|The main gate into Baiyun Guan is accompanied by lions, pillars, and memorials. It is called Mountain Gate 山门 (Shānmén). The characters above the door, 勅建白雲觀 Chìjiàn Báiyún Guān, simply say that the Emperor ordered the building of Baiyun Guan - "Baiyun Guan by Imperial Decree." The support of the Emperor, who was himself a god, for both the religion and the monastery assured its place. The characters are inscribed in iron, symbolizing that the Baiyun Guan will last forever as it is made of iron. It was built in 1443, under the Zhengtong reign.
(Note: 白雲觀 is the traditional form of the characters 白云观 Báiyún Guān - both are pronounced in the same way. The traditional form of characters was used in mainland China until the 1950s. To encourage literacy and simplify writing, the People's Republic of China introduced a standard called, in English, "simplified characters." Most of the changes were shortcuts that people had already been making in everyday use for centuries. There were, and still are, many strokes left out of characters in ordinary handwriting. People are people. Even today, teachers in China nag their students to write "kaishu" a standard form of writing that uses all of the strokes - students tend to simplify the simplification even more. If a character can be understood by a squiggle in context, why go to more effort? We do the same thing when we make bumps to stand for any vowel in a word. We can read it, but a stranger cannot.
Ancient signs still use the traditional form of characters, of course. But you will also find traditional characters used on modern signs for some new businesses when they want to convey a sense of stability or if they simply like the looks of their logo in the traditional form.
Traditional signs are written right to left, for the most part. 勅建白雲觀 on the main gate is written 觀雲白建勅. But again, there is no hard and fast rule. You will also find many instances where signs and inscriptions read from the left to the right, even though they are written in traditional characters. The reader must figure it out from the context.)
Last update: October 2009
© Marilyn Shea, 2009