The Hanging Temple, also called the Hanging Monastery or Xuankong Si, is in Hunyuan County, Datong, Shanxi Province. Built over 1,500 years ago, and suspended on the cliffs of Hengshan Mountain, about 50 meters above the ground, the Hanging Temple is a truly amazing feat of engineering and one of the world’s forgotten wonders.
Why Visit the Hanging Temple?
1. It’s a medieval miracle of architecture.
It is said that the Hanging Temple was built by a monk called Liao Ran during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–534).
The whole temple is a wooden frame structure. It was constructed by drilling holes into the cliffside and inserting beams into the holes up to 2–3 meters (7–10 feet) deep. Then the pavilions were built out from this horizontal foundation.
Now, we can see many pillars holding up the temple, but actually, the temple was constructed without the help of the wooden pillars, and they were added later for preservation and safety.
The Hanging Temple was selected as one of “The Top 10 Unique and Precipitous Architectures” by Times magazine in 2010.
2. It’s got an ingenious cliffside location.
The pavilions are connected by dizzying plank roads, and they are backed by steep cliffs and fronted by deep valleys. You may wonder why the Hanging Monastery was built so inaccessibly on the face of a cliff?
In a word: anti-weathering… not anti-banditry (primarily), as some might think. Actually, the temple site has its own unique topographical advantages:
The Hanging Temple is tucked into a natural overhang of Hengshan’s Cuiping Peak, which naturally extends outward to block rainfall.
Its stable, dry mountainside position above the valley floor avoids damp and rot from flooding and runoff erosion.
The Hanging Temple is backed by Cuiping Peak and faces Tianfeng Peak. These two peaks form a bay-shaped valley, which acts as a haven and reduces wind erosion of the Hanging Temple.
3. It’s the only monastery for 3 Chinese religions.
The Hanging Monastery is the only monastery in China enshrining three religions — Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The temple boasts a fine collection of religious statues — 80 in all — including statues in bronze, iron, terracotta, and stone. All are remarkably true-to-life.
The most outstanding feature of the Hanging Monastery is the side-by-side sculptures of Laozi, Confucius, and Shakyamuni — the founders of the three main religions of China: Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, respectively.
Due to its relatively remote location, the Hanging Monastery served as a travel lodge — a rest stop for travelers. Because religion was prevalent at that time, and people were reluctant to stop at places that worshipped a different religion, the Hanging Monastery enshrined China’s three major religions so that more travelers could stay there.
Highlights of the Hanging Monastery
The Hanging Monastery consists of two pavilions, a bridge, and 40 halls. It’s 32 meters long in total. Here are its three highlights:
The South Pavilion is three-story, 8 meters (26 feet) long and 4 meters (13 feet) wide. This pavilion holds the biggest hall and the tallest sculptures of the temple.
The North Pavilion is also three-story, 4 meters in width, but 7 meters (23 feet) in length. Inside this pavilion a typical hall on the third floor holds statues of the three Chinese traditional religious founders: Confucius left, Laozi right, and Shakyamuni in the center.
The Long Bridge, connecting the two pavilions, is about 10 meters (30 ft) long. There is a pavilion above the bridge with a hall for worshiping statues.
Best Times to Visit the Hanging Temple
You can visit the Hanging Temple all year around, but considering the Datong weather, normally from April to October is the best period. Datong has a temperate continental climate with distinct seasons, low rainfall, a short summer, and a long freezing winter (November–March).
There are big temperature differences between morning and night, day to day, and mountain and valley, so please bring a warm jacket with you even if you travel in the summer time.
In order to protect the temple, the number of visitors is limited to 80 in the temple at a time. Therefore, it is recommended to visit the Hanging Temple early in the morning to avoid long waits especially in the high travel seasons (summer and holidays).
Open:8am to 6pm from June to October, otherwise 8:30am to 5:30pm
Recommended visit duration:2–3 hours
Most travelers visit the temple together with other attractions in Datong, such as Mt. Heng, the Yungang Grottoes, and Nine-Dragon Screen Wall.
Contact us and we will customize a Datong tour including the Hanging Temple for you.
How to Get to the Hanging Temple
The Hanging Temple is about 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Datong City, 1½ hours by car, and 10 minutes from the Mount Heng entrance. If you want to get to the Hanging Temple, you have to get to Datong prefecture first.
You can take a flight to Datong Yungang Airport from 25 China cities including Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Xiamen, Yinchuan, and Urumqi.
You can also take a bullet train to Datong from Beijing (2½ hours), Taiyuan (2½ hours), Pingyao (3½ hours), and Xi’an (6½ hours).
After arrival, you could take a taxi from Datong to the Hanging Temple. Or contact us and we’d be happy to arrange a comfortable transfer and well-guided Hanging Temple visit for you.
Discover China’s Cultural Relics with Us
China is a country with a long history of over 3,000 years. There are many cultural relics besides the Hanging Temple in China. See our customizable 9-Day China Cultural Relics Classic Tour (Beijing to Xi’an via Datong) itinerary for ways to explore China’s past.
For a tailor-made China tour, please tell us your interests and requirements.