The Legend of the Fenzhong Temple

Context: the collector interviewed the informant (as GL) for legends in Beijing. The informant is a USC student from Beijing. The informant answered in English.


Main piece: There was a bell in the Fenzhong Temple in Beijing. Different people would hear different sounds when the bell rang. It was like the bell was talking to them.


GL: Have you ever heard of the Fenzhong Temple?

Collector: No.

GL: So Fenzhong stands for “minute”(分钟) in Chinese. The Fenzhong Temple is a very famous temple in the city of Beijing. There is a legend that in the 20th century, when people who worked in the temple rang the bell, everybody around the temple would hear a different sound. People were saying that the bell was saying something.

For example, if a kid has just finished school and then hear the bell, he would hear something like “school is finished”. When it is time to sleep, people would hear the bell saying “it’s time to go to bed”.

Collector: Have you ever heard the bell? Is it still there?

GL: I never heard of it by myself. The bell is still there, but it’s more like a tourist site now. It’s no longer a real temple.

Collector: So how did you learn this story?

GL: I think I heard of it from friends. Because I live in Beijing, you know, so people are telling this story.

Collector: From your peers or parents?

GL: From my peers, probably.

Collector: Do you think it’s real?

GL: It’s definitely not real, come on. But I think it’s a good story to tell kids.

Collector: Have you visited the temple?

GL: I haven’t visited the temple, but I used to take a tutor class around that place. I’ve never been inside the temple.

Collector: Do you think young kids in Beijing nowadays still believe in this?

GL: I don’t think they do. It’s more like a legend. I don’t think people really believe in this.



Collector’s thoughts:

This legend makes me think about the relationship between actual existence of a subject and the legend(s) of it. If the bell in that temple is still being rung today, the legend is much less likely to exist and continued to be passed down, as it is (almost) impossible for a bell to talk to people. The legend thrives on the fact that the subject does not exist anymore so the truth of the subject can no longer be testified. Also, the legend can serve as a tool to attract tourists to the place.