- Because of the Kung Fu TV series of the 1970s and movies about Shaolin Kung Fu, the Shaolin Temple became a world renowned tourist destination.
- The temple has a long history. It was destroyed and rebuilt over and over again.
- There is a government supported Shaolin School called Tagou Martial Arts School which teaches Chinese Kung Fu fighting styles.
- There is a pagoda forest as the graveyard, where a number of accomplished monks have been buried.
- The remaining architecture was designated a place on the UNESCO Heritage List site on August 1, 2010.
- There are martial arts performances and a place to go for vegetarian meals near the temple.
As one of the main temples of Buddhism in China, the Shaolin Temple is located near the base of Songshan Mountain near Dengfeng City in Henan Province, China. The Shaolin Temple boasts rich cultural and natural attractions, including thousands of years old Shaolin "Zen Buddhism, Martial Arts and Medicine", beautiful natural scenery and geological wonders.
The style of Buddhism developed here is centered on martial arts training and Zen meditation. The Zen way of meditation, as practiced by many Japanese, originated here as did certain styles of martial arts in East Asian countries. It is thought that the teachers at the temple had a big influence on both the Buddhism and the martial arts in Korea and Japan.
Top Things to See
Three major things to see while visiting the Shaolin Temple are:
- the martial arts performances staged near the entrance, which last about 30 minutes
- the old architecture further up the mountain
- the Forest of Pagodas
It is said that in the early 1900s, 90 percent of the buildings in the big complex were destroyed. What remains is mainly from the Ming and Qing eras.
The Martial Arts Performance
There is a large performing hall near the gate of the Shaolin Temple where 7 martial arts performances are shown every day. Generally speaking, this show played by the martial arts students lasts about 30 minutes. You can feast your eyes and feel amazed by Shaolin Kung Fu. Among the four parts of the performance, the host chooses three members of the audience to learn Kung Fu fighting styles from the students on the stage. As a result, the winner who learns the best can get a gift.
The Pagoda Forest
The Pagoda Forest is a big group of about 250 stone or brick stupas that were built from about 791 AD during the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. These pagodas have one, three, five or seven stories at most, which stand for the achievements of dead monks, and are used to commemorate them.
The Kung Fu TV series was very popular in the US in the 1970s, especially among children. It sparked interest in martial arts and Buddhism. Though the history portrayed was fictional, the story of the temple being destroyed in the 19th century by the Qing Dynasty and a monk coming to the US is partially true because the temple was attacked and destroyed several times in the 20th century. Furthermore, monks escaped to the US where they set up a school for Shaolin.
Shaolin leaders left the temple in the 20th century and settled in various places including the US. The religion was repressed first by foreign countries, then by the warlords and political armies, and then by the Chinese government. People trained in those schools that they established in other places say that the martial arts and religious philosophy at the Shaolin Temple site isn’t true Shaolin teaching, but a mixture of other styles and teaching. The fighting style used at the temple now is called Wushu.
Nowadays, the temple has been reopened by the government. The UNESCO committee recognizes both the old remaining buildings and the historical role of the temple in spreading Zen Buddhism and martial arts to Japan, Korea and other countries. It is a place where people can go to see martial arts performances, some architecture from the Ming or Qing eras, and the graves of hundreds of monks in the Forest of Pagodas.
The Shaolin Monastery was founded by an Indian named Batuo. He and the emperor who favored his teachings started to construct buildings at the site in 497 or so. Another Indian, who is now called Tamo by the Chinese, came to China in approximately the year 526.
According to reports, in India he had trained hard in Mahayana Buddhist practices that required hard exercise and martial arts training as well as study and meditation. When he arrived at the Shaolin Monastery, he criticized the monks for being weak and without martial arts training. He was told to leave. He was said to have meditated in a cave for a period of time, and then he was accepted by the other monks and they started training.
After this, both Buddhists at the temple and Buddhists all over China faced times when they were attacked. In various eras, the governments tried to destroy the religion. Sometimes, the monks were considered to be enemies by various governments or armies. At other times, the monks at the temple were favored if they helped to protect the rulers.
In modern times, the biggest attacks came after the Boxer Rebellion when some Shaolin monks may have participated in the attack on missionaries and foreigners living in China. This Boxer Rebellion started around 1899, and then it turned into an open attack on foreign armies in conjunction with the Qing army. The attack failed and, in 1901, the Chinese Shaolin leaders and monks started to escape to other countries where they formed criminal organizations, Shaolin associations and Shaolin schools.
Then in 1928, a warlord set fire to 90 percent of the buildings and destroyed many manuscripts in the library. Again during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Communist students attacked the temple and flogged and paraded the five remaining monks that they found there. The Buddhist materials they found were destroyed.
However, in the last two decades, the Chinese government has established the Shaolin Temple again. Partly because of the popularity of Shaolin and Zen Buddhism in the rest of the world, many Shaolin schools opened around the temple.
Tourists came to see the Shaolin Temple and foreigners went to train in the schools, but the government took over the operation of the remaining martial arts school and forced the others to leave the area of the temple site. Now there is only one school operating at the temple site. However, the martial artists might not actually be practicing Shaolin Kung Fu or even be Buddhists.
- Location: Near Dengfeng City in Henan Province. It is about two hours from the Zhengzhou Railway Station by bus.
- How to get there: There are tour buses that may cost 30 RMB or more and may not allow you to spend much time at the site because they go to other sites and places to eat.
- There are also cheaper direct buses that get there in about two or three hours.
- Ticket price: 100 yuan
- Open: About 8am to 6pm
- Duration: 1.5 - 2 hours
- Tel: 0371-62748971, 0371-62873444
- Website: www.chinasssl.com
- Watch the martial arts performances.
- Pray for health and happiness.
- See the old architecture and the stupas.
- Have vegetarian meals.
Yongtai Vegetarian Restaurant
There is a popular and recommended vegetarian restaurant called the Yongtai Temple Vegetarian Restaurant, which is located about 2 kilometers from the Shaolin Temple. This restaurant is divided into two yards with many wooden tables and chairs in the open air area.
You will be intoxicated by the quiet and peaceful environment of this restaurant with the accompaniment of the soft music. The waiters are wearing traditional Chinese clothes with sweet smiles, creating the best place for you to experience the culture and spirit of Chinese Buddhism.
The food in this restaurant is exquisite and delicious. Served with jasmine tea, the food tastes even greater. This restaurant has won a high reputation from travelers and it is a must-go to restaurant after visiting the Shaolin Temple.
- How to get there: Take bus 8 at Dengfeng West Station, and get off at the Yongtai Temple (永泰寺).
- Tel: 0371-62748757
- Open: 9am - 8pm
- Average price per person: 45 yuan
Near the Shaolin Temple on Songshan Mountain, near Dengfeng City in Henan Province, there are other ancient religious sites, a Confucian academy called Songyang Academy and an old observatory called Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory. The Taoist Zhongyue Temple was a center for Taoism. The Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory was built in 1276 by Kublai Khan to observe the movement of the sun and stars and to measure time.