Year 2009. “There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.” Dalai Lama
It is estimated that in 1938 Inner Mongolia had more than 300o tibetan influence buddhist temples. By the end of 1940 there was almost none and the few saved were closed.
The idea we have from these remote and historical rich places of giants, kings and heroes is something we dream to see. This opportunity came to me in 2008 served in a silver plate with a professional assignment that would first last almost one year in Hohhot, capital of Inner Mongolia. Upon my arrival, on the way from the airport to the hotel, I remember the quilometres of roads filled with buildings decorated with marble, aluminium, glass and concrete. I thought that it was a new road because airports did not existed in these remote areas which means roads were needed, of course!
Don’t take me wrong. I didn’t expect to see a country or a city with its souls living in a middle aged environment still trading everything in the streets with baskets carried on the shoulders, a scenario out of a chinese historical book, no. I was in China since 2003 and I knew how fast developing this country was becoming like any western city we knew. The contrast and the shock came later after a few weekends looking for possible traces of preserved old and antique. In each city of an old country we always see remains from the past, a heritage we try hardly to preserve for the future generations because the bricks, the stones and the iron, that alone will always talk. To my disappointment I found virtually nothing, the few signs here and there are nothing compared to the extent of the city and the population, I found plenty of concrete, glass, aluminium, marble and tiles… When walking in font of a mcdonals and closed my eyes it was like being anywhere in the Occident, the dumplings smell being the most chinese odor betraying the hamburger feeling.
Rewrite everything. Historical artefacts are live memories the new leaders decided “do not help” people to grab their national identity, as the new geme of leaders put it on he corridors. So the solution is to remade everything with local styles, yes, but with a big emphasis on the national symbols, the symbols of the Forbidden City. And with that in mind the temples are also part of the project. A Chinese Buddhist temple is uncharacteristic of these places more prone to the tibetan small and low profile style and stupas instead.
On my quest to find a real sample from the past I saw a huge temple I did not believe it belonged to this place. It was tremendous, very shiny and obviously new. What later would be the main entrance was almost closed, only a small gap could let sneak an eye inside which curiously I did. Coincidently a worker open the big door and I almost barred his way out. I tried to ask him if I could get in but he did not pay any attention and looking at my camera left the door open…
… it was as I thought. The whole place was in construction (not in re-construction) and people were so busy that either they thought I had permission by someone above to enter the place to photograph or their concentration could not let them see me. The fact is that I saw every corner of this place, I photographed what later visitors (like me in 2010) could not and nobody stopped me except… a monk with brand new cloths inspecting the living quarters they would be staying. In a broken english, Beijing style, he told me I was not allowed to be inside because it was not open to the public, not yet, and not allowed to photograph. He accompanied me to the main door and invite me to leave with no signs of politeness which contrasted Mongolian people attitude as I became to be acquainted.
From a reborn religion point of view, the national identity was not neglected too…