If you are heading over to Shichahai , perhaps to walk around the lake, there’s a small temple that you might well feel is worth spending some ten minutes inside. The Huode Zhenjun Temple (火德真君庙), according to Wikipedia, was first built during the Ming Dynasty and then rebuilt in 1759 during the Qing Dynasty.
Oh. Not so, according to eventseeker.com and cityseeker.com, that could be one and the same organisation as far as I can see. “The temple was originally built during the Yuan Dynasty in 1605 but has undergone several renovations since then with touches of Ming and Qing dynasty architecture being added into the mix,” they chorus in unison.
english.visitbeijing.com.cn has another take. “The temple boasts a history of more than 1,300 years since the construction in Zhenguan 6th year of the Tang Dynasty (632 AD). It was restored in Zhizheng 6th year during the reign of Shundi in the Yuan Dynasty (1346 AD),” it reports. “During the Wanli Period of the Ming Dynasty, the royal house was bothered by fires in successive years. Hence, the emperor decreed to extend the temple … and then the temple was rebuilt in the 24th year of Qianlong Reign (1759 AD) during the Qing Dynasty.”
Whatever the truth of the matter, the temple has on its east gate (the one from which you now exit the complex), some yellow coloured glaze tiles added to its roof that were granted by Emperor Qianlong.
Since its construction, the elements tempered the temple's grandeur, such that it eventually became a mere shadow of its former self. But luckily, in 1981, it was designated as a historic site by the local government, and the Daoist Association of China raised funds for its renovation. Nowadays it’s one of China’s national heritage sites, albeit that it’s a fully functioning temple, and one that most visitors come to pray in.
This three-legged iron incense burner, which was also known as the "Iron Tripod", was cast in 1784 in Emperor Qianlong's reign. A notice beneath it tells us that "during the recent hundred years around, the tripod had been left in the Embassy of the Netherlands" without any further explanation as to why. Anyway, in 2011 it was returned to China on behalf of the Dutch government and placed here in the Fire Temple.
On the south side is the Hall of the Perfect Sovereign of Great Kindness ( 隆恩殿), also known as the Heavenly General of the Jade Pivot Fire Office ( 玉樞火府天將).
At the north end lies the principle building – the Southern Fire Patriarch Hall, named after the Perfect Sovereign of the Virtue of Fire, who was also known as the Fire God (or Patriarch).
You’ll also find the Ci Hang Deity Hall where Cihang Daoren (Goddess of the Benevolent Ship) – also known as Guan Yin Bodhisattva, is enshrined. "Her sacred power is limitless, thus she can save all the poor on earth and never refuse to respond to a prayer", we are told.
Down the sides of the temple complex are yet more buildings … In the Cai Shen Deity Hall you’ll find three wealth gods. In the middle is the Military Wealth Deity, Zhao Gongming; on his left is the literary wealth deity, Bi Gan and on the right is another military wealth god called Guan Yu. It is said they never refuse to respond to a prayer.
Like many temples, the Fire God temple has its own local culture and customs. The most famous of these is the birthday celebration of the Fire Patriarch on the 22nd day of the 6th lunar month. On that day, emperors used to send officials to pay respect to the Fire God on his behalf.
As you leave the temple, you go through a small but impressive peifang into another courtyard…
… and here along two of the walls is a frieze depicting the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.
If you have a mind to (and either can read Chinese, or have a translation app on your mobile) you can read up the characteristics of your particular birth animal.
And that’s about it. Hardly the most awe inspiring temple in Beijing, but very pleasant nonetheless.
Take Subway Line 8 to Shichahai, which is less than 100 metres from the temple.