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"Landing Place and Entrance to the Temple of Honan, Canton" by Thomas Allom

Commentary by G.H. Wright

On the south banks of the Cho-keang, or Pearl river, and on the opposite side from the city of Canton, is a rural district, much frequented by visitors and residents for recreation and change of air, but by a still greater number of pilgrims, who come hither to bow the knee at the shrine of Buddha. Emerging from the narrow filthy streets, and escaping from their noxious atmosphere, the bridge of Honan, with its quaint architecture, conducts to the little isle itself, a paradise in comparison with the busy city to which it is united. Here the scenery is peculiarly pleasing, and the luxuriant trees that adorn the banks, that dip into the stream, that spread their grateful shelter over the fields, animate the picture by the amazing variety in their shades and their colours.

Landing Place and Entrance to the Temple of Honan, Canton

Here also is the most famous of all Buddhist temples in China, the very cathedral of that contemptible idolatry. Standing on the margin of the water, it is most frequently approached by boats, and the multitude that is in perpetual motion at the landing- place, is calculated to give a very low estimate of Chinese character. It consists of the aged, infirm, and infantine, coming to ask pardon of a block of wood, for sins and omissions in this world, and to beg liberation from the torments of swords, and axes, and bowstrings in the world to come. Another and more unimportant portion of the crowd is intent on over-charging, on pilfering, and abusing the confidence of these dotards, whom they have, almost pardonably, concluded to be deserving of no better lot. The reasoning, however, is obviously vicious, which would pretend to prove that folly in one party, justifies dishonesty in another: but, what is in China the standard of virtue or vice-the test of truth or falsehood-the boundary of good or evil?

A small comfortable-looking assemblage of doors, and screens, and gables, and projecting eaves, and concave roofs, and grotesque animals, gives to the landing-place the character of a country ale-house. Here, however, is the place of entrance to a vista of majestic banyan trees, that appear to have resisted the assaults of the elements for centuries of time, and by their venerable aspect, supply, in some degree, the want of antiquity in the flimsy, temporary sheds, that lie hid beneath them. Giants of wood guard the next doorway, with becoming vigilance, and terrific aspect; and whoever passes these formidable warders, will find another enclosure within, intersected by flagged walks that lead amidst the trees, to colonnades, filled with gods and monsters of every sect and profession. Beyond the second square are situated three grand halls, appropriated to idols of greater costliness, and still more hideous aspect. Within the central are the three famous images, illustrative of the triune manifestations of Buddha- the past, present, and future. Kwo-keu-fuh, whose reign is past, is on the right; We-lae-fuh, whose reign is yet to come, on the left; the centre being occupied by Heen-tsa-fuh, whose power is now supposed to regulate human destinies: The monsters, although in a sitting posture, are each eleven feet in height. Before these "three precious Buddha " stand tables, or altars, on which are placed joss-sticks, censers, perfumes, flowers, ornaments, and sometimes rare fruits; and, on either side are arranged eighteen images of the primitive disciples of Buddha, supposed to be resuscitated emperors of the Mantchou-Tartar race. The side walls are decorated with silken curtains, embroidered, in letters of gold and silver thread, with mottos and precepts from the works of Confucius. A number of pillars, gilt and painted, sustain the roof, from the cross-beams of which several hundred lanterns depend, whose muffled rays diffuse a mysterious light around, not badly calculated to aid the solemn character which the labours of the priests are incessant in endeavouring to impart. The several cellae, or places of worship, within the sanctuary, are all of nearly equal capacity, and adorned with an 'equal variety of objects of value; and, besides these devotional apartments, a very extensive monastery belongs to the temple, where some hundred priests are comfortably lodged. Considerable distinctions appear to exist between She grades or classes of this monastic order; for some of them are clothed in costly habits, and exhibit unequivocal symptoms of having " fared sumptuously every day;" while others are squalid, emaciated, and poverty-stricken. There cannot be a more obvious inconsistency in the government of any public body, than is presented by the wretchedness that marks the appearance of a large number of this Buddhist fraternity, and the luxury in which the sacred hogs indulge in the consecrated styes beneath the very roof of the temple. These favoured animals are fed and tended with the utmost care, and, when they have literally eaten themselves to death, are laid, with much solemnity, in a mausoleum appropriated to their remains.

In Buddhist worship, the priests, who have a direct interest in its maintenance, perform all the functions of their calling with the most becoming solemnity, and the ceremony itself is exceedingly imposing; but the people do not appear to feel the influence of example, and look on with indifference, while the most venerable amongst the priesthood knocks his aged brow repeatedly against a sacred flagstone in front of the altar. Indeed there cannot possibly be any wide-spread faith in the creed of Buddhism, even in the empire of Cathay; for, in addition to their total indifference to its ceremonies, Buddhists occasionally appropriate the very temples of worship to profane purposes. On Lord Amherst's return from the court of Peking, he visited Canton, and the authorities of that great city, although his lordship had been unsuccessful in his mission, did not hesitate to provide accommodation for the embassy in the great temple of Honan. The triune were removed from their pedestals, and transported to a lodging on the other side of the river; while the chief cell, or choir, or aisle of foreigners. This fact did not escape the vigilance of the Bayans in that distinguished cortege, who have judiciously remarked!

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