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The Lama Temple

In the northeast corner of the old city of Beijing lies a group of buildings with yellow roofs bounded by a red wall. It is the famous Yonghe Palace, or the Lama Temple, covering an area of 66,400 square meters. This temple is listed as significant historical site protected by the national government.

This temple is different from other temples for its uniqueness, in terms of history and contents. It was built in 1694, and was the residence of the Manchu Prince Heze. In 1723, Heze succeeded to the throne as Emperor Yongzheng. In the third year (1725) of Yongzheng's reign, the site was turned into a royal residence, and thus, the green tiles were changed to yellow, for yellow was the imperial color. It was called Yonghe Gong (the Palace of Eternal Harmony). The emperor later converted the palace into a lamasery for monks from Mongolia and Tibet, for both Emperor Yongzheng and his son, Qianlong, were all believers of Lamaism. In 1744, during Emperor Qianlong's reign, it was officially declared a Lama temple.

The Lama Temple preserves over one thousand Buddhist figures and rich classical cultural relics of Buddhism. Besides, it displays a large number of other rare cultural relics, including its three treasures: a 18-metre-high statue of Maitreya (the Smiling Buddha) carved out of a single sandalwood trunk; the miniature "Mountain of Five Hundred arhats" made of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin; and a shrine made of Nanmu, a precious hardwood with golden veins. There were originally four halls for learning, namely, the Hall of Mathematics, the Hall of Explicating the Scriptures, the Hall of Tantra and the Medicine Hall, and lamas studied in these halls with a term usually lasting more than 10 years. It took 30 years for lamas to study Buddhism from enrollment to graduation.

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