Text by Liu Haile Photographs by Lin Dihuan
In the early 1980s, the film Shaolin Temple caused the movie’s namesake and its young star, Jet Li, to become household names not only across China, but throughout much of the world. Recently, the movie industry decided to return to the now-legendary temple, and it found a renewed spotlight.
Historically, at least two different temples in China were called “Shaolin.” The northern one in Songshan Mountain of central China’s Henan Province is considered “the” Shaolin Temple, while its southern counterpart mysteriously disappeared during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), leaving certainty only that its remnants should lie somewhere in the middle of Fujian Province. Today, many temples in the region claim to be the original South Shaolin Temple, and the most famous are located in Quanzhou, Fuqing, and Putian, respectively.
Legend goes that at the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), 13 monks from the Shaolin Temple helped Li Shimin, who would become Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), defeat opposing warlords to unite the country. After he ascended the throne, Li Shimin granted them the title of “monk warriors” and ordered the establishment of 10 branch temples throughout the country. The Linquan Temple on Jiulian Mountain of Putian County was one of them.
Linquan Temple was the predecessor of today’s Putian South Shaolin Temple. By the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), it had become the cradle of cutting-edge southern boxing techniques and a martial arts hub of southeastern China. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, many of Linquan Temple’s residents remained loyal to the overthrown Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and refused to change their clothes and hairstyles as the new Qing rulers demanded. The rebels were mainly Buddhist monks and Taoists, and those in southern Fujian and eastern Guangdong formed a secret anti-Qing organization called Xianghua. Because of the temple’s support for the Heaven and Earth Society, a secret organization aiming to overthrow the Qing and restore the Ming, Qing rulers dispatched troops who decimated the temple.