“I have rented a temple in the Western Hills, to go there for week-ends, and perhaps for an occasional fortnight in the autumn or spring. It is about eighteen miles from Peking, and one can reach the place easily enough on horseback. Also one can go most of the way by motor, along the new road that branches off to the Summer Palace.
The train that goes to Men-to-kou, on the other side of the mountains, stops at a little station two miles distant from the village of Pa-ta-chu. The name means ‘The Hill of the Eight Sanctuaries’. My temple is one of the eight that mount up the hill-side among the oaks, the maples, and the stunted pines. Both temples and trees nestle in the hollows, where they are protected from the north wind, which keeps the hill-tops shorn of vegetation.
The word ‘temple’ comes from the Greek τέμνειν, which means ‘to cut out, to separate, to isolate’, alluding to the exclusive character of that which is sacred to the gods. But Chinese gods, though sometimes fierce and terrifying, are not exclusive. They like company and are not particular what company they keep.” (Varè, ‘The Gate of Happy Sparrows’)
“As on my former mission in China, I rented a temple in the Western Hills. It was an isolated temple close to Pa-ta-chu, but in a little valley of its own. It was called the Pi-mo-yen. So many translations were given to me of this expression that I never really knew what it meant. ‘The Precipice where the Spirit is Refreshed’ was one; another was ‘The Precipice where the Devil is Exorcised.’
The Pi-mo-yen was a live temple, that is to say it had an abbot and a priest living in it, and many pilgrims came to burn incense in front of the effigy of a Buddha in a little grotto inside the temple grounds, under a huge overhanging rock. The pilgrims used to pass through my quarters but without causing me inconvenience. The Abbot and I became friends, though we could not understand each other very well. Sometimes I used to go over my Chinese characters with him. But his pronunciation of the tones was different from that which I was used to in Peking.
The Pi-mo-yen was endowed with property of its own, and the farm produce used to be brought in and stored, so I had the impression of living in a Chinese country-house with all the interest that a country-house gives to its occupants. The place was very old and had once been a centre of religious instruction. It is mentioned as such in some Chinese books. A cousin of the Emperor Ch’ien Lung once lived there and wrote a book in which he described his travels in Turkestan and elsewhere. The title was Footsteps in the Snow of a Solitary Goose.” (Varè, ‘Laughing Diplomat’)
It was in a Buddhist temple in the Western Hills that I wrote the first chapters of this book. The temple is named Pi Mo Yen. In the eighteenth century a Manchu general, cousin to the Emperor Ch’ien-lung, stayed up there, like myself, and wrote a book. (His was a book of travel, with the quaint title “Footsteps in the Snow of a Solitary Goose.”) Close by were the Hunting Park and the tower whence the emperor used to watch his army manoeuvring on the plain. All around were signs of a past magnificence. (Varè, ‘The Last Empress’ ix, 1936)
This temple, one of the smallest and highest of those in the Western Hills, was known to the foreign community in Peking at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century as Pi Mo Yen [碧默巖]. Chinese sources, however, indicate its name to be Mi Mo Ya [秘魔崖]. Forthcoming installments will further illustrate the Western Hills, using pictures from Lin-qing’s book accompanied by excerpts from contemporary European sources.
麟慶：鴻雪因緣圖記 hóngxuě yīnyuán tújì volume 4 of 6
About the Author:
Daniele Varè (1880-1956) was an Italian diplomat who served chiefly in China, from 1908 until 1920. After he retired from the diplomatic service he devoted himself to writing, translating his own books into English, and writing some of them directly in that language. He wrote works of popular history, such as ‘The Last Empress’ (also published as ‘The Last of the Empresses’), and his novels, ‘The Maker of Heavenly Trousers’; ‘The Gate of Laughing Sparrows’; and ‘The Temple of Costly Experience’; thinly-veiled romans-a-clef, portray expatriate life in China during the end of the Qing dynasty and the beginning of the Republican period. His autobiography, ‘Laughing Diplomat’, was published in 1938. Sir Edmund Backhouse, in his memoirs, describes Varè as his ‘enemy’, doubtlessly because Varè paid him a back-handed compliment by comparing his work and himself with James Macpherson and his ‘Ossian’. – Se non è vero, è ben trovato, we may say.