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Chengdu Wuhou Temple & Romance of the Three Kingdoms - I

Development Wuhou Ci Temple

Chengdu Wuhou Temple was constructed in memory of Zhuge Liang, who was a well-known strategist and statesman during the Three Kingdoms Period. I think it’s necessary to provide you with some historical background to help you better understand what the displays in the temple are.
China has a recorded history of some 3,600 years. It began with the Shang Dynasty(16th-11th century BC). The whole ancient history is divided into three stages. The first stage is the primitive society. The history was much associated with the presumed pre-Xia Dynasty (21th-16th century BC). The second major stage lasted from about 2,000 to 200 BC. The history dated the beginning of the slave society from the Xia Dynasty. The third stage extended all the way from 221BC to the Opium War of 1840. Historical documents name the third stage as the Feudal Imperial Society. At the end of the Eastern Han (25-22),the feudal society in China came into a period of disunity. Traditionally it is called the Three Kingdoms Period.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Now let’s focus on what happened in this particular period. Towards the end of the Eastern Han, a great peasant rebellion broke out. Many local officials became autonomous regional warlords. They suppressed the rebellion, and at the same time they took the opportunity to build up their own political and military strength. Finally the warlords carved the Han Empire into three kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu.

I don’t know if you have read a classic Chinese novel. Its name is “the Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. The novel is so popular that most Chinese families has a copy. The novel basically traces the rise and fall of the three kingdoms and vividly depicts the turbulent social conditions at that time. Cao Cao and his son established the Kingdom of Wei at Luoyang. Actually, Cao Cao controlled the North China homeland. The other two rivals soon proclaimed themselves emperors elsewhere. The Kingdom of Wu with its capital at Nanjing occupied Changjiang Valley. The Kingdom of Shu controlled Sichuan and parts of the Southwestern China highland. Its capital was in Chengdu.

Wuhou Temple is much associated with the Kingdom of Shu. It is a memorial to Zhuge Liang, Prime Minister of the kingdom. Wuxianghou (武乡侯) was a top official title conferred upon Zhuge Liang when he serried the kingdom. After his death, another title was given to him. It was zhongwuhou (忠武侯). People respectfully called him wuhou.

There are some different opinions of when it was built. Some think that the temple was built at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty. Unfortunately, historical documents have no records to confirm the construction date. Du Fu, a top Tang Dynasty poet composed a poem called Prime Minister of the Shu Kingdom (蜀相). Two lines in the poem say:

“Where would I find the Prime Minister’s shrine? Somewhere outside Jinguan, in dense cypress trees.”

We are able to conclude from the meaning of the poem that Wuhou Temple had existed even before the Tang Dynasty.

Between the Tang and Song dynasties, Zhuge liang and Emperor Liu Bei had their independent temples. At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, the two separate temples merged into one. Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty the merged temple was destroyed during war chaos. The present constructions date from the Qing Dynasty in 1672.

When we look at the top of the main entrance gate, we can see several words “Han Zhaolie Temple (汉昭烈庙)”. Han refers to the Kingdom of Shu, Zhaolie temple was built in honor of Liu Bei. Why do all the people call it Zhuge Liang Temple or Wuhou Temple? It is said that in the Ming Dynasty, a member of the royal family saw that there were many more visitors to Wuhou Temple than to Liu Bei’s. He felt that was improper because Liu Bei was the emperor. So he demolished Wuhou Temple and moved the statue of Zhuge Liang into Liu Bei’s Temple.

However, the people did not like this arrangement. Instead of building a special hall for Zhuge Liang, they kept calling the combined temple Wuhou Temple instead of Liu Bei’s Temple. Gradually through common practice more and more people accepted the new name. It also testifies to the people’s love for Zhuge Liang. In the people’s view, Zhuge Liang has been immortalized in “the Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. His contribution is historically invaluable, and his management of state-affairs and military strategies have influenced following centuries.

Tour of Wohou Temple in Chengdu

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