Yi Shan Xi Chan Si
The Shuang Lin Monastery, in Singapore was modeled after the Yi Shan Xi Chan Si in Fuzhou, China. Since the founding of Shuang Lin Monastery in 1898, various Abbots of the Shuang Lin Monastery came from Xi Chan Si.
Some of the Venerables included Venerable Xian Hui, Venerable Pu Liang, Venerable Gao Can, and Venerable Tan Chan.
History of Xi Chan Si
The Xi chan Si was founded in the state of Liang, during the Northern and Southern Dynasty. The name Xi Chan Si, is the latest name in the long history of the monastery.
The earliest known name was Xinshou, during the Northern and Southern Dynasty, (420 - 581). The monastery was destroyed at the end of Sui Dynasty, (581 – 618) During the Tang Dynasty, (618 – 907), the Inspector of Fujian, Lee Jin Wen, invited Venerable Da An, to restore the monastery. It was renamed Qing Chan , Yan Shou.
During the Five Dynasties period, (907 – 960), the court gave the name Chang Qing, to the Monastery.
In 1038, the Song Emperor Renzong, bestowed a new name: Yi Shan Chang Qing Si. It was later changed to Yi Shan Xi Chan Chang Qing Si, as the monastery was located in the west and there were three other monasteries in the area called Nan Chan, Bei Chan and Dong Chan. It has been popularly known as Xi Chan Monastery, ever since.
During reign of Qing Emperor Guang Xu, Venerable Wei Miao, initiated a major restoration from 1875 to 1879. Most of the physical structures in the Monasteries are dated to this period.
The monastery still has much material culture that reflects its long history. When Venerable Da An came to the monastery, he dug 7 wells, known as the Seven Stars well, that continues to function today. In the courtyard between the Front and Main hall stands a Lychee tree that dates back to the Song Dynasty, (960-1279).
The various name change and imperial patronage from the Tang to the Song Dynasty signals the importance of Xi Chan Si as a centre of Buddhism in Southern China. Today, it is considered as one of the major monastery in Fujian Area attracting visitors from all over the world.
In recent years, Xi Chan Monastery expanded on its left wing with new structures added.
The Xi Chan - Shuang Lin Connection
During the 1890s, Venerable Xian Hui, disciple of Venerable Wei Miao, left Xi Chan Si to study Buddhism in Sri Lanka, India and later visited Burma.
During his transit in Singapore, a chance encounter between Venerable Xian Hui and Mr. Low Kim Pong in Singapore led to the founding of Shuang Lin Monastery in 1898 (79 years after the founding of Singapore).
3200 volunteers left Nanyang to serve on the Burma Road. About 1000 died during service, 1000 settled in China and the rest returned to South East Asia after the war.
Because of Venerable Xian Hui's relationship to Xi Chan Si, the architecture style of Shuang Lin Monastery was modeled after Xi Chan Si.
A pair of couplet in Xi chan Si was even reproduced inside the Main hall of Shuang Lin Monastery.
The modeling of Shuang Lin Monastery after Xi Chan Si demonstrated how early migrants reproduced their cultural spaces as they moved outside of their homeland.
In traditional Chinese society, monasteries were not simply “places of worship” but served as a community center. Therefore, when Mr. Low Kim Pong founded the Shuang Lin Monastery, it served as a community center to serve the needs of the migrant population. The monastery became a symbolic cultural space that embodies the notion of home and their ethnic identity.
Venerables from the Shuang Lin Monastery, many of whom came from Xi Chan Si, served the migrant population and provided spiritual and social support. Due to the changing social dynamics and its responding needs, the Venerables became social agents addressing specific needs of each historical period.
In this context, the relationship between Xi Chan Si and Shuang Lin Monastery offers an opportunity to understand the ways in which religious, spiritual and cultural capital was transferred from China to Singapore and the mechanics of cultural reproduction between China and Singapore and between different generations in Singapore.
All of these history is embedded within the material culture of Shuang Lin Monastery providing valuable resources to understand the history of Singapore as experienced and perceived by the Chinese migrant population and their descendents.
The Main Hall in Xi Chan Si, Fuzhou, China
The Main Hall in Shuang Lin Monastery, Singapore