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Assuming it did indeed exist, when was the Southern Shaolin Temple destroyed?

Personally, I've heard that it was possibly destroyed multiple times with the years (AD) 1646, 1647, 1674, 1732, 1901, 1928 mentioned as possibilities, but I have yet to see anything substantial to back that up. Of course, most of the research material is in Chinese only.

I've also heard that historical references to the complete destruction of the Shaolin Temple are not about the extant Northern Shaolin temple at the base of Songshan mountains in Dengfeng, Zhenzhou, Henan province (aka. "the original") but are really about the many sattelite Southern Shaolin Temples (established when warrior monks stayed behind after fighting off Japanese pirates and other invaders on several occasions). From my research, whereas the original was never completely destroyed just suffered several fires and attacks, the Southern Temple was shown less mercy and constantly the subject of total destruction (which is why it had to be rebuilt in totally different locations) by changing dynasties and/or vindictive Emperors.

Then there's that recent Shaolin movie which of course had the destruction being carried out by the evil foreigners (not too sure I've ever read that version in any history books) where the British are the ones shown destroying a temple. While mostly an unlikely scenario, when it comes to the British the Southern Shaolin Temple would be more plausible than Northern, as they physically fought battles for control of Hong Kong in several Southern port cities during the Opium Wars which surely could have caused some incidental destruction closer to the disputed Southern Temple locations (but certainly nowhere near the Nothern Temple deep in Henan province). If they wanted to show foreigners as responsible I wonder why they didn't choose to make it about the atrocities of World War II where the Japanese may have actually burned down a portion of the temple (again likely just Northern in this case) in 1941.

At this point maybe no one will ever know the definitive answer and all we have is speculation but I'm interested to know the perspective accepted by historians (western and eastern both).

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2 Answers 2

The history regarding the Shaolin temple is very muddy due to the fact that when the temple was being destroyed, so were many of its records and etc. As for research being Chinese only, you do have to remember that many of these far east countries (China, Japan, Korea) have all been fairly closed up until the 1900's. I mean there are barely any records of Mao's Famine outside of China and that was approximately in 1950's. So you won't find that many outside sources about Shaolin. I believe you are correct that the numerous Shaolin temples were indeed destroyed many different times. I believe the last time was when Warlord Shi Yousan burned it down and publicly arrested and executed many of the monks.

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To answer some of the points raised in the original post: Was the Southern Shaolin Temple real and if so which location is valid?

I do not have an exact date, but from our oral history, it was destroyed by the Ching army, so that puts it in the range of about 400yrs! There's also a theory that there was a bunch of smaller, scattered temples instead of one large complex.

As for the location of Southern Shaolin, the Chinese government officially decided on QuanZhou in Fujian, and as of Jun 2013 (when I last visited) the reconstruction is almost complete. It covers quite an extensive area (don't know the numbers..) and since 2010, has an abbot and full-time monks stationed there. It is a historical city going back about 2,000yrs, it used to be a major port city since before the 1500s, with trade links all the way to Middle East, but the river its located on, is no longer navigable. The main port now is XiaMen, also nearest international airport, about 100km away.

The S.Shaolin Temple receives strong support from the Fujian (state) government. The previous mayor of QuanZhou was instrumental for this, he was also a historian before he became a politician and did much research on the matter. He is also a KungFu(TaiZu) master in his own right.

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