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Visit Weaverville’s Joss House while you can








Saturday–lacking another alternative to sitting in a hotel room all day waiting for my 45th high school reunion dinner–Manuela and I drove from Redding to Weaverville (about 42 miles on the way to the coast on Highway 299), home of the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California…the Weaverville Joss House. We arrived shortly before the historic temple exhibit opened at 10 a.m. (the temple is open only Thursdays and Saturdays, and then only through June 30, 2012, when the historic wooden structure is likely to be permanently closed due to California Department of Parks and Recreation funding cuts).

The historic temple is the third version of the Taoist house of worship (the first two were destroyed by fires in 1861 and 1873), leaving it up to the Chinese community in Weaverville to rebuild and maintain it, a task that become much more difficult after the Chinese population dwindled to 16 residents in 1931.  Moon Lim Lee became trustee in 1938, and worked tirelessly for nearly 20 years to preserve this structure as a statewide treasure for all Californians–not just those of Chinese descent. The Joss House became part of the California Park System in 1956. While the structure will still stand, the internal furnishings will be boxed and moved to storage in Sacramento after the park closes in 2012.

The term “joss” is believed to be a corruption of the Portuguese word for “Deus,” meaning God. Thus a temple where Chinese gods are worshipped is called a “joss house.” A small Taoist joss house was first built in Weaverville about 1853, and called the Won Lim Miao (Won Lim Temple). Both the first two temples were located downhill from the present temple building, and were must more susceptible to fires than the current structure. The temple is reached by crossing over a bridge (which changes elevation) and a sharp curved pathway (both symbolic of the way to peace because evil spirits only travel in straight lines and unable to travel over barriers such as steps or around corners).

Three Chinese characters appear above the main entrance to the temple, reading from right to left Temple-Forest-Cloud, or “The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds.”

There are steps before the temple door, and an internal door permanently locked so that one must go around the door to reach the temple proper, respecting the cultural symbolism of blocking evil from the temple.

The Weaverville Joss House also contains a three-room schoolroom, kitchen and relatively primitive sleeping area. The Chinese recruited a teacher for the school as a caretaker by advertising in Sacramento with a reference to the high quality accommodations.

When the Joss House is closed, a part of history of more than a century in California will be lost. Whether it can or will be saved cannot be answered just yet. As my good friend and professor Royce Delmatier once wrote, California’s history can be charted only from its stern, for it can only see where it has been and not where it is going. Weaverville’s Joss House is just one more example of this sad state of affairs.

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