The Watch

Tiantai An

Wangqu, Shanxi Province, China

2012 World Monuments Watch

Tiantai An is a small Buddhist temple located in a remote but populous valley in the Taihang mountain range, in Shanxi Province. Based on its style, scholars agree that Tiantai An dates from the Tang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.), when the Tiantai school of Buddhism matured and flourished in China. A small timber building with simple brackets, its brick walls rise over a square ground plan, covered by a traditional roof of gray tiles. First mentioned in 1958, the building was part of an exciting wave of rediscoveries in the twentieth century of the oldest surviving Chinese buildings, and remains an important link in the historical record.

Having survived war, earthquakes, and neglect—it was used for storage from 1949 until the 1980s—Tiantai An is now a landmark listed at the national level. It suffers from deterioration of its centuries-old timber structural members, and in 2005 the stone retaining wall on the temple’s platform suffered a partial collapse, which has not been fully repaired. The surrounding community, made up mostly of farmers, is proud of this temple because of its great antiquity and has a strong interest in seeing it well maintained. At the time of the 2012 World Monuments Watch announcement, heritage professionals at Tsinghua University in Beijing were developing a management plan for the site that proposed careful documentation and study for the restoration of the building. These planning efforts were meant to serve as an important example of community engagement and conservation management for other heritage sites in the country.

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