advertisement

An attraction to bring out the hunchback in anyone, this Qing temple now houses the Ancient Bell Museum (Gu Zhong Bowuguan), best visited on the way to the Summer Palace or in conjunction with Wanshou Si, which lies to the southwest along the Third Ring Road. The temple was known as Juesheng Si (Awakened Life Temple). But the 47-ton bell transported here on ice sleds in 1743 clearly took center stage, hence the temple's current moniker. The third hall on the right houses clangers garnered from around Beijing. Some were donated by eunuchs wishing the relevant emperor long life, with hundreds of donors' names scrawled on their sides. But frustratingly, none of this is fleshed out. The main attraction is housed in the rear hall, carved inside and out with 230,000 Chinese and Sanskrit characters. The big bell tolls but once a year, on New Year's Eve. Visitors rub the handles of Qianlong's old wash basin, and scramble up narrow steps to make a wish while throwing coins through a hole in the top of the monster. But it is no longer the "King of Bells" -- that honor now goes to the 50-ton bell housed in the Altar to the Century (Zhonghua Shiji Tan), constructed in 1999 to prove that China could waste money on the millennium, too.