CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 24, December 2010


The Temple of Ma Chao 馬超祠, Shanxi | China Heritage Quarterly

The Statue of Ma Chao
Ma Chao Temple, Shanxi

Sang Ye with Geremie R. Barmé



Ma Chao Temple dates from the Three Kingdoms 三國 period. The statue of Ma Chao (176-222CE)—a general with what is said to be a Han-Jiang 漢羌 background—that is featured in Boerschmann's image here was a Ming-dynasty re-imagining of the warrior.[Fig.1] In the popular late-traditional novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo Yanyi 三國演義), the general is described as 'Ma Chao the Splendid' for the finery of his garb and his martial valour.

In 1952, Ma Chao Temple was converted into a primary school. Children would clamber over the statue of General Ma during playtime and at recess. A formal school building was constructed next to the temple in 1998, but by the time local villagers had collected enough money to repair the statue all that remained was the lower half of the general's body. Since they had no other reference materials as a guide (and they did not know about Boerschmann's photograph), it was decided to model the new statue on a photograph of the Republican-era general Zhang Zuolin 張作霖 in full military uniform. The resulting statue shows Ma Chao with his hand on the hilt of a sword à la Zhang Zuolin. At his side he has a scholar's helper and a servant girl.[Fig.2]

The revived Ma Chao Temple has become a tourist spot. In 2009, illegal roadside signage resulted in the custodians of the temple being fined 80,000 yuan for endangerment by the regional Road Administration Bureau. The fine was the equivalent of two year's takings in entry tickets.