort-of-legible drawings.


Art China Fortresses Hebei Yu, Guangling, and Yangyuan

ILLUSTRATING GROOTAERS, or, the Principal Gods of Rural Xuan-Da and their Iconographies, Part 4

Continued from Part 3:

9) THE BUDDHA 佛 – 59 Units:

fo si and mountains

fodian another try

By “The Buddha”, Grootaers means both what is referred to in Chinese as a “monastery” (si, 寺), and the type of village shrine which in Xuan-Da is called a “Buddha Hall” (fo dian 佛殿). This conflation is obviously not a safe one. I’m not sure if I have any examples from small village shrines to the Buddha, but many examples in varying degrees of preservation survive from larger Buddhist monasteries.

“The central image of Buddha has no distinct features; it has the traditional Buddhist shape and is accompanied almost everywhere by the two smaller statues of Ananda and Kasyapa. When three images were noted, Wen-shu and P’u-hsien are the most commonly found. Twice, (Dv 85a and Dv 133) we found the Buddhist Triad, Sakyamuni, Loshana and Vairocana. One informant at Cz 315a saw in the three images: ‘the Past, Present and Future Buddha.’ […]

The lateral frescoes of the Buddha temples show mostly scenes from the life of Sakyamuni. We found three times paintings of the ‘Twelve Bodhisattvas’ (see above p. 53) at Cz 315a, Dv 85a and Dv 96a. The first one identifies some of them: Hsiang-hua-ti 香花帝, Kuan-shih-yin 觀世音, Ming-chao-t’ien 明照天, Yueh-kuang-kung 月光宫, Ti-tsang. The 18 Arhats, commonly found in the Kuan-yin temples, were noted once at Dv 96a. The oldest Buddha temple at Cz 278a has frescoes of the 18 Heavenly Generals Shih-pa tien-chiang 十八天將.”

Hsuan-hua, p.76

Here are some examples of the life of Sakyamuni told in story-panel form. Both of these sets are anthologized in “Yu County Temple Frescoes” 蔚州寺廟壁畫. Also the lighting was bad and so I haven’t taken them down in terribly organized form. The statues in the photographs are recent creations.

The right wall:

shijiamoni fo zhuan 01

The left wall:

shijiamoni fo zhuan 02

These are all from the left wall. Somewhat randomly:

fozhuan 1 di 005

第五仙人占象 – The Fifth: A Holy Man Casts a Fortune

fozhuan 1 di 013

第十三路覩死屍 – The Thirteenth: On the Road he Sees a Dead Corpse

fozhuan 1 di 014

第十四耶輸兆夢 – The Fourteenth: In the Night he Has a Prophetic Dream

fozhuan 1 di 015

第十五初啟出家 – The Fifteenth: For the First Time He Leaves His Home

fozhuan 1 di 016

第十六夜半逾城 – In the Middle of the Night He Climbs the Walls

fozhuan 1 di 022

第二十二魔軍拒戰 – The Twenty Second: An Army of Demons Makes War to Resist Him

fozhuan 1 di 023

第二十三魔眾拽瓶 – The Twenty Third: The Masses of Devils Pull Upon a Bottle

Here are the rest of these and some sundry details:

Here’s another set. As above, I didn’t take these down in a systematic way and didn’t always photograph the cartouches for the ones I do have, so I’m not going to try to translate these. I believe both the above and below sets are covered in “Temple Frescoes from Yu County” 蔚州寺廟壁畫, if the reader is interested.

shijiamoni fo zhuan 03

fozhuan 2 xi men

fozhuan 2 worship

fozhuan 2 wang tai zi

fozhuan 2 wang tai zi li ju shi xiang

fozhuan 2 walking on lotuses

fozhuan 2 sha men

fozhuan 2 nan men

fozhuan 2 gu er

fozhuan 2 dong men

fozhuan 2 death

fozhuan 2 ancient astronauts

Here is another damaged set, which has some nice details:

In a final set, one wall survives which preserves images of the Eighteen Arhats 十八羅漢 crossing over the ocean to reach some distant shore, probably Mount Penglai 蓬萊山. This crossing 渡 is a well known Buddhist theme. Originally there would presumably have been another wall opposite to it depicting the other nine Arhats, but this has been destroyed. It may be pointed out here that this is one of the images which does not precisely correspond to any of the themes enumerated at the start, although it seems to draw from more than one.


upper buddhas

The Arhats cross over the water, borne up by various turtles and lotuses, accompanied by disciples carrying supplies. I’ve ordered these images from right to left.






I like this one dude’s technicolor dreamcoat:


Of course, added to this it may be pointed out that many large Buddhist monasteries also have frescoes depicting the Feast of Water and Land. This was either not present in Grootaers’ areas or he failed to mention it. I’ve put up most of my good photographs of this in previous posts, so I’ll leave that for now.

10) THE BARBARIAN SPIRIT 胡神 – 59 Units:

No extant frescoes. This cult seems not to have existed in Yu County, as I have never heard mention of it there.

In the temples of the Hu-shen we found five principal statues sitting in a row on a brick altar (but none at Cz 76). The central one, that of the Hu-shen, is a dark-faced, crowned man, not differing from the Black Dragon, Hei-lung-wang. On both sides are sitting gods who have some relation to agriculture…

In four instances (Cz 75, 76, 268, 269), the lateral walls are covered with frescoes representing the “Pursuit of the Evil Ones” (see map 1 and chapter 2 paragr. 4).

Wanch’uan, 274

11) WENCHANG 文昌 – 32 Units:

village wenchang ge 01 the structure

village wenchang ge 03 the view

I’ve not got any really intact frescoes. Wenchang is traditionally paired with the Kui-Star 魁星, and their temples situated on top of the fortress gate or, less commonly, on a special tower within the fort. The above is one such tower, along with the view from the top on a spring day before the rain.

“Wen-ch’ang is represented as an official of the civil class, white-faced and with a small beard; on both sides stand two youths, mostly carrying a book, a writing brush or some other emblem of the literary life. K’ui-hsing is an ugly apparition: a half-naked devil, with a fierce green or blue face; brandishing an arrow, he stands tiptoe on a ball of fire; no attendants stand near him. Although both of them are traditionally invoked by people with a literary career, the cult, like so many others, has lost its specific objective in the explored area.”

Wanch’uan, p.268

Inside the tower above you can see the remains of heavily damaged panels:

village wenchang ge 02 the frescoes

12) THE GRANDMOTHER 奶奶 – 27 Units:

niangniang dian

niangniang miao ruined interior

The worship of the Nai-Nai 奶奶 “Grandmothers” is the center of a confusion of cults. The Nai-Nai are sometimes referred to as Niang-Niang 娘娘 “Empresses”; many dialects north of the Yan Mountains tend to drop engmas in the final position anyway, so the difference is between Nai-Nai and Nia-Nia.  These “Empresses” are the daughters or wives of the Jade Emperor and reside with him on the peak of Mount Tai, and for this reason Grandmother Temples are often called Mount Tai Temples 泰山廟. It may just be that the Niang-Niang became Nai-Nai on the analogy to Lord Guan, who is often called Laoye 老爺 “Grandfather”. This would give the set of village temples a pleasingly filial symmetry. To add to the confusion, the cult of the Empresses or Grandmothers has been mixed-up with that of Avalokiteshvara 觀音 (who is a similarly merciful, feminine, maternal deity), and some villages do not recognize the difference between the two cults.

“The Nai-nai temple has normally three statues in front of the main wall, and from two to ten images aligned along the side walls. The three principal images are those of standing goddesses, with sumptuous clothes and crowns, each holding a child. They are normally white-faced, except the central statue, which is sometimes gilded. A couple of young girls are often standing near to them, one bearing a seal and the other a box covered with a cloth.

Characteristic of this type of temple is the fact that the first image on each side of the lateral row is standing or sitting on a raised platform slightly lower than that of the main statues. The temple described here is that at Cz 75, where the greatest number of statues was found. We now give the description of those lateral images, pair by pair, beginning from the interior and going towards the door. The first pair represents two goddesses feeding babies. The most noticeable thing about them is the suspender-like belt they wear, which leaves the breasts free. This garment is an exact copy of what the women in South Chahar and North Shansi wear in sum- mer time; in those areas, after her first child, every woman has the right to go around everywhere with uncovered breasts (see photograph 17). The use of the local garment on the statues does not preclude highly stylised clothes and hairdo.

The next pair represents goddesses with a crown and holding ceremonial tablet, hu 笏; they wear some coat of mail. The third pair does not consist of identical images. The one at the left (west) is a man wearing a military cap, the eastern one is an old lady carrying a baby. The fourth pair is, at the left, the god of small- pox, called Tou ko-ko 痘哥哥, ‘Elder brother of the smallpox’ and at the right a female figure in armour and, sometimes, holding an ax. The last pair is the devil and the tribunal official one finds in so many temples.

A lot of small clay figures of babies are standing or lying every- where on the floor of the temple, among the statues and even on top of them. These are ex votos brought by mothers expecting a baby or praying for his recovery from some illness.

The Nai-nai temple has always plain walls, at the most covered with some flower motifs. Two exceptions to this rule:

1. At Cz 306a, the lateral walls represent the classical theme of the “Pursuit of the Evil Ones” (see map 1). Strange to note that on these frescoes the crowd of heavenly spirits is not welcomed by the Wu-tao god and the T’u-ti god (see chapter 1). Their absence is remarkable, as the very next building, consecrated to the Lung-wang cult, has the same frescoes, this time, however, with the two gods.

2. At Cz 249a, the walls are covered with the representation of the Ch’i-shih-er ssu 七十二司, “Seventy -two tribunals,” which elsewhere seem to be a well known feature of the T’ai-shan temples; e.g., in Peking, the Tung-yueh miao 東岳廟 “Temple of the Eastern mountain” (or T’ai-shan) in the eastern suburb has the same representation.”

Wanch’uan, p.270-271

I don’t have any intact examples of this. The best I’ve got is below, in which the images of the procession of the Grandmothers can be seen. The inspiration from the Dragon King murals is clearly evident. I photographed this in vertical strips so if the reader is really curious he can zoom up on the pictures below and take a look.

nainai miao partially effed up interior

nainai miao 01 02 retry

nainai miao 03 04 retry

nainai miao 05 06 retry

On another wall of the same disintegrating building can be found the damaged images of these odd creatures, which I haven’t seen elsewhere.

nainai miao beaked things

13) THE JADE EMPEROR 玉皇 – 27 Units:



The cult of the Jade Emperor is related to that of the Perfected Warrior 真武, in that both are martial, paternal gods who take their place on high towers at the northern part of the village fort. Both Grootaers and I were able to assemble circumstantial evidence that the worship of the Jade Emperor represents an early stage of Xuan-Da religion, which was later replaced in the newly proliferating village forts during the early sixteenth century by the cult of the Perfected Warrior.

“The main image of the Yü-huang temple is never painted bn the main wall, except at Cz 259. Yü-huang is mostly represented by the statue of a man with gilded face, black beard, wearing an imperial crown, sitting on a high throne. He has two young girls at his sides.

On both sides six statues stand on the floor; the first pair, counting from Yü-huang, are two old men with white faces and black beards, wearing ceremonial caps similar to that of Taoist monks; the eastern one is the Mu-hsing 木星, “Star of the Element Wood,” the western one is the Chin-hsing 金星, “Star of the Element Metal.”

The second pair looks like a couple of Ma-wang; wearing an armour, they have three faces and six arms; the one in the east has a vertical eye in the middle of his forehead; we heard only the name of the western image – Tien-p’eng ta-shih 天蓬大士.

The third pair is Chen-wu (west) and Nan Chen-wu (east) the last one having also a vertical eye in his forehead (see chapter 5 par. 4, and 5a) .

The number of statues in two rows varies from two to six. One important difference was noted at Cz 72, where the first pair represents naked and winged gods with claws and beaks, similar to the god of Thunder in the Chen-wu temple. Their name sounded like yin(g) hung and yin(g) chiao (characters unknown).”

Wanch’uan, p.276-277

Extant frescoes survive in the Jade Emperor Pavilion 玉皇閣 in the Yu County seat, but I don’t have pictures of this. The only surviving images from a village temple portray the unique phenomenon of a “Feast of Water and Land” 水陸齋 procession in a context other than a large Buddhist monastery. As suggested above, these may be survivals from a period early in the fortification process when the standard cults and depictions of Xuan-Da religions had not yet been set. Excuse the bad quality of the below photos:

yu huang 001

yu huang 002

yu huang 003

14) KSITIGARBHA 地藏 – 20 Units:


dizang panorama

Ksitigarbha is a Buddha who made a vow never to pass on into enlightenment until all the beings of the hell realms have been saved. For this reason he is worshiped (perhaps perversely) as a sort of god of the underworld, to whom prayers for the souls of the dead can be addressed. His cult is closely associated with that of the Yama Kings 閻王, to the extent that in Yu County at least these temples are referred to interchangeably as Ksitigarbha Temples 地藏廟 and Yama Temples 閻王廟. One very good example survives in Yu County, along with fragments of other ones.

“The statue of Ti-tsang is sitting on a high throne. He is always of more than human size, with a Buddhist monk’s dress and ceremonial head gear. On both sides of his stand two figures, similar to Kâsyapa and Ananda, the old and young companions of Sâkyamuni (see chapter 7 par. 4). The “Ten kings of hell,” Shih tien yen-wang 十殿閻王, among which Ti-tsang is the fifth, are often represented in his temple.”

Wanch’uan, p.278

The frescoes below are numbered with the names of each of the Ten Yama Kings. For some reason I missed number two, the “Yama Gentleman of the Second Hall, the Rivers of Chu King” 二殿閻王楚江王:

The right wall:

dizang full wall 02

01 tai guang wang

一殿閻君泰廣王 – The Yama Gentleman of the First Hall, The Peaceful and Broad King

03 song di wang

三殿閻君宋帝王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Third Hall, the Song Dynasty Emperor King

04 wu guan wang

四殿閻君五官王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Fourth Hall, the Five Officials King

05 yan luo tian zi

五殿閻君閻羅天子 – The Yama Gentleman of the Fifth Hall, Yamaraja the Son of Heaven

The left wall:

dizang full wall 01

06 xia cheng wang

六殿閻王下城王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Sixth Hall, the Lesser Cities King

07 tai shan wang

七殿閻君泰山王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Seventh Hall, the Mount Tai King

08 du shi wang

八殿閻君都市王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Eighth Hall, the Capital City King

09 ping deng wang

九殿閻君平等王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Ninth Hall, the Equality King

10 zhuan lun wang

十殿閻君轉輪王 – The Yama Gentleman of the Tenth Hall, the Wheel-Turning King

The piles of paperwork and the various horrid psychopomps surrounding the tribunal give a good idea of how a bureaucratized hell looks.

book rack

dizang psychopomps 01

dizang psychopomps 02

On the rear walls on either side of the door are these interesting scenes, I’m not sure what’s taking place here.

dizang side panorama 02

dizang side wall

Meanwhile beneath the main images of the judgement of souls we can see the entrance of souls to hell, their torture, and their eventual rebirth. Souls are first dragged before the tribunal:

dizang tortures of hell 05

And then horrifically tortured, either as punishment or as a means to extract the truth.

dizang tortures of hell 03

dizang tortures of hell 04

dizang tortures of hell 06

dizang tortures of hell 07

dizang tortures of hell 08

dizang tortures of hell 01

dizang tortures of hell 02

Finally souls go on to the next life, on what looks like a giant roulette wheel which uses centrifugal force to fling them off to the various states of being.

dizang roulette wheel of reincarnation





And that about raps it up. There are more types of temples in Xuan-Da, obviously, but I don’t have pictures of any of their iconographies. More stuff could also be added about opera stage drawings, which I’ve talked about before, and about drawings in ancestral shrines, which is a topic that Grootaers doesn’t touch. I am officially sick of this right now though so I won’t get into it. Below are some photos of temple rafters from these various places, which I think are pretty.




Works Cited:

Inoue, Fumio. “Works in Dialectology by Reverend Grootaers.” Web. 7 Feb. 2016. unpublished article

Gamble, Sidney D. Ting Hsien; a North China Rural Community. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1968. Print.

Grootaers, Willem A:

  • “Catholic University Expedition to Wanch’üan (South Chahar), Preliminary Report.” Monumenta Serica 12 (1947): 236-242. JSTOR. Web.

  • “Catholic University Expedition to Hsuanhua (South Chahar), Preliminary Report.” Folklore Studies 7 (1948): 135-138. JSTOR. Web.

  • “The Hagiography of the Chinese God Chen-wu. (The Transmission of Rural Traditions in Chahar).” Folklore Studies 11 (1952): 139-181. JSTOR. Web.

  • with Li Shih-Yu and Wang Fu-Shih. “The Sanctuaries in a North-China city: a Complete Survey of the Cultic Buildings in the City of Hsuan-hua (Chahar).” Melanges Chinois et Bouddhiques 26 (1995). Print.

  • “Les Temples Villageois De La Région Au Sudest De Tat’ong (Chansi Nord), Leurs Inscriptions Et Leur Histoire (The Village Temples in the Southeast of Tatung (Shansi), Their Inscriptions and Their History).” Folklore Studies 4 (1945): 161-212. JSTOR. Web.

  • “Rural Temples around Hsüan-Hua (South Chahar), Their Iconography and Their History.” Folklore Studies 10 (1951): 1-116. JSTOR. Web.

  • “Temples and History of Wanch’uan 萬全 (Chahar), The Geographical Method Applied to History.” Monumenta Serica 13 (1948): 209-316. JSTOR. Web.

蔚縣博物館 [Yu County Museum]:

  • 故城寺壁畫. 北京: 科學出版社, 2010. Print. [The Frescoes of Stubborn-Fort Monastery. Beijing. Scientific Press. 2013. Print.]
  • 蔚州寺廟壁畫. 北京: 科學出版社, 2013. Print. [Yu County Temple Frescoes. Beijing. Scientific Press. 2013. Print.]