The Huayan Temple is the largest and most perfectly preserved temple of the Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) dynasties in China. It survived wars and disorders, rises and declines of times. According to the Liao’s History – Geographical Record, the Huayan Temple was built in the 8th year (1062) of the Qingning reign to house stone or bronze statues of emperors. The temple was partly destroyed in the war at the end of the Liao Dynasty, and was rebuilt in the 3rdyear (1140) of the Tianquan reign of the Jin Dynasty. Pingcheng (today’s Datong City) was the capital of both Liao and Jin dynasties, so the temple was confiscated as state property. It was rebuilt in the reigns of Xuande and Jingtai of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
After the mid Ming Dynasty, the temple was divided into two temples, the upper temple and the lower temple, each having its own temple gate and structure. After several repairs in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the temple formed today’s scale. The two parts were integrated into one in 1963, and was given a collective name of the Huayan Temple. The temple occupies an area of more than 16,600 square meters. The upper temple is centered on the Great Hall and comprises of two yards, the temple gate, the passing hall, the Kwan-yin Pavilion, the Ksitigarbha Pavilion, and two wing-bays, etc. The buildings are compactly arranged.
Contrary to the splendid upper temple, the lower temple, constructed in 1038, has a touch of quaintness, where Buddhist scripture are stored. The Trinity Buddhas comprising the Past Buddha, the Present Buddha and the future Buddha are enshrined and worshipped here. Around the sides of the Trinity Buddhas are twenty-eight guardian figures, among which the Bodhisattva with a pious prayer pose is the most lifelike.
The Great Hall stands on a 4-meter-high platform surrounded by handrails. In front of the platform, there are stone stairs. There is a 3-bay wide memorial archway of Qing style on the platform with hexangular clock and drum towers standing on both sides. These towers were added in the Ming Dynasty. The Great Hall is 9-bay wide and 5-bay long, occupying an area of more than 1,550 square meters. It is by far the largest hall that was built in the Liao and Jin dynasties. Beneath the front eaves three plank shutters are installed. All the doors have a singe-eaved hip roof. They quietly and peacefully reach out to a length of 3.6 meters. The big chiwen (bird’s proboscis) on the right ridge is 4.5 meters high, and is made up of eight components of colored glaze. The north proboscis was originally made in the Jin Dynasty. Though more than eight hundred years passed, it shines just like a new one. The south proboscis, made in the Ming Dynasty, is the biggest proboscis in China’s ancient buildings. The vault of the hall is huge and simple, making the hall more magnificent.
The hall was built by way of reducing the pillars from inside. 12 pillars were removed so that the space was enlarged and the hall was more convenient for carrying out ritual activities. On the central altar inside, there are five statues of Buddha. The three statues in the middle were made in Beijing City in second year of the Xuande reign in the Ming Dynasty. The statues have a flat face, and their buns are decorated with pearls. 20 attendants stand leaning a bit forward, with different expressions and postures. Such special modeling is quite rare in China.
The wall around is covered with frescoes of the Qing Dynasty. The frescoes are 6.4 meters high, with an area of 88,700 square meters. It is extremely infrequent to have such a great painting on a single wall in China. The contents are about biography of Sakyamuni, expounding the texts of Buddhism, guardian warriors and Kwan-yin with thousands of hands and eyes, etc. The main colors are blue and green, gorgeous and bright. The ceiling was painted with complicated and colorful pictures like dragons and phoenixes, flowers and grass, incantation and so on.
The Bojia Jiaocang Hall is the church to preserve texts of Buddhism. It is 5-bay wide, and 4-bay long with single-eaved, nine-ridged roof. The whole building is strictly constructed in a suitable proportion and represents the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty. It is really a fine work of architectural art of the Liao Dynasty.
There are 38 two-storeyed cabinets lining along the wall in the hall. The first storey of the cabinet is a corset pedestal. On the stand there are cabinets where more than 1,700 cases of sutras of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty are preserved, and the sutras amount to 18,000 volumes. The cabinets have a variety of 17 kinds of complicated designs. The corset balusters are carved with 37 hollow-out geometric figures that are exquisitely wrought with ingenuity. They are rare wood works of the Liao Dynasty. Between the cabinets and back windows, 5 heavenly rooms were built in light of the physical features. They were connected to cabinets by the circle-like bridge (arch bridge) on both sides, like they are integral. These exquisitely wrought cabinets were strictly made out of perfect craftsmanship. No wonder that they are unique all over the country.
There are 31 statues of the Liao Dynasty on the altar in the hall. The past world, present world and future world Buddhas sit side by side in the middle, while disciples, Bodhisattvas, etc, stand on both sides of the three statues of Buddhas. There is a guardian warrior in each corner of the hall, vigorous and elegant, powerful and strong. They are treasures of painted carvings of the Liao Dynasty.