The Temple of Shen’an: Exemplary Writer and Traveler in Ming China

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The Temple of Shen’an: Exemplary Writer and Traveler in Ming China

Almost at the entrance to Kunming’s famous West Mountains there is a small temple that goes unnoticed by most travelers. It certainly cannot compete in importance, beauty or decoration with the impressive Taoist temples carved into the rock cliff near the Dragon Gate, nor the great Buddhist temples built in the middle of the well forested mountain, but it is such a quiet and special place, that I do see it recommended for those traveling without haste, and can become a beautiful complement to the visit of these majestic mountains. Be careful, it closes at 3:00 in the afternoon.

It is the Sheng’an Temple (升庵祠) or Sheng’an Memorial, because in Chinese it is used a character that, even translated many times as an ancestral temple, is often used also for monuments built in honor of a relevant character. The temple can also be reached directly from Gaoyao village.

Yang Sheng’an life

Yang Sheng’an is a fascinating character. He was a high official in the Ming court, and was involved in the so-called Great Liyi, a dispute in which ministers with a sense of decency objected to the emperor naming his father, who was not an emperor, posthumous emperor. Yang Sheng’ai was among the incorruptible, who received a good thrashing with bamboo canes. As a result some died. Yang Sheng’an, perhaps because he was still young, survived the beating, and then faced the harsh banishment to the city of Kunming.

During the 2,000 km journey from the capital to Kunming, Yang Sheng’an took notes of different aspects of the journey and created a beautiful book. That was not the only one of his works. On the contrary, he is considered the most prolific writer of the Ming Dynasty with more than 400 books to his credit. I believe that in these troubled times, every traveler should make a stop to pay homage to this great traveler, politician and writer.

The temple

His temple, following the traditional design with a courtyard in the center, has a beautifully decorated gate, two exhibition halls on the sides, and a memorial hall as the main hall. The room on the right has some calligraphy and the covers of some of his books. The one on the left is more focused on calligraphy.

The memorial hall is presided over by a large statue of Yang Sheng’an and on the walls of the inner wall is a display of paintings relating to Yang Sheng’ai’s journey from Beijing to Kunming. To some it may seem like a retrospective memory of the adventures of such a complex journey, but what the pictures show us is a character of integrity, and at the same time a person who manages to overcome professional setbacks and make the most of life. A traveler, a writer… an honest man.

As might be expected, the memorial of an honest man does not attract large crowds, nor does the simple decoration of his temple.

Temple of Xu Xiake

The temple has a second courtyard dedicated to another important figure of the Ming dynasty in Yunnan. The traveler Xu Xiake, perhaps the most famous traveler, geographer and writer of the first half of the 17th century. His memory is intimately linked to Yunnan, because in the 13 volumes of his Diary of a Journey to Yunnan, actually 40% of his seminal work «The Travels of Xu Xiake» he makes interesting descriptions of the life and customs of the minorities of this province, and other peculiarities of Yunnan. It is not for nothing that he came to Yunnan twice and spent much of his life here. And it is said that he lived precisely in this house now dedicated to the memory of the two writers and travelers.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "The Temple of Shen’an: Exemplary Writer and Traveler in Ming China," in Ethnic China, 3 febrero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/the-temple-of-shenan-exemplary-writer-and-traveler-in-ming-china/.

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