The Hanshan Temple in Suzhou is not
only a charming historic temple, but a place of deep
cultural resonance for people in China.
The temple is located on the edge of the modern city
center, alongside the ancient Grand Canal and several
ancient bridges which cross it.
The temple was founded over 1,500 years ago, but owes
it fame to a a poem written in the Tang dynasty by Zhang
Ji, a poet who traveling by boat through Suzhou. As
his boat anchored in the canal near the temple one winter
evening, the deep ringing of the temple bell in the
winter darkness inspired him to write a poem which has
become a classic throughout Asia:
"Moonfall. Crows cry in a sky full of frost. /
Maple Bridge. Lamps of fishermen doze off in the gloom.
Outside old Suzhou lies Hanshan Temple / At midnight,
the sound of its bell reaches my boat."
The fame this poem brought to the temple drew in its
wake many artists and intellectuals, who were inspired
to write their own poems and calligraphy celebrating
its charms. Today these classics are carved into stone
and set into the temple's saffron walls, while inscribed
stone monuments dot the courtyards and halls.
The poem has also made the temple's bell quite famous,
and even inspired a group of 17th century Japanese pirates
to steal the bell and take it back to Japan. The current
bell was donated by Japanese citizens in the early 20th
century to apologize for the theft of the original.
Swinging a great wooden log against the bell to ring
it is one of the highlights of many tourists' visits
to Hanshan Temple. Once struck, the deep, solemn toll
of the bell echoes through the temple courtyards.
Alongside the temple lies the Grand Canal and several
more historic sights. An ancient bridge arched like
a half moon crosses the canal opposite the temple's
gate, while nearby sits a massive and imposing fortified
gate and bridge.
Raids by Japanese pirates were endemic in the 17th century,
and to defend themselves the residents of Suzhou constructed
a bridge/fortress to keep the pirates at bay. It still
stands today, its ancient stone walls draped with ivy.
Climbing up the narrow spiral stairs to the battlements,
your eyes move from the waters of the canal beneath
and the busy traffic of heavily laden barges and skiffs
over to the yellow halls and ancient green trees of
Hanshan Temple, and finally to the buildings of modern
Suzhou on the horizon.
New Year Bell Ringing Ceremony
The ancient Hanshan Temple in Suzhou is home to one
of China's oldest and largest New Year's festivals.
In traditional Chinese culture, the stroke of midnight
is celebrated by ringing the great bells of Buddhist
At Hanshan Temple an array of activities and performances
have been arranged around the ringing to make it a fascinating
and entertaining way to ring in the New Year!
First, there is a New Year's Eve feast at which there
are performances of traditional music and dance. In
the hours leading up to the ringing the temple takes
on a festive air as people from Suzhou arrive to celebrate
and see lion dancers and performers on stilts.
The ancient halls are lit by colorful dragon lanterns
and decked with decorations evoking wishes for an auspicious
New Year. From the main temple come the sounds of the
assembled monks chanting Buddhist sutras, wreathed in
thick, fragrant clouds of incensesmoke.
As midnight draws near, a lull of reverent silence falls
over the crowds. Everyone listens respectfully as the
bell is rung 108 times; its deep, solemn boom banishing
the cares and troubles of the passing year. As the echo
of the last stoke fades, the New Year begins amidst
the lively crackle of countless firecrackers.