Fahai Temple and Tian Yi Mu
Fahai Temple was completed in 1443, and what sets Fahai Temple apart from other Buddhist temples are the 500-year-old frescoes, all 236sqm of them. When the temple was constructed, every hall had frescos; now, only those in Mahariva Hall (the main hall) survive. While Fahai Temple is not the only Chinese temple with frescoes, it has some of the most intricate and well-preserved frescoes in the country. Its colors have not faded away, even after over 500 years. Although created during the Ming dynasty, the frescoes were influenced by styles of the Song, Tang, and Ming dynasties. They are also exquisite examples of Ming-era perspective and brush technique.
Without the jostling crowds found at Lama Temple or the Forbidden
City, Fahai Temple is a serene retreat ideal for an early autumn day. Be sure to bring snacks and water (or better yet, a meal), since there are no vendors around. The little pagodas are the perfect locale for a picnic, too.
Tian Yi Mu is about a 10-minute walk from Fahai Temple. Just head down the mountain road, take the first right at Moshikou Dajie, and walk about 300m. Tian Yi Mu can be tough to spot, so look for the gray archway on the right and head up the ramp that leads to the arch. Tian Yi, the favorite eunuch of the Emperor Wan Li, was buried here. Though it is known as Tian Yi’s tomb and memorial, there are four other eunuchs buried in the cemetery.
Eunuchs have a long history in China. China’s last eunuch, Sun Yaoting, died in 1996. Back in the sixteenth century, Tian Yi himself was the directorate of ceremonies, the highest administrative office, and was the favorite eunuch of Ming dynasty Emperor Wanli. Tian Yi, Wanli’s mentor and confidant, served three emperors over 63 years. When Tian Yi died in 1605, Emperor Wanli had the tomb built to commemorate his much-loved eunuch. Though built on a smaller scale, its structure emulates that of Ming emperor tombs.
One highlight is that visitors can actually go down into one of the tombs. When you head into the garden cemetery, you’ll see a sliding metal door that leads into the ground. Slide it back, walk down the steps, and turn on the light. Down the steps, it is cold, wet, and dark, and the area remains unsupervised. This scene is not for everyone, but it is an adventure for some.
Though both Fahai Temple and Tian Yi Mu are unconventional tourist sites, they are well worth a day trip.