Earlier this week Amy, Lisa and I decided to take advantage of some nice weather and escape the city to the mountains west of Beijing. Our destination was Miaofeng Shan, in Mentougou district. The complex of temples on the mountain is a classic example of Chinese pragmatism, mixing Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. “One temple, 3 religions.”
The temples were built during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), and over time became an annual pilgrimage destination. Here’s a description from Tour-Beijing:
The highlight or the most valuable asset of Miao Feng Shan is the Miao Feng Shan Goddess Temple, or locally referred as Niang Niang Miao ( 娘娘庙 ). The Goddess Temple at Miao Feng Shan is dedicated to Bixia Yuanjun (碧霞元君), also known as the “Heavenly Jade Maiden” ( 天仙玉女 )or the “Empress of Mount Tai” (泰山娘娘). According to one of the legends, she is the daughter of the Emperor Lord of Mount Tai. Statues of Bixia Yuanjun often depict her holding a tablet with the Big Dipper as a symbol of her authority.Bixia Yuanjun has given Mt. Miao Feng Shan a reputation in the whole China. The legend has it that the pilgrims come to have their petitions before their their goddess, the lame can be made to walk, the ill can be cured, prosperity can be brought to merchants, and longed for children can be given.
There were a couple of busloads of pensioners there (in the old days they — and we — would have walked up), but other than that we had the place to ourselves. Everyone was in a good mood, and we could track the groups as they wandered around from the noise of their laughter.
We hiked up to the rose garden, hoping to enjoy a sea of roses, but were disappointed. Even though the roses are in full bloom in the city, at this elevation (nearly 4000ft), the bushes were still bare.
We climbed to the highest temple and sat down to enjoy our picnic lunches in the glorious sunshine. The solitude that we were enjoying was broken when an extended family reached the top of the stairs, and arrived, huffing and puffing, at the platform where we were sitting. Their pilgrimage to pay homage to the Jade Emperor was complete.
But wait! A bonus was lurking in the shadows of the temple — 3 foreigners! They immediately rushed over and lined up to have their photos taken one by one with Lisa, who was standing along a wall. Amy and I sat off to the side, eating our sandwiches, hoping not to be dragged into the impromptu photo shoot.
At one point the family dragged their toothless grandpa over, and he mistakenly tried to sit down between Amy and me to have his picture taken. I leaned over to him and said in Chinese, “I’m sorry, we’re not participating in this event,” whereupon the family members grabbed him and threw him into Lisa’s arms instead.
After everyone had gotten their picture taken with Lisa, they went in to burn their incense to the Jade Emperor, and we scampered back down the stairs to the main courtyard of the temple.
In the courtyard we found a group of men sitting under a tree, and noticed they were each wearing a bright red ribbon attached to their shirts. They were the kind of ribbons that one might see as a 2nd place prize for one’s zucchini at the state fair, but these had Chinese characters on them.
I asked one of the men what it was, and they all replied in unison DAI FU HUAN JIA. Now. whatever could that mean, we wondered. Daifu — doctor? Huan jia — exchange house? The doctor is exchanging his house? That didn’t make any sense, so I took a closer look at the characters: 戴福还家. Roughly translated, it means ‘take the blessing home.’ I asked for an explanation, and they said the ribbon was their way of taking home to their families the blessings they had received by praying at the temples.
Blessings, to go!
Here are some more photos from the day: