Mount Wudang

Last updated by drwi at 2014/5/1

The Wudang Mountains, commonly referred to in the singular - Mount Wudang - but also known as Wu Tang Shan, is located in the north of Hubei Province, with Shaanxi Province immediately to the north and to the west, and with Henan Province to the northeast. The former name of Mount Wudang, Taihe ("Supreme Harmony") Mountain, was only changed during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, and in deference to Taoism, since it was said of the mountain thus renamed that 'only the Guardian Spirit of the North deserves the title', "Guardian Spirit of the North" being a reference to the mythical, "warrior cult" figure, Xuanwu ("Perfected Warrior"), aka Emperor Zhenwu ("Mysterious Warrior").* This corresponds to the period during which Zixiao Gong ("Purple Cloud Temple"), which was dedicated to the aforementioned mythical figure, Xuanwu/ Emperor Zhenwu, was built on the mountain.

The most famous Taoist temple on Mount Wudang is Nanyan Gong (Nanyan Temple), which is entirely built of rock from the cliff wall behind it - it perches on a rounded cliff face (perhaps made more round by the temple's builders during its constuction). Nanyan Gong is supposed to be the place where the mythical warrior-emperor, Xuanwu/ Zhenwu is supposed to have entered Taoist "nirvana", after which he flies to heaven as an immortal. Alas, all of the three Ming period temples on Mount Wudang - besides Nanyan Gong: Jindian ("Golden Hall") Gong and Zixiao ("Purple Cloud") Gong - have a direct connection to the mythical figure, Emperor Zhenwu (see the footnote below), also known alternately as the Northern Emperor, the Black Warrior of the North, or simply Black Tortoise, "Black Tortoise" being one of the four symbols of the ancient Chinese constellations, or the groupings of stars as the ancient Chinese saw them.

Mount Wudang stretches for 400 kilometers and has 72 peaks, the tallest of which is Tianzhu Peak at 1612 meters above sea level, which is where Golden Hall Temple is situated. Mount Wudang was frequented by Chinese emperors from the Western Han (BCE 206 - CE 009) to the Ming Dynasty, who paid homage to the mountain as 'the grandest mountain', whose status - during the reign (CE 1368-1398) of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Taizu, aka the Hongwu Emperor - was above that of any of China's ancient Five Sacred Mountains.

The figure who made Mount Wudang famous was not, however, an emperor, but a legendary monk and master of martial arts, Zhang Sanfeng, who reputedly founded a martial arts school on the mountain (Zhang Sanfeng is also reputed to have developed the so-called internal martial arts, or the ability to defeat one's opponent via mind-over-matter techniques, as it were). (Although a martial arts school was indeed established on Mount Wudang, it has not been conclusively determined who actually established it, or whether there actually ever existed a monk by the name of Zhang Sanfeng - Zhang's birth is alternately given as being in CE 960, CE 1247, and CE 1279!). As was popular for the period when Purple Cloud Temple was built on Mount Wudang (i.e., during the Ming Dynasty), Zhang Sanfeng is reputed to have espoused an amalgam of beliefs borrowed from Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism (specifically, the Shaolin Kung Fu branch of Buddhism - see the footnote below), though this amalgamation of beliefs does not seem to have emerged prior to the Ming Dynasty, which would make the claim regarding Zhang Sanfeng, who supposedly lived prior to the Ming Dynasty, anachronistic.

The rather discredited later Taoist period notwithstanding, Mount Taihe/ Wudang was an early site of Taoist worship, the first permanent site of worship being the Five Dragon Temple, which was constucted as a Taoist monastery during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, although, as indicated, Chinese emperors as far back as the Western Han Dynasty came to the mountain to worship.

The Taoist monasteries and temples on Mount Wudang were pillaged and disfigured during the Cultural Revolution, and stood in neglect for a period thereafter, but after China's opening to the West - a time when China began to re-evaluate its cultural history (and thank God for that, one might add, as it is as much world cultural history as Chinese cultural history) - steps were taken to restore the temples and monasteries on Mount Wudang, and the mountain was given special state protection. Then, in 1994, came international recognition in the form of a listing of Mount Wudang, with its obvious religious and cultural heritage, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The art and architecture represented in the Taoist buildings on Mount Wudang have been widely recognized as belonging to some of the finest in China for the period stretching from the Tang to the Ming Dynasties.

Like many other majestic mountain ranges in China, Mount Wudang, with its many peaks, gullies, ravines, streams, and waterfalls - but also with its quiet seclusion - is a place of rare beauty, worthy of a visit by any nature lover. Since modern-day Chinese people still revere their ancestors, Mount Wudang is an especially popular tourist site among the Chinese, including visiting Chinese expats, just as it is increasingly popular with foreign tourists in search of the beauty, peace and harmony that Mount Wudang, though located not far from a medium-sized metropolis (the nearby city of Shiyan), still offers.

 

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* In truth, it must be said that although Taoism saw a resurgence during the Ming Dynasty, it was a completely different cult-like "strain" of Taoism than the scholarly - one is tempted to say "elitist" - form of Taoism that had flourished in an earlier era and which had begun to decline already in the late 12th/ early 13th century, as Buddhism steadily gained ground in China. In fact, one might justly say that the resurgence of Taoism during the Ming Dynasty, which was the Han Chinese rule that had ousted the near-defunct Mongol rule of the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty, was part of a larger cultural reaction against "all things Mongolian". Under the reign (CE 1402-1424) of Emperor Taizong (aka "the Yongle Emperor"), who detested "all things Mongolian" and who dedicated himself to eradicating as many of its traces as possible, "all things Han Chinese" flourished, including both of the ancient core Chinese religions, Taoism and Confucianism, as well as Buddhism, although it is said that Emperor Yongle himself was partial to Confucianism.

The "strain" of Taoism that came to flourish after the decline of the more scholarly strain of Taoism was an amalgam of a number of religious beliefs and practices not in the least recognizable to a scholarly Taoist, as well as pedestrian superstitions and other popular myths espoused by "commoners". This is the strain of Taoism that is featured in present-day video games - and even in cinema (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) - which eulogizes mythical, sword-bearing, kick-boxing ancient Taoist "warriors" and other cult-like figures who practiticed the martial arts and who were supposed to possess supernatural powers.

In fact, it is at about this time in history that the "official" Taoist duality symbol of the Yin & Yang changes from the depiction of a tiger and a dragon (note the connection to the aforementioned film by Taiwanese-American Ang Lee) to the black and white interconnected "swirls" seen today, which actually stem from a conglomeration of Taoist, Confucian, and even Buddhist (the Shaolin Kung Fu branch) drawings made by 11th century martial artists and other charlatans (one is tempted to use the term "quacks") who were concerned with harnessing what was believed to be supernatural powers (this is the depth to which the once sublime Taoism had degenerated!).

Solo Adventure Tips:

Location:

How to Get There?

By Rail: The Wuhan-Chongqing train passes by the foot of Mount Wudang, where Wudang Railway Station is located. You can also get to the mountain via the train from Shiyan, whose facilities and services, it is said, are better than ordinary regional trains throughout China.

By Bus: The only regional bus that services Mount Wudang originates in the city of Shiyan. However, there are a number of special tourist buses that service Mount Wudang from all the surrounding villages, towns, and cities, including Shiyan.

Ticket Price:

Opening Hours:

From 8:30AM to 5:00PM, daily.

More Tips:

1) Mount Wudang is located in a subtropical climate zone swept by occasional monsoons, but being a mountain range, it displays a variety of climate zones from the valley floor to the top of the highest peak, meaning that not only does the vegetation vary with the altitude, so does the temperature, suggesting that layered clothing - with a good umbrella or a raincoat tucked away in reserve - is the best advice. The ideal time of year for a visit to Mount Wudang is either in the spring or again in the autumn.

2) There are various means of transport up the mountain. For example, there is a cable car that begins at Qiong Altar near the base of the mountain and ascends midway between Xiuqiu Peak and Lion Peak (about 100 meters below Golden Hall Temple). The price for a round trip ticket for the cable car is 70 Yuan per person. If you wish to get a view of the entire mountain range, then you will have to ascend all the way to Golden Hall Temple (Jindian Gong). There is a special transport over a mountain path paved with stones that runs between Nanyan Temple and Golden Hall Temple. It costs 80 Yuan per person.

3) Recommended time to allot for a visit: an entire day.


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