LCSC, historical society reach partnership on Chinese temple

The Beuk Aie Temple, which can be found at the LC State Center for Arts & History, was built by Chinese immigrants in 1890.

Lewis-Clark State College and the Nez Perce County Historical Society have signed a memorandum of understanding for the support and preservation of the Beuk Aie Temple.

The temple originally was built in 1890 by Chinese immigrants who came to the region to search for gold. It remained in place on what was then C Street in Lewiston until 1959, when the building was razed.

Artifacts from the temple were subsequently donated to LCSC and are on permanent display at the Center for Arts & History, at 415 Main St in Lewiston.

The main feature in the exhibit is a wooden altar carved with dragons, phoenixes, pomegranates and Chinese characters. The altar is framed by Chinese lanterns. The exhibit also includes cooking utensils, mining implements and other items from daily life that chronicle how the Chinese immigrants made a living.

An LCSC website about the exhibit indicates that most of the Chinese immigrants who came to Lewiston in the late 1800s were from the Chu Jiang, or Pearl River, delta region of Guangdong Province.

“These immigrants brought their religion with them and practiced it here until the latter part of the 20th century,” the website notes. “Their religious belief system, a form of Taoism, combined elements of Confucianism and Buddhism with traditional folk practices and mythology.”

After the temple artifacts were donated to LCSC in 1991, the school spent a few years restoring and cleaning them. The three-room Beuk Aie Temple exhibit was dedicated in October 1994. It closed following a fire in 2009, but reopened in 2013.

The memorandum of understanding calls for the establishment of an advisory committee, which will provide expertise and advice regarding preservation of the display. According to an LCSC news release, it also “encourages ongoing programmatic support and preservation efforts, which pay tribute to the Chinese community and their contributions to the region.”

As part of the agreement, the two parties will work together on the temple display and accessibility, preservation and maintenance, artifact storage and rotating displays, and grant/funding support and application efforts.

The exhibit is open from noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Wednesday. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.