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Exploring Shaolin Temple and China’s Kung Fu Tradition and History

by Margaux Schreurs   - Jul 7, 2015
 
One weekend in November, a group of my classmates at the time decided that we should go away for a long weekend from Beijing. Checking out websites and websites full of domestic flights we decided that one of the easiest day trips by flight would be to Luoyang (洛阳), in Henan Province. 
 
Luoyang is located in the west of the province. Due to its history (it was the capital of the country for 13 ancient dynasties during the Xia Dynasty 21st to 16th century BC) there is a lot of stuff to see. Two of the main sites that tourists come to the city for are Shaolin Temple (Shǎolín Sì; 少林寺), or the birthplace of Kung Fu, and the Longmen Grottoes (Lóngmén Shíkū; 龙门石窟). 
 
We flew to Luoyang using one of the up-and-coming Chinese airlines in terms of popularity: Hainan Airlines (Hǎinán Hángkōng; 海南航空). The flight only took 1 hour and 45 minutes, and the airport was relatively close to the city center. Ticket prices start at around 350 RMB online, so this is a case where traveling by air overtaking the train is highly recommended. It only took us about thirty minutes to get to the hostel from the airport, too. On this first day, after landing early in the morning, we decided to venture out to the Shaolin Temple, and we booked a tour to do so as the temple isn’t right by the city center.
 
We booked our tour through the hostel we were staying at: Luoyang Yijia International Youth Hostel (Luòyáng Yìjiā Guójì Qīngnián Lǚshè; 洛阳易家国际青年旅舍) (Phone: 0379-63512311; Email:lyhostel@hotmail.com; Address: 329 Zhongzhou Donglu, Laocheng Qu - 老城区中州东路329号), which was located conveniently on a bustling street with plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from in its surrounding areas. The hostel was simple but decent: we booked a double room and a triple room for a total of five people, and paid somewhere in the vicinity of 150 RMB per person for the entire two nights. Not too bad. They also had bunks available and dorms, but as we planned this trip last minute there was no more space in their dorms.
 
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Luoyang Yijia International Youth Hostel
 
The tour itself (mainly the transportation) was a little disappointing because we were stuffed into a tiny van with domestic tourists and the guide spoke to us in Chinese. We went to pick up tourists from a few other hotels before driving over to the temple itself, but being used to the Chinese style of putting together tourist tours we were half expecting this, and weren’t too upset. Once we got to the site we just decided to escape from our tour and meet them at the entrance at a set time. This is a pretty good trick that I have used multiple times over on many cheap tours throughout the country, where the transport is most important, and Chinese commentary and tour group activities generally only make the experience drag on forever.
 
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The entrance to the park, Shaolin Temple, and Pagoda Forest
 
Although, to be completely fair, there were some lovely other tourists from the south of the country on the trip that we were able to have great conversation with. So in a way, traveling with a domestic tour group definitely had its perks, namely the price and the conversation, as well as the free Chinese language lessons. However, for my friend who didn’t speak Chinese there wasn’t much to talk about.
 
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The Wushu Performance Hall of Shaolin Temple 
 
The temple itself is located in beautiful forest surroundings on the middle peak of Mount Song (Sōng Shān; 嵩山). There’s a huge gate at the entrance to the park, and there is a lot of stuff to explore around here. Take at least 2 hours if you want to see everything, and more if you want to do it without any stress. Unfortunately our sticky tour situation meant that we only had about 1.5-2 hours to see everything.
 
We were told that the temple is the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism to this day, and that it and the bordering Pagoda Forest (Tǎ Lín; 塔林) were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. 
 
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The Pagoda Forest is located in a very peaceful environment
 
The monastery on site was originally built in 477 AD, but was continuously expanded upon as time went on to make it the structure it is today. At the main temple, there is a lot of greenery and beautiful architecture. We walked around looking at the halls and shrines for a while, enjoying the environment.
 
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The temple and its surroundings
 
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The temple is very active today, and many domestic tourists stop off to pray here
 
However, the absolute highlight of this temple is the Kung Fu Show that they have multiple times a day. We loved it. The show showcased a lot of impressive moves, and was a great introduction to Kung Fu for us, as we weren’t quite sure of the difference between Kung Fu and other Chinese martial arts. Some of the performers are really young and demonstrated some intense moves. There were also older and more experienced men on stage, they really blew our minds with their concentration and ability.
 
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The Kung Fu Show at the temple was really impressive and worth the trip
 
Walking around the surroundings, we ran into a lot of foreign Kung Fu masters too, who all come to Shaolin Temple especially to practice this martial art. That kind of sums up just how special this place is and was: the focal point of Kung Fu in the entire world, with people flocking to watch, learn, and immerse themselves in this sport and the religion.
Foreigners study Kung Fu here, too
(to be continued)
 
 
 

About Writer

Margaux_Schreurs.JPG
Margaux Schreurs is a translator, editor and writer living in Beijing. She was born in the Netherlands, and became interested in China and Chinese culture after her first Chinese language class while living in Singapore. She holds an MSc in the anthropology of China from the London School of Economics, and since then has written for several publications throughout the world about her travels and about current affairs, in print and digital media.
 
 
 
 

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