I became interested in making a trip to Qingzhou after seeing Northern Wei Buddha statues in the National museum in Beijing. Most of the early Buddhist art in the museum comes from Qingzhou, which interested me because a large number of important artifacts were discovered there and it is a place that I had not heard of before. Qingzhou is located in Shandong province near Qingdao. It has a long history closely connected with all the major dynasties. It was an especially important center for the Xianbei people, who controlled Northern China during the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420 – 589).
I travelled to Qingzhou as a weekend trip from Beijing with my friends Zhang Qi and Jin Chao. Last year I travelled to Luoyang with several friends, including Zhang Qi and Jin Chao. It just happened that Jin Chao is from Qingzhou and that is when Zhang Qi and I got serious about planning our Qingzhou trip. The train trip from Beijing to Qingzhou is four hours along the high speed line to Qingdao. Travel on the new high speed trains in China is very comfortable and the best way to get around. Qingzhou is Jin Chao’s home town and we were treated to warm hospitality by his parents.
Our first destination was Tuo Mountain (駝山), which literally means camel mountain. well known for Buddha statues carved in limestone caves. The cave statues were carved in the Northern Zhou (577 – 581) and Tang (618 – 907) dynasties. There is a Taoist temple called Hao Tian Palace (昊天宮) at the top of the mountain. The temple has a Guanyin Hall (慈航殿). It is interesting that a Taoist temple should have a Guanyin Hall and is not the first one that I have seen in China. There were very few people in the area so that we practically had the whole mountain to ourselves.
In 1996 a large number of Northern Wei Buddha statues were discovered at the historic site of Long Xing Temple (龍興寺). The temple has been reconstructed at the foot of Tuo Mountain. Next to Long Xing Temple is another temple, Yuan Jue Temple (圓覺寺), which is being built by the Shandong Qingzhou Buddhist Nun Institute (山東青州尼眾佛學院). After visiting these two temples we returned to the city center to visit the Qingzhou Museum.
The Qingzhou museum houses many of the Buddha statues that were discovered at Long Xing Temple, which is the main feature of the museum. Entry to the museum is free, provided you can show identification. Most of the statues are from the Northern Wei (386 – 534) and related Xianbei dynasties. The statues show a great change in artistic level between the beginning to the end of the Northern Wei Dynasty. The Qingzhou Museum has many more artifacts on display than the National Museum. Photography is not allowed in the Qingzhou Museum although it is allowed in the National Museum. The museum also houses numerous other artifacts, including pottery, bronze, jade carving, and stoneware from the Stone Age to the Tang and porcelain, painting, and calligraphy from the Song to the Qing.
After looking around the museum we went to the old city center where we strolled around the old city streets. This is an Islamic district today and has an interesting atmosphere. There are a number of historic mosques, one dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368), and also and old church, showing the many foreign influences that this city has been subjected to over the years.
On Sunday we visited the Yang Tian Mountain (仰天山) scenic area. The name Yang Tiang (仰天) literally means looking up at the sky. The main feature of Yang Tian Mountain is Manjusri Temple (文殊寺). There was snow overnight, which covered the forest is a beautiful white coating. In the winter there are few visitors, making it a very peaceful experience. We only saw a group of photographers during the day.
Manjusri Temple is situated at the base of Fo Guang Cliff (佛光崖), which has an overhanging recess in the shape of a Buddha. The venerable we talked with at the temple told us that the cliff is known to emit light. The temple is one of the three major Manjusri temples in China, dating back at least the Song Dynasty when it was renovated and extended under Emperor Zhao Kuang Yin. The current abbot of the temple is Venerable Yin Jie, who has initiated the current round of renovation.
After visiting Manjusri Temple we headed up the mountain passing the Ta Lin (塔林) and Thousand Buddha Cave (千佛洞). The cave is a wonderfully peaceful place lit with candles and decorated with Buddha statues set in the surrounding walls. At the top the trees in the forest were beautifully covered in white rime.