Guan Yu Forest is the memorial temple and tomb for Guan Yu. China's feudal society had a strict system for designating graves: the tomb for emperors was to be called ling (陵 mausoleum); for princes and kings, zhong (塚 tomb); for common people, fen (墳 grave); and for sages, lin (林 forest). Since Guan Yu was held in esteem as the military sage through the feudal dynasties, his tomb was named Guanlin (the Forest of Guan Yu). Guanlin Temple is surrounded by many ancient pine and cypress trees and is located right in Guanlin Town, south of Luoyang City (one of China's seven ancient capitals).

Guan Yu (~160-219 CE), originally from Shanxi province, was a famous general of the Shu Kingdom around the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265). The legend of Guanlin begins when General Guan Yu was tasked with protecting Jinzhou in 214 CE. Five years later, after Guan Yu had won many victories, one of Sun Quan's generals attacked Jinzhou by surprise and forced Guan Yu's retreat to Maicheng. During his retreat he was captured and killed with his son Guan Ping by Sun Quan's army. Afraid that Liu Bei (king of the Shu, and Guan Yu's brother by oath) would attack him in revenge, Sun Quan ordered his people to take Guan Yu's head in wooden box to Luoyang that same night in an attempt to put blame on Cao Cao (an enemy king Guan Yu's army had previously defeated). Realizing Sun Quan's scheme immediately, Cao Cao ordered his men to carve a replica human body out of wood. He then solemnly buried Guan Yu's head with the wooden body outside the South Gate of Luoyang City in a manner befitting nobility. This is still Guan Yu's tomb today.

To safeguard their own interests, the ruling classes of successive dynasties overstated Guan Yu's deeds instilling reverence in the people and placating memories of revenge. They held Guan Yu as the embodiment of loyalty and justice and as military sage. Temples were built everywhere so people could worship Guan Yu. Sacrificial rites as grand as Confucius' were given to Guan Yu, who gradually became a god in feudal China and enjoyed widespread popularity among the people.

1300 years later, in 1593 the Temple of Guan Yu was built in Luoyang (the 21st year of the Wan Li reign under Emperor Shen Zong of the Ming Dynasty). Bao Wei, the king in Luoyang built a stone memorial archway in front of Guan Yu's tomb which attracted a large number of pilgrims. In the 24th year of the Wan Li reign (1596), Bao Wei's concubine, Madame Li, and her sister-in-law formed a society of women worshipers to collect money for the construction of Guan Yu's temple.

Money and goods were generally donated by people in Henan to help build the temple, a three year task. The Temple of Guan Yu was constructed in the style of imperial palaces; its layout is carefully arranged, the scale is large and the buildings are well preserved. Its main structures include the Gate, Bell-and-Drum Tower, Qisheng Hall, First Hall, Second Hall, Chamber Hall, the stone memorial archway and corridors, around all of which were planted hundreds of cypress trees, covering an area of just over 11 acres. The temple was rebuilt during the Qian Long reign of the Qing Dynasty (1736-1796). More structures were added, such as the stage pavilion (a unique design with double roofs built for performances offering sacrifices to Guan Yu), gate tower, memorial gateway, stone-paved path, platforms in front of the halls, octagonal pavilion and eastern and western side halls, covering a total area of 16.5 acres.

The gate of the Guanlin Temple is a five-bay wide structure with a straight gable roof. Upon entering the gate, one faces the inside gate flanked by a pair of majestic, iron lions each weighing about 1,500 kilograms. In the upper middle of the gate, a horizontal board bears the inscription "Guan Yu's fame has spread far and wide" by Empress Dowager Ci Xi.

Beginning from the inside gate, a stone-paved path with balustrades leads to the main hall. The baluster is of 104 carved lions, small and large. On both sides of the path are ornamental columns twined with dragons.

The main hall is seven bays wide and three bays deep. It is round roofed in green glazed tile. The four corners of the eaves are respectively decorated with generals Pang Juan, Han Xin, Zhou Yu and Luo Cheng, each riding an iron horse. Surrounded by winding corridors, the main hall was built in the style of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing. It formerly contained the statues of Guan Yu and Guan Ping (they now reside in the Second Hall). On the main gate are wood carvings of the Ming Dynasty telling stories of Guan Yu. Still intact after more than 300 years, they are of a type seldom seen in China and excellent works of the Ming Dynasty.

Adjacent to the main hall is the five-bay wide Qisheng Hall, where officials paid homage to Guan Yu in annual memorial ceremonies. Because of this another name is the Homage-Paying Hall. According to state regulations at that time, memorial ceremonies should be held in the Temple of Guan Yu twice a year, in spring and autumn. When Emperor Kang Xi (r. 1662-1723) of the Qing Dynasty made an inspection tour to south China, he came here to offer sacrifices to Guan Yu and also inscribed a horizontal board, now hung in the hall. In 1902, Empress Dowager Ci Xi and Emperor Guang Xu (r. 1875-1908) paid a visit to the Temple of Guan Yu on their way back to Beijing from western China. They donated an imperial board and one thousand taels of gold (worth $400,000 today, greatly more at the time) for reconstruction of the temple. An account of their gifts was engraved on a stone which was inlaid in the western wall of the hall.

Right and left of the main hall are two rows of corridors, containing fifty rooms which now serve as exhibition rooms of the Luoyang Ancient Art Gallery. Stone carvings and sculptures are on display in the west corridor while inscriptions on tablets are in the east corridor.

Behind the main hall is the Second Hall, a round roofed, five-bay wide structure. Twelve colored pictures are painted under the front eaves, telling the story of Guan Yu. Inside the hall is a sitting statue of Guan Yu wearing black turban, green robe and armor with knitted "silkworm" brows glaring toward the southeast, where the State of Wu is located. Killed by Sun Quan of Wu, Guan Yu was seething with hatred so the statue was called "Guan Yu in martial attire glaring at the State of Wu." Temples of Guan Yu in other locations do not have this statue. On Guan Yu's left stands his adopted son, Guan Ping, who holds a seal and wears a sword; on his right is his disciple, Zhou Cang holding a sword with one hand and clenching the other in a fist. When Guan Yu and Guan Ping were murdered together Zhou Cang committed suicide by cutting his throat to sacrifice his life with them. Later generations put the three together and formed a group of statues here for people to worship.

Behind the Second Hall stands the Third Hall, also called Chamber Hall. It is a structure five bays wide with a straight gable roof. It originally contained the portrait of "Guan Yu Reading the Spring and Autumn Annals," the portrait of "Guan Yu on a Tour" and the portrait of "Guan Yu in Sleep." Behind the Chamber Hall is a stone memorial archway erected in the Ming Dynasty. Inscribed "Tomb of Marquis Shou Ting of the Han Dynasty," this archway is covered with various inscriptions from later generations.

At the back of the archway is an octagonal pavilion, containing a stone pillar with the inscription "The Forest of Guan Yu, Military Sage of Loyalty, Justice and Heroism". The pavilion has a gable roof covered with glazed tiles and supported by eight fluted columns.

At the back of the temple is a 15-meter high mound where Guan Yu's head is said to be buried. In the fourth year of the Kang Xi reign, Guan Yu was held in respect as a scholar, and then as a military sage in the 8th year of the Yong Zheng reign. His temple is thus called the Forest of Guan Yu. Of all the temples of Guan Yu in China, this temple in Luoyang containing Guan Yu's head is the only one to be called the Forest of Guan Yu.

An interesting geographical sidenote, about 80 kilometers north east of Guanlin Temple near Deng Feng city is the Shaolin Temple, the cradle of Chan sect Buddhism.

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