A Social History of an Imperial Capital



The Huguo Tibetan monastery. Drawing by Wang Nan School of Architecture of Tsinghua University
The Huguo Tibetan monastery. Drawing by Wang Nan, School of Architecture of Tsinghua University

A brief description of the program

The program is carried out by the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, with the support of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and Peking Normal University, in close collaboration with several other Chinese and French research institutions and universities. The research team is composed of a dozen of Chinese and French professors and researchers and many students both Chinese and French. Since its beginnings in 2003, the program has trained several doctoral and post-doctoral students in the study of epigraphy, religious history and fieldwork. The various phases of the work include the following:

Maps: We started with the famous map of the Qianlong era, "The complete map of the capital," drawn between 1745 and 1750 on a scale of 1/650. The map shows every building and street, including temples with their names. We decided to limit ourselves to the "Tartar" perimeter, i.e. the Inner City, where we have located 829 temples whose names are written down and the buildings clearly drawn on the map. We added 700 more sites found through literati descriptions of the city, epigraphy, archives and fieldwork. The total of religious institutions studied in the program amounts to some 1,500, which were all built between the thirteenth and the twentieth century.

The temples of section 9 of the line 4 of the Qianlong map
The temples of section 9 of the line 4 of the Qianlong map

Steles: We have compiled a list of some 600 inscriptions related to temples of the Inner City. Originally written on stone tablets standing in the courtyards of the temples, they are now preserved on rubbings made during the first half of the twentieth century. The largest collection of rubbings is held in the National Library of China in Peking and has been reproduced in a one-hundred-volume series. We copied the inscriptions from their reproductions in this collection or directly from the rubbings. We now have digital versions of all the inscriptions and scans of all the rubbings published.

Vérification in situ de la transcription d’une inscription du temple, Guanghuasi en 2013
Checking the copy of the inscription in situ; Guanghua temple, 2013

Archives: Due to the limited number of members on our research team, we have been able to use only a small part of the Qing dynasty archives produced by the Imperial Household Department. We estimate to 6,000 the number of documents pertaining to this archival fund relating to the history of the Chinese capital's temples. They refer mostly to the support given by the court to more than one hundred temples. These documents tell us about the huge investment of the court for maintaining the buildings of dozens of temples and supporting their religious activities.
We have used systematically the archives of the successive temple registration campaigns which took place between 1929 and 1947 and are held by the Beijing Municipal Archives. One thousand files, made up of lists of temple residents, inventories of statues and other ritual objects (in some cases steles or inscribed incense burners), tax certificates, property deeds as well as guarantor endorsements, provide invaluable information on 450 temples located in the Inner City. These materials shed light on such issues as temple property, the management of religious institutions and the degree of activity of a temple during the period concerned.

Literature: Starting from the Ming dynasty, an abundant amount of literati writings was devoted to descriptions of the capital's famous historical sites, among which temples are well represented. However, the most detailed accounts of religious institutions only concern Peking's most important ones, including sometimes transcriptions of the steles erected on the site.

Fieldwork: In order to highlight the present conditions of Peking's temples, those represented on the map of the Qianlong era as well as those discovered through our exploration of written sources, we have organized systematic in situ surveys to search for the locations of every one of them. We have thus been able to ascertain that physical traces of only two hundred remain today out of the 1,500 temples present in our sources. Such "traces" differ widely from one location to another: in some cases, complete compounds are still extant, whereas in other cases, we could only trace back the original temple's existence to one of its single halls, generally converted to some other use than religious activity. Most of the time, the Chinese capital's numerous religious institutions only survive in the memory of the older generations of residents.

Fortune God temple near the Drum Tower, 2012
Fortune God temple near the Drum Tower, 2012

Website: All the data collected in our sources and the copies of stone inscriptions have been stored in a database. More work will be necessary before this large amount of historical information can be offered to the public on an open website.

Publication: We present part of this research program's results in a series of eleven volumes (four have been printed to this day), published by the National Library of China Publishing House. Each volume includes the documentation gathered for one horizontal section - or line - of the Inner city section of the Qianlong-era Peking map (i.e., from the north Second Ring Road to the South of Tiananmen square). For each temple, the readers are provided with a brief historical account composed on the basis of the documentation previously described. Following this description, all the stone inscriptions relating to this same temple that we have been able to locate and copy are presented, under three different formats: reproduction of the rubbing, transcription of the inscription in its original presentation and punctuated version.

Temples et stèles de Pékin, vol. 4, 2 tomes
Temples et stèles de Pékin, vol. 4, 2 tomes

Marianne Bujard (吕敏), éd., Ju Xi, Guan Xiaojing 關笑晶, Wang Minqing 王敏慶, Lei Yang 雷陽, Beijing neicheng simiao beike zhi 北京内城寺廟碑刻志 (Temples et stèles de Pékin), vol. 4, 2 t., 916 p., Péking, Guojia tushuguan 國家圖書館出版社 (National Library), 2017.