Cuiwei Mountain lies in the northern part of the Shijingshan District in Beijing’s western suburbs. It is a tranquil, secluded spot of great natural beauty famous for its compact arrangement of temple buildings and many fine trees.
The pines and cypresses of Cuiwei Mountain greatly impressed the Qing scholar and poet Gong Zizhen. In one of his poems, Gong extolled the four “hundred-foot-tall” white-barked cypresses by the spring on the mountainside, and four pine trees at Dengwei Mountain in Suzhou, as “the eight great pines under heaven.” Although the four white-barked cypresses in the poem no longer exist, there are still numerous other pines and cypresses on Cuiwei Mountain to be enjoyed.
Among the fine specimens are the two ancient pines in front of the Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian) in the Fahai Temple. The trees stand dignified, rising to a height of nearly 100 feet. With their trifurcated branches and silvery white bark, they resemble silver dragons guarding the courtyard.
The crescent-shaped grove of ancient cypresses at the southern foot of the mountain is even more impressive. These trees appear more luxuriant against a background of the relatively barren mountain slopes of northern China. The cypresses here vary enormously in height and stature; some nearly touching the sky, others standing only a meter high, some with a circumference of 1.5 meters, others as thick as a man’s thumb.
The major attraction of Cuiwei Mountain is the Fahai Temple, built in the Ming Dynasty at eh suggestion of Li Tong, a eunuch in the service of Emperor Zhengtong. Construction of the temple began in 1439 and was completed five years later. The temple buildings include the Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian), the Sangharama Hall, the Devaraja Hall, drum and bell towers, monk’s residences and storerooms.
The wall paintings for which the Fahai Temple is famous are found on the north wall behind the platform displaying the Buddha statues, on both sides of the northern wall beside the entrance, and on the two gables behind the statues of the 18 arhats. A total of nine paintings survive to this day. On the northern wall beside the entrance is a diptych entitled “Worshiping the Buddha and Promoting the Faith” made up of the figures of the emperor and empress, eight protective Budddhist spirits, and 36 other celestial beings. The tallest of the figures is 1.6 meters in height. The emperor and empress are elaborately dressed and depicted in a highly poised manner, while the rippling muscles of the protective spirits attest to their strength.
The three paintings behind the Buddha statues portray the three principal Bodhisattvas: Avalokitesvara (Guanyin), Manjusri and Samantabhara. Of these, the portrait of Avalokitesvara (center) is the most striking. The two paintings behind the statues of the 18 arhats contain portraits of the Tathagata Buddha and flying Asparas set off by peonies, Chinese roses, pipals and plantains. The caisson ceiling of the Mahavira Hall is finely decorated with mandalas. In addition, the temple interior contains a large bronze bell, carved wooden images of the Buddha, an offering table and a set of ritual objects, all fine examples of Ming Dynasty craftsmanship.