Brief introduction: The White Cloud Temple of Beijing is located outside Xibianmen in Beijing. It is one of "The Three Great Ancestral Courts" of the Complete Perfection Sect of Daoism, and is titled "The First Temple under Heaven".
Originally it is called the "Temple of Heavenly Eternity". In Chinese, Taoist temples are not actually called temples, but Guan. Guan means something like to look at or observe. This is a reflection of the Taoist belief that understanding the Tao comes from a direct observation of nature, rather than scholastic theological studies.
The White Cloud Temple has a history of over 1,200 years. In the Tang dynasty, Laozi was venerated in it as the original patriarch, and Daoism was so prosperous that it reached its prime. In the tenth year of Kaiyuan (AD 722), Li Longji, emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty, issued an imperial edict to build a temple to be named the "Temple of Heavenly Eternity", and bestowed a stone statue of Laozi, which was enshrined in the temple. In the fifth year of Zhenglong of the Jin dynasty (AD 1166), when the Qidan tribe invaded to the south, the Temple of Heavenly Eternity was entirely burnt down during the fires of war. In the seventh year of Dading during the reign of emperor Shizong of the Jin dynasty (AD 1167), an imperial order was issued to rebuild the temple, which, greater in size and scale than before, was completed in March of the fourteenth year of Dading (AD 1174). Yan Deyuan, a celebrated Daoist priest, was asked at that time to be the Abbot of the temple. In the same year, the "Temple of Heavenly Eternity" was renamed as the "Great Temple of Heavenly Eternity of the Ten Directions". In the 26th year of Dading (AD 1186), a famous Daoist priest named Sun Daoming became the Abbot in charge of the affairs of the Great Temple of Heavenly Eternity of the Ten Directions". He once compiled the Precious Canon of the Mystery Capital of the Great Jin Dynasty at the temple. In the first year of Mingchang of the Jin dynasty (AD 1190), the Auspicious and Sacred Hall (present-day Primordial Time Temple) was built in the eastern lower court of the temple, where the Spirit of Dingmao, the Fundamental Destiny of the mother of emperor Zhangzong of the Jin dynasty, was worshiped. In the third year of Taihe of the Jin dynasty (AD 1203), the temple was once again burnt down by fire, so it was rebuilt by imperial order, and the Great Temple of Heavenly Eternity of the Ten Directions was changed renamed the "Temple of the Supreme Ultimate". In AD 1124, the Perfect Man Qiu Chuji went by way of the Snow Mountains to meet Genghis Khan, the first Emperor of the Yuan dynasty, and then returned to the East where he inhabited the Supreme Ultimate Temple by imperial order. Due to years of warfare, the halls of the Supreme Ultimate Temple were all ruined and shabby. So, together with all his disciples, Perfect Man Qiu enthusiastically appealed for a subscription to start the construction and renovation. Three years later, the halls took on an entirely new look. In the 22nd year of the reign of the first Emperor of the Yuan dyansty (AD 1227), the Temple of the Supreme Ultimate was expanded as the "Eternal Spring Temple" by imperial order. In the same year, Patriarch Qiu passed away. His disciples set a lower court in the east of the Eternal Spring Temple to bury his remains, on which they built up the Hall of Mildness (today's Hall of Patriarch Qiu). During the last years of the Yuan dynasty and the first years of the Ming dynasty, the Eternal Spring Temple again suffered from the ravages of war and collapsed once more. When Zhu Di, emperor Chengzu of the Ming dynasty, issued an imperial edict to rebuild the temple in the years of Yongle, the temple was moved to the east, enlarged with the Hall of Mildness as its center, and renamed the "White Cloud Temple", which has been used continuously until now. In the eighth year of Zhengtong of the Ming dynasty (1443), a horizontal tablet was bestowed, formally calling the temple the "White Cloud Temple". In the ninth year of Zhengtong, the Daoist Canon of the Zhengtong Era was bestowed on the White Cloud Temple. The "Stone Tablet of Bestowing the Canon" inscribed at that time, where the grand occasion of bestowing the canon was recorded, still exists today. During the first years of the Qing dynasty, Wang Changyue, the 7th generation patriarch of the Dragon Gate sect, was the Abbot of the White Cloud Temple. Emperor Kangxi thought highly of him. As a crown prince, Kangxi received the "Commandment of Convenience" when Wang Changyue transmitted commandments. In the first year of Kangxi (1662), Patriarch Wang Changyue conducted large-scale renovations of the White Cloud Temple by imperial order. They were completed in the 45th year of Kangxi. The size of the halls in the middle line was established. After the Qing dynasty, the temple was rebuilt in 1924. The inscribed stone tablet stands in front of the Hall of the Numinous Officials. After the founding of the Peoples' Republic, the People's Government has carried out the policy of freedom of religious belief and protects cultural relics and historical interests. In 1956, it financially aided the repairing of the White Cloud Temple, to restore the structure of the halls and the appearance of ancient buildings. In 1957, the whole Daoist community of China convened its first representative conference at the White Cloud Temple, which then became the site of the China Daoist Association20, a national Daoist organization. During the Cultural Revolution, the China Daoist Association stopped functioning. In 1979, it began its activities again. The People's Government appropriated money again to aid the maintenance of the temple financially, and ranked it as a key national Daoist temple and a protected cultural relic of the City of Beijing. Nowadays, the White Cloud Temple is where the China Daoist Association, the China Daoist Academy and the Institute of Chinese Daoist Culture are situated.
Main buildings for the cult of divinities: The main buildings of the White Cloud Temple are divided into the middle, the eastern, and the western line, and the rear court. There are altogether seventeen halls. Except for a few towers, platforms and halls that are buildings of the Jin and Yuan dynasties, all the others are buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The decorated archway outside the gate is a seven-floored and double-eaved building with color paintings. It was built in the eighth year of Zhengtong of the Ming dynasty (1443), and was the place where the Daoist priests in the temple gazed at the stars and the air of syzygy in old times. The four characters "wan gu chang chun" (Eternal Spring Through the Ages) on the screen wall facing the gate of the decorated archway were inscribed by Zhao Menghu, the great calligrapher of the Yuan dynasty. The gate was built in the eighth year of Zhengtong of the Yuan dynasty. The horizontal tablet "chijian baiyun guan" (The White Cloud Temple Built by Imperial Order) was inscribed by a celebrated calligrapher at that time. "Chijian" means to build using financial allocations by imperial order. There are altogether six major halls in the middle line. The Hall of the Numinous Officials was built in the seventh year of Jingtai of the Ming dynasty (1456), and renovated in the first year of Kangxi of the Qing dynasty (1662). Its original name was "Eternal Spring Temple of the Jade Calendar", which was changed to the present name in the 45th year of Kangxi. The Jade Emperor of the Heavenly Golden Imperial Palace is worshipes in the hall. The Hall of Ancient Disciplines was built in the seventh year of Jingtai of the Ming dynasty (1456). Originally named the "Hall of the Seven Perfect Ones", it is the most essential hall for the religious activities of the Daoist priests in the temple. Since it is in this hall that the Masters of Disciplines of all generations of the Dragon Gate sect of the Complete Perfection tradition transmitted commandments and preached, the hall was later called the "Hall of Ancient Disciplines". Worshiped in the hall are the Seven Perfect Ones of the Complete Perfection tradition, all of whom were disciples of Wang Chongyang, the founder of the Complete Perfection tradition. In the middle is Qiu Chuji, on the eastern side are Tan Chuduan, Liu Chuxuan and Ma Yu, and on the western side are Hao Datong, Wang Chuyi and Sun Bu'er. The Hall of Patriarch Qiu was set up when Tuolei was the sovereign in the Yuan dynasty (1228). Originally named the 'Hall of Mildness', it is the center of the buildings of the White Cloud Temple. Worshiped in the hall is Patriarch Qiu Chuji. In the hall there is a "Wart Bowl", which was bestowed by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, who said that the Daoist priests of this temple were allowed to beg alms in the imperial palace with this bowl. Beneath the bowl the remains of Patriarch Qiu are buried. The structure in the back of the middle line is a multi-storied building. On the ground floor is the Hall of the Four Heavenly Ministers, which was built in the third year of Xuande of the Ming dynasty (1428). In the middle of the divine table of the hall is the seat of the Jade Emperor of the Heavenly Golden Imperial Palace; on the left and right sides are the statues of the Great Emperor of the Central Heaven Pole Star of the Purple Subtlety, the Great Heavenly Emperor of the Highest Palace of Polaris, the Imperial Earth God Who Receives and Follows Heavenly Laws, and the South Pole Great Emperor of Longevity. Upstairs is the Three Pristine Ones' Pavilion, which was reconstructed in the first year of Kangxi of the Qing dynasty (1662). Worshiped in the hall are the most revered divinities of Daoism, namely the Primeval Heavenly Lord of Jade Clarity, the Highest Clarity Heavenly Lord of Numinous Treasure, and the Supreme Clarity Heavenly Lord of Dao and its Virtue. Besides, in the middle line there are the Hall of the Three Officials, the Hall of Saving the Suffering, the Hall of the Spirit of Wealth, the Hall of the King of Medicine, and the bell tower and the drum tower. Worshiped in the Hall of the Three Officials are the Three Great Official Emperors of "Heaven, Earth and Water". Worshiped in the Hall of Saving the Suffering is the Heavenly Lord Who Saves the Suffering. The three Spirits of Wealth are enshrined in the Hall of the Spirit of Wealth, namely the Literary Spirit of Wealth Bigan, and the Martial Spirits of Wealth Zhao Gongming and Guanyu. Worshiped in the Hall of the King of Medicine is the King of Medicine, Perfect Man Sun Simiao. There are altogether six halls in the western line. The shrine was built in the 45th year of Kangxi of the Qing dynasty (1706). Enshrined is the Master of Discipline of the seventh generation of the Dragon Gate sect of the Complete Perfection tradition, Patriarch Wang Changyue, whose remains were buried beneath the shrine. Wang Changyue was the patriarch of the first generation who vigorously developed the Mystery Lineage of the Dragon Gate sect of this temple, and was called the "Restoration Patriarch" by the Dragon Gate sect. He transmitted commandments in this temple altogether ten times, received several thousands of disciples, and built the shrine by imperial order. Inlaid in the walls of the eastern and western rooms are the stone inscriptions of the Book of Dao and its Virtue and the Book of Secret Correspondences written by Zhao Menghu, a great calligrapher of the Yuan dynasty. They are the three treasures of the White Cloud Temple. The Eight Immortals Hall enshrines the Eight Immortals of Daoism, namely Zhong Liquan, Lu Dongbin, Zhang Guolao, Cao Guojiu, He Xiangu, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai and Han Xiangzi. In addition, in the Hall of Patriarch Lu, Lu Dongbin, Patriarch Chunyang is worshiped. The Hall of the Primordial Sovereign, also called the Hall of the Lady and originally named the Hall of the Disciples, was built in the 21st year of Qianlong (1756). Seated in the middle is the Heavenly Immortal, the Saintly Mother and the Primordial Lady of the Emerald Cloud, on the right are the Eye's Light Lady and the Heavenly Flower Lady, and on the left are the Lady Who Gives Children and the Lady Who Expedites Child Delivery. The Wenchang Hall was originally the Hall of the Five Northern Patriarchs. Presently worshiped in the hall are the Imperial Sovereign Wenchang of Zitong who dominates human honour, salary and rank, and worshiped on his sides are Confucius and Zhu Xi. The Hall of Primordial Time, also called the "Hall of the Sixty Year Cycle", was built in the first year of Mingchang during the reign of emperor Zhangzong of the Jin dynasty (1190). Originally called the "Auspicious and Sacred Hall" in the Jin dynasty, it was built by emperor Zhangzong of the Jin dynasty for his mother to worship the God of the Fundamental Destiny of the Queen Mother. Now worshiped in the middle of the hall is the Primordial Sovereign of the Elderly Dipper Lady, around whom are the spirits of the sixty first days. In the eastern line there are the Hall of the South Pole, the Big Dipper Pavilion, the Tower of the Revered Mr Luo and so on. The Cloud Gathering Garden, which is also called the "Small Penglai", was built in the thirteenth year of Guangxu (1887). In the yard there is a commandment platform (i.e. later the Three Pristine Ones' Pavilion), the altar where the Daoist Master of Discipline elaborates commandments.
Today White Cloud Temple is one of China's oldest and largest Taoist temples, housing the office of Taoist Association of China.