Nanchan Monastery  南禪寺


  • Nanchan Monastery (English)
  • Nánchánsì (Pinyin)
  • Nan-ch'an-ssu (Wade-Giles)
  • 南禪寺 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 南禅寺 (Simplified Chinese)


山西省五台县 Shanxi
  • China
  • Province:
    • Shanxi (Pinyin)
    • 山西省 (Traditional Chinese)
    • 山西省 (Simplified Chinese)
  • County-city:
    • Wutai (Pinyin)
    • 五台 (Simplified Chinese)
  • Political-subdivision:
    • (Simplified Chinese)
    • County (English)
  • Coordinates:
    • Lat. 38.7013333° Long. 113.114°
  • Site Information

    Located in Wutai County, Shanxi province, Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺 was established as a Buddhist monastery in the Tang dynasty (Guojia wenwuju 2006, 578). This small monastery was rarely mentioned in literature indicating it was relatively unimportant in the past. Nevertheless, it is reliably dated to the Tang dynasty by inscriptions on interior timbers in the great hall, with further restorations documented in the stone stele inscriptions from the Ming and Qing dynasties located at the site (Qi and Chai 1980, 61). Still standing today, Nanchan Monastery’s obscurity and remoteness likely prevented it from being destroyed in the Huichang suppression of Buddhism in 845 under the Tang Emperor Wuzong (Qi and Chai 1980, 61). The great hall 大殿 in the monastery is dated by a repair which took place in the third year of Tang Jianzhong reign period (唐建中三年, 782) and is the oldest extant timber-frame structure in China (Chai 1999A, 353).2

    Nanchan Monastery is north-south oriented and was divided into east and west areas. Of the buildings in the current complex only the great hall was constructed in the Tang dynasty. The rest are reconstructions from the Ming and Qing dynasties (Chai 1999A, 353). The building complex is very small in scale, 51.3 meters from front to back, 60 meters across, covering an area of 3078 square meters (Guojia wenwuju 2006, 578). The primary cloister is a single courtyard whose central axis passes through an inward-facing Guanyin Hall 觀音殿, which served as the entry "Mountain Gate 山門," and then the great hall 大殿 at the north end. In 1999 the sides of the main cloister were framed by two small halls, a Bodhisattva Hall 菩薩殿 and a Longwang (Dragon King) Hall 龍王殿, the latter of which is dated to the Ming dynasty (Yang et al. 1986, 155-156). In 1973 Chai Zejun documented two other structures in the main cloister: a Luohan Hall 羅漢殿 and a Vihāra Hall 伽藍殿. He also stated that monastery’s eastern cloister held a three-bay Yanwang Hall 閻王殿, and a side hall of six bays to its east (Chai 1999A, 353). The great hall houses seventeen polychrome statues from the Tang dynasty which were repainted in 1343. There is also a small (.51 m) five-story stone pagoda from the Tang dynasty in the monastery (Guojia wenwuju 2006, 578-579).3

    Dynasty Earliest buildings from the Tang dynasty (618 - 907) 1

    External Links

    Works Cited

    Any information without attribution has been created following the editorial guidelines.

    • 1 WILKINSON. 2000. Chinese History: A Manual, 12.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 2 国家文物局. 2006. 中国文物地图集. 山西分册, II:578;40-C1.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 祁. 1980. 南禅寺大殿修复, 61.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 柴. 1999. 五臺南禪寺大殿修繕復原工程設計書, 353.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 3 高. 2011. 南禅寺大殿修缮与新中国初期文物建筑保护理念的发展, 16.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 楊. 1986. 中國名勝詞典, 155-156.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 柴. 1999. 五臺南禪寺大殿修繕復原工程設計書, 353.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record; 国家文物局. 2006. 中国文物地图集. 山西分册, II:579;40-C1-1-3.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

    Contains artifact(s) (1)

    Date range

    How to Cite This Entry

    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺 ” in Architectura Sinica last modified December 15, 2021,


    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺 .” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published March 21, 2018.

    About this Entry

    Entry Title: Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺

    Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

    • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
    • ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 and Tracy Miller, entry contributors, “Nanchan Monastery 南禪寺

    Additional Credit:

    • Editing and proof correction Tracy Miller
    • adding external links SUN Zheng
    • Initial research 2021 by ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋

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