Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Why is Yuantong Temple so special?

Yuantong Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in Kunming with a history of more than 1200 years. It is also the largest temple in Kunming.


The History of Yuantong Temple

Tang dynasty Yongtai period first year (765), Nanzhao (a local regime in ancient China) built Tuodong city in the north shore of Dianchi Lake, at the same time, also built a batch of buddhist temples with characteristic of Nanzhao. The Potalaka Temple built in Tadong east northern suburb of Luofeng Mountain and cliff is one of that batch of temples, and Potalaka Temple is the Yuantong Temple predecessor.
Potalaka is Sanskrit, also have translation as “potala”, or “putuo”, which means “the light mountain with a small white flower”, is the Avalokitesvara sanctum. “Yuantong” is one name of the 32 names and alias of Avalokitesvara, Avalokitesvara also known as “Yuantong”. So, whether it is “Potalaka”, or “Yuantong”, it is temple to consecrate Avalokitesvara.
Buddhism called the goddess of mercy (Avalokitesvara) as mercy of the bodhisattva, there are many incarnations, all living creatures who suffer just recite his name, the goddess of mercy “hear the sounds”, immediately leave for rescue. So it is supported with believers. Goddess of mercy with the Tibetan tantric Buddhism was introduced into Yunnan, located at the edge of the Erhai Lake at first, and became one of the main idols of tantric Buddhism in Yunnan. Nanzhao nobilities regarded Tuodong city as “east capital” and at the beginning of founding, they built Guanyin Temple Potalaka Temple. This Potalaka Temple is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in China, 100 years earlier than the Zhejiang Mount Putuo of four famous Buddhist mountains.
Potalaka Temple existed for 400 years, was destroyed at the beginning of Yuan dynasty due to the war and the temple ruined. From Yuan dynasty Dade period fifth year (1301) to Yanyou period sixth year (1319), people of Yuan dynasty spent 18 years to rebuild a larger temple in the ruin of Potalaka Temple, and was renamed Yuantong Temple. In Ming dynasty, Yuantong Temple is surrounded in the city, and got special care from the supreme ruler of Yunnan Mu family. Yuantong Temple is the main place for Buddhist ceremony of Mu family, Mu was also became a big benefactor Yuantong Temple. Mu family donated and raised to repair and expand for many times, Yuantong Temple entered the heyday, became the largest Buddhist temple in Kunming city. In Qing dynasty Kangxi period eighth year (in 1669), when Wu Sangui ruled the Yunnan he made a major repair, the gate moved south to the opposite of Yuantong street, and he set the “Yuantong Scenic Spot” memorial archway and octagonal pavilion, laid the basic pattern of Yuantong Temple today.
During Tongzhi period tenth year (in 1871), the temple had been submerged, Buddha was damaged. Guangxu period the Buddha was rebuilt, and the temple consecrated Sakyamuni Trikāyāh, however, the temple was not routinely changed into “the great buddha’s hall”, still retained the name of “Yuantong treasure house”. As a result, the Guanyin hall here consecrated to tathagata. Yuantong temple was the Avalokiteshvara sanctum, and it can not do without the Avalokiteshvara in Guanyin temple, so the Avalokiteshvara put into the Octagonal Pavilion in the front of the hall.

Style Of Yuantong Temple

Yuantong temple sites have tall spectacular Yuantong Shengjingfang, Yuantong Palace, Octagonal Pavilion and at present the only one Theravada Buddhism of the China mainland—copper buddist hall. The copper Buddha sitting statue inside the hall (3.5 meters high, weighing 4 tons) and Yuantong Palace Sakyamuni statue are in different shapes and show the differences between the two sect of Buddhism. Yuantong Temple looks magnificent, towering and the Buddha is solemn, pavilions are unique, trees are green, attracts generations of poets and painters left many praise verse here, and it has been one of the eight sights of Kunming. Now, after reparation, it shows more its elegant appearance, like a beautiful garden in regions south of the Yangtze River.

Unlike other buddhist temple, after going into the gate is not uphill, but downhill along the central axis, and the Great Buddha’s Hall is located in the lowest place of Yuantong Temple. The temple is facing south, gorgeous. The whole temple is centered on Yuantong palace, there is a pool in front of it, on both sides of winding corridors are around the pool and connect the hall, forming the unique style of waterside pavilion temple and pond yard. Temple consecrate a Qing dynasty Guangxu period of delicate Triratna Buddha sitting statue, and in the center of the hall there are two columns as high as more than 10 meters, each has a dragon on it. Yuantong Temple is a masterpiece of Chinese buddhist temple.
Existing buddhist temple of Dianchi Lake area, the earliest and the oldest buddhist temple is Yuantong Temple at the foot of Yuantong hill. It is also the biggest buddhist temple in Kunming city, and it is the location of the Buddhist association in Kunming, Yunnan province.

Main Attraction in Yuantong Temple


The extant buildings include the Yuantong Wonderful Realm (圆通胜境坊), Octagonal Pavilion (八角亭), Yuantong Hall (圆通殿), Copper Buddha Hall (铜佛殿), and etc.

Yuantong Wonderful Realm

This old temple is noted for its unusual structure which is high at the front and low at the back, From the front archway named “Yuantong Shengjing” (Wonderland), one can behold the entire garden.

Yuantong Hall

To the north is the splendid Yuantong main hall. At both sides of the hall are covered corridors running beside clear pools. This structure of a Buddhist hall surrounded by water is unique in China. The main hall maintains the style of the Yuan dynasty architecture. Circling the two central pillars inside the hall are two giant dragons carved during the Ming dynasty. The blue and yellow dragons face each other, as if they are ready to fight.

The stone staircases on both sides of the main hall are carved out of the cliff and are known as the “Caizhilu.” From here one can climb to the top of the mountain. Beside the path are the most ancient inscriptions in Kunming. Weathering in the wind and rain for centuries, the characters are still clear today, and they are one of the most important historical relics in the city.

Behind the main hall are two caves, the “Yougu” and “Chaoying”. The caves wind far into the mysterious depths of the mountain, and, according to local legend, were once the home of dragons. In the Nanzhao Kingdom, a monk built a temple beside the cliff to entice the dragons. When the temple was destroyed, he built a terrace on which to perform magic on the dragons. Sun Ranweng, author and writer of the long antithetical couplet hung on the Daguan Belvedere, used to make a living by predicting people’s fortunes here.

Copper Buddha Hall

In 1982, Thai Buddhists sent a copper statue of Sakymuni to Yuantong Temple as a symbol of friendship, and the statue is three and a half meters high and four tons in weight. A few years later, in 1985, a Copper Buddha Hall was built in a combination of Chinese and Tai styles to house this exquisite gift.

Other Atrractions

Yuan Dynasty Statues

Sakymuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha, all Yuan Dynasty statues, are found in the main hall. The surrounding 500 Buddhist Arhats who are carved in the walls are rare treasures noted for their perfect proportions and lively appearances. Also in this hall are two ten meter high pillars from the Ming Dynasty that are each engraved with a dragon – one yellow and one green – who are trying to extend their bodies and claws into the air as if they are ready to fly. Like the Arhats, they impart the feeling that at any moment they could spring into action.

Stone Staircases

Outside, on each side of the main hall, there are stone staircases that are carved out of the mountainside and wind their way to the top of the hill. As you climb these stairs, there are ancient inscriptions along the way and various tone artworks that are considered the most important historical relics in Kunming. From the top of the stairs, you are presented with a terrific panoramic view of the entire complex. It is from here that you can most appreciate the architecture of the remarkable temple complex.

Buddhist Scriptures

Surrounding the temple pond are a series of halls where you will find old women praying, people sitting and chatting, ongoing classes in Buddhist scriptures, a magnificent calligraphy studio, an exhibit of temple photographs taken at the end of the Qing Dynasty by Auguste de Francois, a shop, a restaurant, and more.

Yuantong Temple is a working temple that also represents the Buddhism of China today. Along with the patronage of the local people of Kunming and Yunnan in general, Buddhists from around the world come here on pilgrimages to pay homage, there are special Buddhist services two times each month, and the Buddhist Association of Yunnan Province is located here. This temple plays a very important role in history and in the modern world.

Nearby Attractions 

Yunnan Ethnic Villages

This theme park displays the colorful folklore and architecture of 25 ethnic groups residing in Yunnan Province. The theme park offers shows and performances, folklore and wax museums, as well as replica buildings found in the villages of each ethnic group.

The Western Hills and Dragon Gate

Western Hills boasts an excellent environment with flourishing flowers and dense forest, providing tourists an excellent environment to enjoy the tranquility and marvelous scenery. They have also been given another name – ‘Sleeping Beauty Hills’ for the hills because its skyline looks like a beautiful young lady laying beside Dianchi Lake with her face upward and her hair trailling into water.

The Golden Temple

Golden Temple was built in Ming dynasty and was reconstructed by Wu Sangui in the 10th year of the Kangxi Period (1671 A .D.) made by brass which is the mixture of copper and zinc. That’s why it is named as “the golden temple”. It is totally weighted250 tons and 6.7 meters high; it isthe biggest and heaviest as well as the best preserved copper templein China.

How to Get There

By Subway

Take Subway Line 2 to Chuanxingulou and walk west for about 15mins to the Yuantong Temple.

By Bus

1.Take bus 85, 92, 95, 100, 101, 119, 187, 235 or Z5 to Yuantongjie.
2.Take bus 4, 59, 74, 83, 129, 234, A2, or Z63 to Yuantongshan.

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