Chinese Architecture- Guangzhou (Canton)

Guangxiaosi Temple




Guangzhou, China




Qing Dynasty


Base and outside walls are made of brick, the balustrades made of stone, and the eaves and banisters encircling the structure are made of wood.


Guangxiaosi, the Temple of Bright Filial Piety, is the oldest one in Guangzhou and is said to date back to the 4th century. It is possible that there was a Buddhist temple on this site even before there was a city here. Other sources indicate that it was the site of a palace and a garden before it became a temple. In any case, by the Tang dynasty, it was well established as a center of Buddhist learning in Southern China. Many prominent Indian monks came to teach here. (Most likely taking the sea route, as Guangzhou traders were traveling as far as Arabia at that time.) One of these was a monk called Huineng in Chinese who was a master of the Dhyana, or meditative, sect of Buddhism. Huineng later became the “6th founder” of the Southern school of Dhyana.

The complex is laid out in typical Chinese fashion, facing south on a north-south axis. The first gate has two huge guardian statues. The second gate is the Gate of the Heavenly Kings and is guarded by the Four Deva Kings. In the center of this gate is a statue of the “Laughing Buddha”, Maitreya. The main hall is north of this at the head of a large courtyard with a drum tower to the west and bell tower to the east. The main hall has and elevated porch in front with two pagodas and a large incense burner. Incense is not burned inside the hall itself. To the east of the main hall is a smaller hall called the Visitor’s Room and to the west is a similar shaped hall with a recumbent Buddha image. Behind the main hall is a hall dedicated to Huineng called the Founder’s Hall.

Fire destroyed the temple in the 17th century and the current buildings are well maintained, having been refurbished and rebuilt many times since then. The most impressive building is the main hall, called the Mahavira Hall, which is about 140 feet wide and 90 feet deep. The hall is double-eaved and the walls between the two roofs are left open to allow for the air to circulate and to let the sunlight in. Inside are three massive golden statues. Shakyamuni in the center is about 30 feet tall and her is flanked by Manjusri and (Pohyon) who are 25 feet tall. Two of Shakyamuni’s disciples are also here with bright gold statues standing 15 feet tall. On the backside of the hall sits a huge statue of Guanyin.

In addition to this hall, the temple is also famous for it’s iron pagodas that date back to the period of the Five Dynasties (907-960 A.D.).


All images copyright 2001 Professor Kerk L. Phillips of Brigham Young University, Utah, USA.
Visit his webpage at  

Boyd, Andrew. Chinese Architecture and Town Planning: 1500 B.C. - A.D. 1911
Holmesdale Press Ltd., London. 1962


With special thanks to