Gathering: Incense

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Incense sold at the Lama Temple, a recreation of the Golden Temple of Jehol within the Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933. Courtesy of Chinese American Museum of Chicago.
Incense sold at the Lama Temple, a recreation of the Golden Temple of Jehol within the Century of Progress International Exposition, Chicago, 1933. Courtesy of Chinese American Museum of Chicago.

In 2006, the Chinese American Museum of Chicago opened a crowd-pleasing exhibition, Two World Fairs: Untold Asian Stories, documenting the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean participation in the 1893 World Columbian and 1933-34 Century of Progress world fairs. The iconic Chinese image from the 1933 Fair was the Lama Temple, a half-scale replica of the Golden Temple of Jehol. Built in 1771, the Golden Temple of Jehol, located in Chengde, Hebei Province, China, was the summer residence of Chinese emperors. With the backing of Chicago industrialist Vincent Bendix, Swedish explorer Sven Hedin located the Golden Temple in 1929 and commissioned the building in China of an exact replica which was shipped to Chicago for the 1933 Fair. Eighty Chinese craftsmen took one year to complete the assembly, composed of no less than 28,000 numbered pieces of wood, fitted together with dovetail joints and dowels (no nails or screws needed!). 25,000 gold-leaf covered copper shingles served as the roofing. Chang Pi Chen and Shun Hua Ting, temple painters from Beijing, and architect Yuan Hsi Kuo worked together to erect and exquisitely decorate the temple. The replica temple was seventy feet square and sixty feet high, rising from a four foot stone pedestal.

Inside the Lama Temple visitors were greeted by a large red gold lacquered Laughing Buddha and a stone statue of Avalokitesvara (Tibetan bodhisattva), high priest throne and robe, altar pieces, pagodas, incense burners, temple bells, musical instruments, dance masks, wall banners and dozens of paintings. To assist visitors praying at the temple, incense was sold by Chinese Americans dressed in Mandarin coats rich in embroidery and color. The object on display here is one of the Lama Temple boxes of incense from the 1933 Chicago fair.

This object was featured in the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)'s exhibit, "Gathering: Collecting and Documenting Chinese American History," October 17, 2019 - March 22, 2020.

Place(s): Chicago, IL
Year: 1933

– Chinese American Museum of Chicago

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