Cháng Chūn Sì 长春寺

Part of A Better Guide to Beijing’s coverage of South of Qián Mén

Cháng Chūn Sì only recently reappeared after a long period as private housing, following a ¥10 million refit completed in 2007. Originally founded in 1592, it also partly served as a huìguǎn or guildhall, when a school to coach people from Jiāngsū Province taking the imperial examination was run here from 1702.

Now it functions as the seven-part Xuānnán Cultural Museum (北京市宣南文化博物馆) and exhibition hall on the history of the district, roughly the western half of the original southern (Chinese, outer) part of the city. While the northern (Tartar, inner) part of the city developed a rigid well-planned grid-like main road system aligned with the Forbidden City, Imperial City, and Inner City walls, the development of the southern city was far more haphazard. While the north has few xiéjiē (斜街) or ‘oblique’ streets running at a diagonal, Xuānwǔ has a tangle of them, particularly in the Qián Mén area.

After Khubilai Khan of the Mongol Yuán dynasty began constructing a new capital in 1257 to the northeast but overlapping the site of the Jīn city the Mongols had largely laid to waste, the ruins became a recreational destination for the upper classes, and the xiéjiē are said to be the remains of the routes they took southwest on their excursions. Since it occupies some of the same area as the Jīn dynasty city, Xuānwǔ claims to be the oldest part of modern Běijīng.

The temple buildings look brand new now, but the courtyards are usually quiet and deserted, and the exhibition is brisk, bright, and labelled in English. There’s much on the general history of Běijīng as well as Xuānwǔ in particular, such as the Jiājìng emperor’s 1153 construction of new altars (see Altars for All Seasons), the walling of the southern city, the history of various Xuānwǔ sights, material on guildhalls (huìguǎn, as many as 70% of which lay in this district, see Joining the Club), ancient theatres, the ‘Eight Eccentrics’ of Tiān Qiáo (see An Early Bar Street), the ancient shopping of Dà Zhàlan, and the role of Xuānwǔ literati in the Hundred Days’ Reforms.

▶ Cháng Chūn Jiē 9, t 6303 5641, 9am–4pm, Tues–Sun. Free. m Cháng Chūn Jiē (Line 2) exit C2. b to 宣武医院: 10, 38, 88, 477. Walk south from the metro and turn left, or north from the bus stop and turn right into Cháng Chūn Jiē. Follow the sign towards a small police station, 300m away. This brings you along the north wall of the temple which is (unusually) entered from the east.

It’s a short walk west from here to Bàoguó Sì and its market, or south to the Ox Street Mosque and Fǎyuán Sì, or a little further northeast to search for guildhalls (head north from the temple through bustling hútòng along Xià Xiéjiē, 下斜街, and east along Xuānwǔ Mén Xī Dàjiē, 宣武门西大街, to pick up the walking route discussed in Out Clubbing.)

Next in South of Qián Mén: Bàoguó Sì
Previous: Former Residence of Jì Xiǎolán
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For discussion of China travel, see The Oriental-List.