The Five Pagoda Temple (: 五塔寺; Wǔ Tǎ Sì) is the popular name of the “Temple of the Great Righteous Awakening” (大真觉寺; Dà Zhēnjué Sì) or “Zhenjue Temple” (真觉寺; Zhēnjué Sì).
The name “Five-Pagoda Temple” stems from the fact that in the middle of the temple there is a Pagoda composed of five small pagodas that rise like diamonds from a square base below. Wutasi is one of the few Indian-inspired “Diamond Throne” pagodas in China it is moreover the oldest and the most superb.
First constructed during the XVth century the temple has been destroyed several times and in particular during the second opium war in 1860 and thereafter again during the “war” against the Boxer Rebellion when the Eight-Power Allied Force entered Beijing in 1900.
The only part that was not totally destroyed is the Pagoda.
The Pagoda culminates at a height of 17 meters and was built with bricks and white marble.
The exterior of the temple is nicely decorated with “one thousand” Buddhas arranged in rows and Buddhist symbols such as: dharma wheels, animals (elephants and peacocks) and floral designs etc.
There is a possibility (at least in 2007) to take the stairs leading to the first floor from which you have a nice view of the surroundings of the temple.
I visited the temple 4 times in 2000, 2007, 2013 and 2016. The first visit was rather a quick one just to discover the Pagoda and to my surprise I also found a collection of Tombstones of Missionaries but due to a lack of time I decided to come back at one of my next visits to Beijing. During each following visit something had changed either in the number of artefacts or in the way they were shown. A major change took place between 2013 and 2016 when the temple was closed for restauration.
The Temple lost its religious purpose since many years. In 1980 the Beijing Stone Carving Art Museum was established in the Temple area. This is also one of the reasons that over the years the use of the Temple’s name: Zhenjue Temple and Wutasi was lost and today only reference is made to the Museum of Beijing Stone Inscription Art 北京石刻艺术博物馆; Bĕijīng Shíkè Yìshù Bówùguǎn). There seems to be a clear desire to transform Wutasi totally to a Stone Inscription Museum in a way similar to the Stele Forest Museum in Xi’an (Xi’an Beilin Museum 碑林; Bēilín).
This change can be illustrated by the map displayed in the metro at the exit; where in 2013 there was still an indication of the Zhenjue Temple and the Wutasicun (village of Wutasi!).
Today the map makes only reference in very small characters to Zhenjue Temple and nothing is said anymore about Wutasi except the name of the road along the small canal
In 2013 there was still an indication of Wutasi at the entrance of the Temple but in 2016 only the Museum is mentioned.
The easiest way to go to Wutasi is to take the metro and get out at National Library Station Exit C. Then walk south for maybe 100 meters and turn left at the canal without crossing it. You will reach the entrance after some 600 meters just in front of the West Entrance of the Beijing Zoo.
Beijing Stone Carving Art Museum is mainly an open-air museum which a display of 620 artifacts around the four sides of the pagoda in six different areas.
In the first zone turning right after the entrance are displayed Steles commemorating building of bridges, roads etc.
In the next area are displayed Tombstones of Missionaries, mainly Jesuits (24) but also some Lazarists (9). In 2007 the display was different in two rows along the pagoda. Now there are four rows with each six Tombstones, one row with four and finally one with 5 Tombstones. Amusing to read is that in 2007 the Society of the Jeuits is called a “sect”!
Hereafter the individual location of the Tombstones as I recorder them in 2016
I have taken pictures of all the Tombstones but will only show a few examples here..
In front of each Tombstone there is a short description of the stele.
In order to have a good translation I asked my Chinese teacher Lin Pan (潘林)to translate the text.
“The stele was erected in 1780, 45th year of Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. The shape of the top of this stone is square, its height including the top section is 190 cm, and width is 83 cm and a thickn
ess of 22 cm. A cross, the waves of the sea and the cliffs are carved on the front of the stele. “The tomb of the Jesuit Pierre-Martial Cibot (1727-1780) of the Society of Jesus” written in Chinese and Latin, is carved in the middle of the stele.”
The Jesuit Guoying Han (his Chinese name) from France was an expert not only in art and literature, but he had demonstrated exceptional mastery in astronomy science, mechanical, letters of history etc
some pictures taken in 2007 inside zone 4 bulding.