The Temple of the Poor and the Wild Mulberry was first built in the Western Jin and Eastern Jin dynasties (265-420), when it was known as the Temple of Excellent Blessings. In the Tang Dynasty it was renamed the Dragon Spring Temple and in the Jin Dynasty rebuilt as the Temple of Longevity. Additions were made to it in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, and during the Kangxi reign it was rebuilt and renamed the Temple of Hill and Cloud.
The present name of the temple refers to the Dragon Pool (Longtan) above the temple and the wild mulberry (zhe) trees growing in the surrounding hills. From the old saying, First there was Tanzhe and then there was Youzhou (a name for the Beijing region dating back to the sixth century), one can imagine the antiquity of the temple. Legend has it that the pool was originally called the Green Dragon Pool (Qinglongtan). When the famous Tang monk Fa Zang came here to preach, a green dragon residing in the pool was so frightened of the monk’s supernatural powers that it fled. That day at dusk a violent storm broke out and the pool was transformed into a flat plain.
The temple is located in Beijing’s Western Hills, on Tanzhe Hill, 13 kilometers west of Mentougou, and laid out along three axes.
The central axis consists of the main gate and the front, main and rear halls. Many cultural relics are to be found in this architectural group, the most interesting being a statue of Princess Miaoyan, daughter of Kublai Khan. According to legend, the temple as a nun. She worshiped the Bodhisattva Guanyin so devoutly that the particular flagstone upon which she stood and kowtowed soon developed three indentations in it-two from her feet and one from her head. Among the other relics is an image of the monk Yao Guangxiao, an imperial tutor during the Ming Dynasty. On the eastern side of the Mahavira Hall stands an ancient gingko tree known as the Emperor’s Tree. It is nearly 30 meters high and is said to have been planted in the Liao Dynasty. There is another symmetrically placed gingko growing on the western side of the hall called the Emperor’s Companion Tree. The pines along the central axis are particularly grand and besides them there are magnolia and sal trees and a variety of other rare flowers and shrubs. Climbing up to the Vairocaca Hall (Piluge), one can obtain a good view of the entire temple. Hanging under the eaves of the Hall of the Dragon King is the famous stonefish. This one-meter-long sea creature weighs 150 kilograms and is carved out of a meteorite. When struck it resounds with a clear bell-like tone.
On the eastern axis are the rooms where the Qing emperors rested during their visits to the hills. The architectural style employed here differs substantially from that in the temple.
A bamboo grove has been planted in the northern section of this part of the temple, and through a dragon-head spout set in an adjacent wall, water from two mountain springs bubbles forth and flows through a curving watercourse carved in white marble which forms the base of a small kiosk.
The western axis is comprised of a number of scattered buildings. Although the overall layout gives the impression of solemn regularity, the square and round Buddhist halls with their colorful glazed tile roofs are very beautiful. The highest point in this section is the Hall of the Goddess of Mercy. Great numbers of tiny bells hang from its corners and make a delightful tinkling sound when the wind blows.
Outside the main gate are two other points of interest: the Hall of Peaceful Joy (Anletang); and the stupa park, containing the tombs of monks from the Liao and Jin dynasties. Originally, there were numerous wild mulberry trees in the park, but now only one remains in the eastern section.