You won’t see many bolder or brasher temples than this, built towards the end of the seventeenth century as the residence of Prince Yin Zhen. In 1723, when the prince became Emperor Yong Zheng and moved into the Forbidden City, the temple was re-tiled in imperial yellow and restricted thereafter to religious use. It became a lamasery in 1744, housing monks from Tibet and Inner Mongolia. The temple has supervised the election of the Mongolian Living Buddha (the spiritual head of Mongolian Lamaism), who was chosen by drawing lots out of a gold urn. After the civil war in 1949, Yonghe Gong was declared a national monument and closed for the following thirty years. Remarkably, it escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution, when most of the city’s religious structures were destroyed or turned into factories and warehouses.

The lamasery nowadays functions as an active Tibetan Buddhist centre, though it’s used basically for propaganda purposes, to show China guaranteeing and respecting the religious freedom of minorities. It’s questionable how genuine the monks you see wandering around are – at best, they’re state-approved.

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