Guangzhou in Southern China is one of the country’s biggest cities, which means that it is massive metropolis that it just teeming with people, industry and traffic complete with the cacophony of noise that goes with such a frenetic place.
Near the centre of Guangzhou city, though, is a retreat that is rather quiet and reflective and which harks back to a time when Guangzhou was merely a city and not a megapolis, and when traffic was hauled by either horse or human power.
In the latter part of the 19th century, during the early period of the 1890s, Guangzhou was an imperial city, and it was the time of the Qing Dynasty. At that time, to secure a well paid, secure position in government, citizens would need to pass the Imperial Examination, which was designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. Seventy two branches of the local Chen Clan pooled their extensive resources to build a family temple in Guangzhou which would serve as both a place to pray and to house family members who were studying for the Imperial Examination.
The buildings within the complex are simply magnificent, as each is intricately carved and finely painted to represent flowers, birds, Cantonese fruits and scenes in traditional dramas. The richness of these decorations is quite extraordinary, as is the vibrancy of the colours used to bring these paintings to life.
The complex consists of courtyards, pavilions and rooms which are filled with furniture and decorations that were contemporary at the time of construction. As you walk through the temple you have the opportunity to admire the folk artworks and handicrafts which includes enamelling, embroidery, porcelain, lacquer work and paper cutting, all with a history dating back many hundreds of years.
Within the courtyards are many wonderful examples of bonsai gardens, some of which are extraordinarily delicate yet simultaneously complex and of a great age.
There are actually 19 buildings within the temple, but it is so cleverly constructed that it doesn’t seem to be as large, particularly as the temple is divided into sections which are entered through courtyards and doorways.
The Chen Clan Family Temple really is worth a visit if you are to more fully understand what China was like under its Imperial masters; and if cultural history is not your primary interest, the sheer artistry of the buildings’ construction is certainly well worth seeing.