Shuanglin Temple

Top choice in Pingyao

This fascinating Buddhist temple houses many incredibly rare, sublimely carved Tang, Song and Yuan painted statues. Rebuilt in 1571, it’s a mesmerising complex of ancient halls: the interiors of the Sakyamuni Hall and flanking buildings are exquisite. The beauty is overwhelming, not just of the painted clay sculptures, which are among the best in China, but also in the backgrounds – the grotto-like niches behind the statues, and the clouds and waves on the relief pieces.

The Four Heavenly Kings in the first hall date from the Tang dynasty, and if you go round to the back of that hall, you'll see a stunning relief mural featuring the goddess Guanyin riding a mythical beast, her ladies-in-waiting and guardians on intricately carved clouds of faded green on either side. The Thousand Buddha Hall contains a wondrous 1000-arm Guanyin holding different implements in her many hands, while dark-faced Buddha statues hide within the main worship hall. Guanyin is portrayed sitting lalitasana (a very lithe and relaxed regal posture) in another hall, while in the Luohan Hall, one of the ancient luóhàn (arhat) is depicted boozing. In the Hall of Ksitigarbha, judges and hell guardians mete out punishment like mutilation and burning.

You can also go up and walk along the wall around the temple. A rickshaw or taxi from town will cost ¥60 return, or you could cycle the 7km here.

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