Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts

Home » Literature Archives » Master Ming Zhao's Mission: The Restoration of Jiang Jun Si, Hubei

Author of this essay:

Yao Hui Shakya
(Oct 6, 2005)

by Barry Tse (Yao Hui Shakya)

In the frenetic days of 1960s' Cultural Revolution, cadres of young Red Guards unleashed their anger upon an old Buddhist temple in the tranquil hills of Hubei Province. They razed the buildings; and then, their vented contempt mingling with the smoking ruins, they left.

Like all teenagers, the Red Guards were rapacious and too full of energy. Their burgeoning numbers had overwhelmed a system that was in disarray after decades of war and civil turmoil; and while they were officially sealed off from the outside world, drops of foreign news did seep through the cracks - to leak down on them like an old water torture. They knew they weren't driving cars, or watching TV, or having Animal House fraternity parties, or dressing in Carnaby Street fashions, or listening to the Beatles or Beach Boys. They weren't kids like other kids. They had nothing. And so they were bitter, uneducated, leaderless, and without hope. And usually they were hungry, too; and in their strange abandonment needed to blame someone, anyone.

Scaffolding The slow but steady progress of Jiang Jun Si is evidenced by the vines growing up the scaffolding.

We know that such destruction is psychological displacement, an ego's defense mechanism. When pain is too great to bear, someone or something has to be punished... has to feel the burden of wrath.

On the day they destroyed the little temple there was not a brick in it that would not have happily offered itself up as a scapegoat. "Harm me," each would have said - if bricks could talk - "instead of harming sentient beings." It was, after all, a Buddhist temple.

Temples have seasons: they sprout, grow, mature, and then in the winter of their lives, they wither and die back to earth to wait for the renascent spring After forty years of lying fallow, Jiang Jun Si, under Master Ming Zhao's gentle nurturing, is rising again

One building has been completed and the Chan Buddhists in the beautiful lake area of southeast Hubei Province - a state famous for its great Wudang martial arts' tradition.- are finally able to come and pray to Guan Yin for her tender mercies. They give their labor to the construction, but they need help to buy materials and to repurchase the temple's former land. They want the great temple bell to ring each morning, its sound lingering throughout the valley as it once did.

Anyone who helps will have his name inscribed into the new bell.

Jiang Jun Si owes its origins to the people's appreciation of the extraordinary valor of a Buddhist General, Lei Wan Chun, of the Tang Imperial army, in his defense of the people against a rebellious warlord, An Lushan (703-757 AD). It was not a small battle - the conflict had lasted from 756 to 763 AD; and between the military casualties and the famine that resulted from the loss of agricultural production throughout vast areas of the north and central China plains, an estimated thirty-six million people perished.

Site Site of temple complex area beside the new building.

The trouble began, as trouble so often does, with a scandalous love affair. An aging man fell madly in love with a young woman. This would be a problem in any society, anywhere in the world. But the 61 year old man just happened to be Xuanzong, Emperor of China - and the grandson of the infamous Empress Wu (to whom Zen Buddhism is so indebted).

Early in his reign, Xuanzong presided over much of the Tang Dynasty's Golden Age. Poetry and the arts flourished. The economy boomed. Trade with Europe, Asia, Africa and the Near East fostered the generation of new ideas and products; of science and philosophy, of music, ceramics, printing. China's capital city, Chang'an (current day Xi'an), was the largest and most prosperous city in the world. There was peace and contentment throughout Xuanzong's empire.

But then the Emperor, always a great admirer of feminine beauty; responded as Paris, Prince of Troy, had responded when he was given the opportunity to choose between kingly power and prosperity; or the wisdom of a world sage; or the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Just as Paris had, Xuanzong did not hesitate: he chose the woman above all else And the fate of his dynasty would soon resemble the fate of Troy.

Such history as there ever is about affairs of the heart records the object of his adoration as his exquisitely beautiful daughter in law, Yu Huan of the Yang family. As a teenage daughter of an aristocratic family, Yu Huan had come to court to serve as a lady in waiting to the Empress. Her dazzling beauty captivated Prince Shou, and they were married. Her royal father-in-law was also enamored of her, and by the time she was twenty-six, Emperor Xuanzong declared that he could no longer live without her; and he quite literally stole her from his son. Neither his wife nor his son dared to interfere.

Roof Detail of Jiang Jun Si Temple roof on a rainy day.

Infatuated beyond all reason, the Emperor declared her to be a Gui Fei (a concubine of the first class) and the young woman became known to history as Yang Gui Fei.

His worship was complete. He was extravagant and unable to refuse any wish she made. Along with his wealth, he squandered his time on her. Important appointments with diplomats and ministers were ignored and administrative problems steadily increased. Yang Gui Fei naturally blamed those who held political office and asked that each negligent person be replaced by one of her relatives. The Emperor obliged.

The courtiers who grumbled about such flagrant nepotism soon found themselves replaced or deceased; and soon all high positions were filled with his courtesan's relatives and friends who, though incompetent in the execution of their official duties, were experts in amassing personal wealth. So fabulously rich did Yang Gui Fei's family become because of her efforts, that for the only time in history, Chinese families preferred to have female children.

And then, on one otherwise ordinary day, a tall, handsome and adventurous military governor came to court. His name was An Lushan (703-757 AD) - "An" indicating his family originated in Bukhara, and "Lushan," a sinicized pronunciation of Roshan, "Light." His Persian and Turkish ancestry set him apart from others who ventured into the dangerous domain, and immediately Yang Gui Fei noticed him. How much he saw of her, we can only surmise. We do know, however, that he was appalled by the corruption he witnessed at court.

But then An Lushan made the classic blunder of "whistle blowers" everywhere: he underestimated the extent of the corruption. He complained directly to the Emperor about the abuses of everyone - including the Prime Minister, who was none other than Yang Gui Fei's brother. The besotted Emperor, influenced no doubt by his paramour, refused to believe the story; and, naturally, her brother assured the Emperor that An Lushan was a trouble making liar who had obvious ulterior motives vis-à-vis the Lady Yang Gui Fei. Because he was the powerful military governor of Hebei, then one of China's northern frontier areas in which Beijing is now located, An Lushan was allowed to return to the Hebei frontier; but he left behind rich and powerful enemies.

As the power of the court at Xi'an waned under the pressure of its internal corruption, the power of the various military governors waxed. Collectively, ninety percent of the total armed forces in China belonged to these regional militia. The military governors of frontier lands soon had a full range of prerogatives. Safe within their regional fortresses, they determined civil law; raised and equipped armies; and had the power to tax. In short, the governors became warlords.

Previously, under the benign rule of the Tang emperors, each head of household in the farming areas, paid a fixed amount of tax - usually a portion of the crops produced on his land. Prosperity, however, meant also an increase in population; and as the families increased they expanded into new farmlands and taxation remained proportionate. But while frontier families continued to produce more children, China began to run out of uncontested arable land. Fathers had to cede sections of their farms to their sons. Ah Lushan and other military governors, drawn into conflicts with each other and fearful of Imperial advances against them, needed to maintain and equip large forces. The tax base was readjusted so that the heads of household, despite the decreasing size of their farms, had to pay the same amount of tax as their fathers had paid; and the people suffered greatly under the burden.

A critical point was reached when Yang Gui Fei's brother, seething with hatred for An Lushan and jealous of the warlord's increasing power, instigated a confrontation. He dispatched a raiding party to one of An's houses. His soldiers entered and ransacked it, killing several of An's friends. A retaliatory action followed, and a full-scale conflict ensued.

Leading a force of some 170,000 soldiers, An crossed the Yellow River, took Luoyang City, and proceeded to press onto the capital at Xi'an. The court and all its military retainers, realizing they could not defend themselves against this force, fled the capital en masse, and headed south to Sichuan. The residents of Xi'an joined them.

They had not gotten sixty miles south of the capital when the residents and army regulars, exhausted and depleted of tolerance for the corrupt regime, demanded the execution of those who had brought the disaster upon them: Given the extremity of the circumstances, the Emperor could not refuse; and his beloved Yang Gui Fei and her brother were executed.

His heart broken, the Emperor sank into a debilitating depression from which he was unable to recover; and within a year, in 756, he abdicated in favor of his son, Suzong. Ah Lushan fared no better. Within a year of the Emperor's abdication, he was murdered by his own son.

The new Emperor tried desperately to quell the warlords' power; but the court was in such disarray that he had no reliable counsel in either the affairs of state or in military affairs. He appointed a eunuch, Li Fu Guo, to head the army and the financial affairs of the state. It was an unfortunate choice. Suzong's long suffering mother obstructed Li Fu Guo's nefarious plans and he had the Empress murdered. As conditions at court and in the various war zones worsened, Suzong, himself, died of heart disease in 762, only six years into his reign.

Proposal Artist's rendering of completed temple complex - Jiang Jun Si (General's Temple).

And then his son, Daizong, who was a devout and dedicated Buddhist, ascended the throne. Immediately, Emperor Daizong brought Li Fu Guo and his confederates to justice and, having secured the allegiance of several brilliant generals, among them Lei Wan Chun, a native of the beautiful lake area south of Wuhan, Hubei. Under the direction of these generals, the warlords were finally defeated bringing an end to the disastrous seven-year An Shi Rebellion.

It is impossible to estimate the gratitude people felt for the Imperial victory. Farm families who lived within range of the conflicts had been particularly brutalized by the warlords. Armies can conscript all able-bodied farmers, who, being untrained, quickly meet ignoble deaths. The armies can also commandeer whatever food or livestock they require. Crops are trampled by infantry and cavalry. With food, animals, and male farmhands gone, the women, the children, and the elderly starve. Those who survived in the south of Hubei Province were particularly indebted to General Lei who led the Imperial forces in 300 separate battles against the rebel forces, inhibiting incursions into their lands. Finally, in one critical battle, Lei fought to his death, an act of heroism which the Emperor personally honored.

Daizong's profound devotion to Buddhism inspired him to commission the building of numerous temples throughout the ravaged war zones. In honor of General Lei's loyalty and bravery, and for his ultimate sacrifice, he ordered the building of Jiang Jun Si (The General's Temple) to be built near Yang Lou Cave, General Lei's birthplace. The temple, sixteen miles south of Chibi City on the Yangtze River, overlooks the famous tourist attraction, Lu Shui Lake.

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