Unofficially haunting: Beijing temple houses bizarre bureaucracy

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, October 30, 2009
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In a country that doesn't formally recognize Halloween, China's capital city has an officially scarier way to spend a late October afternoon.

Off a busy road in northeastern Beijing, demons, monsters and ghosts populate an ancient temple's homage to the stuff of big city nightmares: bureaucracy.

At Dongyue Temple, built by Taoist monks in 1319, there is an official department of demons and monsters and a department of implementing 15 kinds of violent deaths. There is a bureaucrat-filled department of hell, too, with forms to fill out.

Dozens of individual rooms with bizarre department titles line one of the temple's courtyards, and each contains colorful, life-sized statues - some are of people kneeling in agony and others in the act of being tortured.

"There are a lot of statues. Some are quite horrible," said Nina G., a Russian tourist who declined to spell out her last name as she looked after a toddler in the temple grounds.

At the temple, also known as the Beijing Folk Customs Museum, there is a delightful series of rooms off a spacious back courtyard that house beautiful collections of costumes, jewelry and household goods and furnishings of bygone times.

A colorful outdoor stage is the place for seasonal folk festivals on grounds declared a National Key Cultural Relic.

The statues inside the death and life department are holding the ancient version of bureaucratic forms: scrolls. Here, the plaque doesn't offer any magic potions or plastic surgery advice about aging.

"It has the intention of teaching people to perform good deeds in order to attain longevity," reads this department's plaque.

At the execution department, a statue of a man with a spike-studded club stands across from a statue of a woman on her knees in chains. It's next to the department of betrayal.

More whimsical are the department of wind gods and department of rain gods, where there are statues of a man with a fish head and a man with a frog's head. As for the department of hell, it's not ghoulish at all. "The concept of Hell was originally related to Buddhism and later associated with the concept of the hell of Taishan Mountain," reads the plaque outside this department.

"People have come to believe that hell had a fair trial court and would make a fair judgment and reverse any unfair cases in the mortal world."

Opening hours are between 9 am and 4:30 pm, Tuesday to Thursday.

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