So you’re in Beijing, and you’ve been to all the big highlights: Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, The Lama Temple, the hutongs, and more.
And while it’s all really cool, it’s starting to look a bit….same-ish.
So what now?
Go to Dongyue Temple.
I always tell people to go to Dongyue Temple when they’re in Beijing, but they rarely do, thinking it’s yet another same-same Chinese temple.
They don’t know what they’re missing. I’m usually up for anything that sounds a bit out of the ordinary, and this place definitely fits the bill. It’s not one of the best-known highlights of Beijing, but this temple is like none other I’ve ever seen.
So when you’re tired of the same old Chinese monuments, and especially sick of crowds of tourists, Dongyue Temple is the place to go.
At first it looks just the same as any other temple. Through the thoroughly normal-looking entrance gate lies a quiet, peaceful courtyard, filled with stone tablets and hundreds of red good luck charms hung along the central walkway.
At the other end of the courtyard is Daiyuedian Hall, which was the shrine for the God Dongyue. Dongyue is the Taoist God of Mount Tai, and is the divine ruler of all of China.
As part of this esteemed position, Dongyue is in charge of 76 ‘departments’ and 18 layers of hell, and this is where it gets interesting.
The 76 departments line the sides of the temple courtyard, and a thorough exploration of these will leave you fascinated, bewildered, and worried about when your own judgment day might come. This is a reminder of how the Taoist Gods serve up justice, and while they are said to be unbiased about it, it’s still pretty terrifying.
They deal with all possible aspects of human life and death, both good and bad, and are filled with fantastical characters from the supernatural world: ghoulish figures, monsters, devilish creatures with horns and fangs, people with animal heads or gnarled limbs. Some are being beaten or tortured, are having their tongues cut out, guts spilling from their abdomens, are missing limbs, or are emaciated and clearly starving.
The one that really struck me was the ‘Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death’, where anyone who commits evil deeds will fall victim of their own evil as a punishment in death. It could be a clubbing, death by fierce animals or snakes, or falling into an abyss, among other things. Lovely.
It’s not all bad though. There’s a Department for Rain, a Department for Distribution of Medication and a Department for Accumulating Wealth. Then there’s the fairly benign Department of Signing the Documents or the Department of Mountain Gods.
There are departments that really could go either way, such as the Department for Instant Rewards and Retribution or the Department for Suppressing Schemes (er…I guess it depends which side of the scheme you’re on…).
If you stop and read the description for each department, it becomes clear that Taoism seems to deal with human issues in a karmic sort of way. I kind of like this theory. Do good, and you shall receive good. Do evil things and you will get evil in return. Fair enough.
So be warned. Watch your actions. You wouldn’t want to end up facing the Punishment Department or the Department for Reducing Longevity.
You will leave Dongyue Temple thinking; questioning every single thing you might have ever done or will do in the future, and how the Taoist Gods might deal with your actions.