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Da Gao Xuan Temple is Disappearing

“You’re not allowed in! We’ve been watching your every step, and our surveillance camera has been aimed at you.” This was what the guard yelled at us when we tried to enter the compound of Da Gao Xuan Temple at 21-23 Jingshan Xi Street in Beijing’s Xicheng District to inspect its state of preservation. To be unable to enter this compound was not unusual– it is a military-restricted zone.
Da Gao Xuan Temple was built in 1542 and served the imperial households of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for their Daoist ceremonies. Located just north of the northwest corner tower of the Forbidden City, it occupies 13,000 square meters and is surrounded by four high walls. The principal buildings in the compound are the Da Gao Xuan Dian, the Altar of the Nine Heavens, and a two storey tall pavilion symbolizing the “Roundness of Heaven” and the “Square of Earth”, with a total built area of 1,600 square meters. Because of the extremely high historical and artistic value of the temple, in 1996, it was listed by the State Council as a priority cultural protection unit, accorded the highest protection under the law (see photo #1).
For government units to enter the temple compound to inspect the state of preservation is rather difficult. On several occasions we had contacted officials of the Xicheng District of Beijing and of the Beijing city government with regard to this issue, and the response had always been a resigned “It’s a military zone, we can’t go in.”
Of course, we can’t go forcing our way into a military zone, but we nonetheless have found ways to learn about the temple’s condition. First, we stood across the street from the main gate of #21 Jingshan Xi Street and photographed the two storey pavilion. It appeared to be used as a car garage and car repair facility. A flimsy grey brick building was next to the ancient pavilion. As a result of rebuilding, use, and lack of repair, it had entirely changed from its original appearance. Criss-crossing electrical lines added an element of fire risk (see photo #2). The other temple buildings in the compound should be to the south of the two storey pavilion, on the left of the inside of the main gate at #21 Jingshan Xi Street. We were unable to go inside to photograph, but under the pretext of asking a couple of young people for street directions, we were able to cast a quick glance in that direction and saw a red wall, but it was a scene of dilapidation and messiness. Clearly, Da Gao Xuan Temple is disappearing.
According to the requirements of the Cultural Protection Act, Beijing City government should set the boundary of the temple’s protected area, and within that no construction or engineering work would be permitted that was not related to preservation of the temple, nor would any activities be permitted that might impact on the preservation of the temple and its environment.
We have in fact found the relevant documents of the Beijing City government setting the protected area boundary.  Without a doubt, as is evidenced in photograph #2, there are illegal structures and illegal activities going on within the walls of the temple.
The fact that Da Gao Xuan Temple has been declared a national priority cultural protection unit means that it is a part of the national-level cultural heritage. It is located in the center of the Old City of Beijing, and is an important part of the old Imperial City. Since tourists constantly pass it, the site could hardly be considered a strategic outpost. The military should immediately vacate it and return it to the people and tourists. The illegal buildings and illegal activities should be dealt with in a set period of time, and the existing ancient buildings should be appropriately conserved and repaired, since this is what the law dictates as the government’s responsibility.
The preservation of the Old City of Beijing and of the Imperial City are receiving close attention from the entire nation, and indeed from the entire world. We believe that the problems contained within the walls of the temple are a gaping hole to be filled in the protection work of the Old City and the Imperial City.
The Communist Party of China and Government of China advocate “The Party stands for the people, the government rules for the people.” The present condition of Da Gao Xuan Dian is not only against the law, but it is against what the Party and the government advocate. So we must fill this gaping hole!
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