Foguang Temple - a supreme work of art of Chinese Ancient wooden architecture

Culture Tour


Fuguang Temple is a Buddhist temple located in the half mountain side of Foguang Mountain, 25 kilometers northeast of Wutain county in Shanxi Province of China.The temple is oriented in an east-west position due to there being mountains located on the east, north and south. Having mountains behind a building is believed to improve its FengShui.

The temple consists of two main halls. The major hall of the temple is the great East hall. It was built in the year of 857 during the Tang Dynasty. The hall stands on the top of a large stone platform. It is a single story structure measuring seven bays in width,4 bays in depth and is supported by inner and outer sets of columns. According to architectural Records, it is the second earliest preserved timber structure in China.

Dougong is a unique structure element of interlocking wooden brackets, one of the most important elements in the traditional Chinese architecture. The pieces are fit together by joinery alone without glue or fasteners, due to the precision and quality of the carpentry.

On top of each column is a complicated set of brackets containing seven different bracket types that are one-third as high as the column itself. Supporting the roof of the hall, each of the bracket sets are connected by crescent shaped crossbeams, which create an inner ring above the inner set of columns and an outer ring above the outer columns.

The various parts are so well-proportioned as to give the whole structure and appearance of grandeur and solidity. The brackets, the beams and the ceiling in the hall serve also a decorative purpose. 

Dougong was widely used in the ancient China during The Spring and Autumn Period(770B.C. - 476B.C.) . And develop into a complex set of interlocking parts by its peak in the Tang and Song period.

The five rooms in the middle under the front eave of the hall are installed with big wooden doors. That is the oldest wooden door still used in China. The two rooms in each side and two in the back are installed with straight lattice windows.

Inside the hall are thirty-six sculptures, as well as murals on each wall that date from the Tang Dynasty and later periods. All of these statues are well proportioned and simply molded. Although they were repainted by the other dynasties, the sculpture style of Tang Dynasty can still be seen on them.

Today the temple is a UNESCO world heritage site and in undergoing restoration.

Translated by Chen Siting & Diana

Photograph by Xu Zhifu

Posted by Wang Peiwen