Mount Fanjing represents the summit of the Wuling Mountain Range of south-central China proper (if one abstracts from the autonomous regions for a moment), in the area where Guizhou and Henan Provinces converge with the border of Chongqing Municipality, one of China's three special - and very large - independent municipalities (these special administrative entities are not subordinate to any province - the other two independent municipalities being Beijing and Shanghai). Wuling Mountain Range lies on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. With an altitude of 2572 meters, Mount Fanjing has since ancient times been known as the 'first mountain of Guizhou Province'.
The area around Mount Fanjing is home to a number of ethnic minorities, of whom the ethnic Tujia are worthy of special mention, since the majority of them are concentrated in the Mount Fanjing area. Mount Fanjing has a special and ancient, albeit, not well-documented, place in Chinese Buddhist history, it has an artistic legacy as the home of a number of famous calligraphers - it even has a historical link to the Chinese Communist revolution - and the mountain boasts a unique natural habitat that is home to a number of rare plant and animal species.
The Ethnic Cultures of Mount Fanjing
Besides the Han Chinese who live in the area, there are four main ethnic minority groups here: the Dong, Miao, Qiang and Tujia. Since the former three are well represented in various other areas of China - while the Tujia live almost exclusively in the Mount Fanjing area - the latter's "story" will receive prominence here.
The Tujia, though not often heard of outside China, perhaps because their folk customs are not as flamboyant as those of many other ethnic minorities in China, are in fact China's sixth-largest ethnic minority. They have lived mainly as rural farmers. Partly because they have lived concentrated in a single area, and partly because of the feudal hierarchical (clan) arrangement they enjoyed during Imperial Chinese times - which arrangement granted local rule to indigenous chieftains in exchange for clan loyalty to the crown - the Tujia, as a cultural group, somehow managed to avoid assimilation into mainstream Han Chinese society.
That state of affairs is rapidly changing in the new China, especially since the opening of China to the West and the tremendous economic progress that has resulted since. For example, many Tujia are today engaged in commerce rather than in farming.
The Tujia are believed to be descendants of the ancient Ba people who were routed from their traditional homelands farther westward in past wars, the survivors having migrated eastward into the present-day Guizhou-Hunan-Chongqing-Hubei area. The Tujia were first mentioned in official Chinese annals as "Tujia people" during the 14th century. The Peng clan of the Tujia (this clan ruled over present-day Xiangxi Prefecture for over 800 years!), have always enjoyed a reputation as a loyal and fierce fighting force.
The emperor could always requisition a crack troupe of Tujia warriors from the Peng clan. These loyal soldiers were as often as not used by the emperor to put down uprisings staged by other ethnic minorities, but they were also commissioned to fight against Japanese pirates who regularly invaded China on commando-like pillaging raids. One is tempted to liken the relationship between China's imperial rulers and their Tujia warriors to the relationship that existed - exists still - between the British and their famous Gurka soldiers of Nepal, whose courage and steadfastness in battle are only matched by their loyalty and ferocity (to read more about the Tujia ethnic minority, click here).
The Buddhist History of Mount Fanjing
The name "Fanjing" means "Pure Buddhist Land". It is believed to have been bestowed upon the mountain in ancient times by Buddhist monks who came to the mountain to worship, though no date or even a firm period has been fixed for this. It is also said that it was at Mount Fanjing where Buddha Sakyamuni performed the rites that would save the souls of the dead.
In its heyday, the mountain had 48 active temples, though only a few of these remain today. The two main temples are located atop separate crags on Xinjinding (New Golden Peak): Sakyamuni Temple and Mile Temple (Sakyamuni was the founder of Buddhism, while Mile was a lesser Buddhist deity). According to Taoist legend, the Jade Emperor - the ruler of the realms of Heaven, Hell, and that of Mankind - angrily split the peak into two halves because two hermits were squabbling over who had the greater right to use the peak as a place of solitary meditation. Today, an arched stone bridge has been constructed across the cleavage, making it easier for tourists and worshipers alike to visit both peaks without undue hardship.
It was during the reign (CE 1572-1620) of Emperor Shenzong (the Wanli Emperor) of the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty that the mountain came into prominence as a venue for Buddhist pilgrimages. It became a Buddhist retreat, and a monastery - Jinding Temple - was built on Jinding Peak (Golden Peak). It was in fact the Wanli Emperor who had commissioned the building of Jinding Temple. The emperor had a stele erected near Water Dripping Cave not far from the temple bearing the following text: "Ancient Buddhist sites are on Fanjing Mountain, the father of other famous mountains". Unfortunately, the monastery was the object of repeated pillages in the centuries that followed, even as late as in 1940. The two well-preserved temples atop Jinding, Sakyamuni Temple and Mile Temple, were also constructed during the Ming Dynasty. The reconstruction of Jinding Temple is currently in progress.
There is a rather odd, naturally-occurring physical phenomenon that is occasionally seen just above Mount Fanjing, and which has contributed to the mystique of the mountain (if the legend of how Jinding Peak came to be cleaved into two crags is to be taken as a guide, then the mountain was also holy to Taoists before it was embraced by Buddhists): sometimes at sunrise or at sunset, a shadowy image of the uppermost parts of the mountain (eg., Jinding Peak) are projected into the sky above the mountain, surrounded by a halo in the colors of the rainbow, and this phenomenon has been referred to by Buddhists as "Buddha's Halo", although, before Buddhists claimed a monopoly on the significance of this phenomenon, it was surely part of the attraction of the mountain to Taoists who apparently frequented the mountain before the Buddhists appeared on the scene).
The Artistic Legacy of Mount Fanjing
In spite of the fact that the area around Mount Fanjing is characterized by rural communities - there are no major cities here - it is not a cultural backwater, for during the Ming and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties, several famous Chinese writers and/or calligraphers (some were famous calligraphers while others were famous writers who also dabbled in calligraphy) were either from Yinjiang County or made the county their home, the result of which is that Yinjiang County became known throughout China as 'the home of calligraphy'.
For example, one of the most renowned Chinese calligraphers, Yan Yinliang, who was famous both at home and abroad for the plaque on which he wrote the much-admired characters, "Yi He Yuan" (i.e., the name of a famous park in Beijing), hails from Yinjiang County. Similar works by other famous writer-calligraphers of Yinjiang County can be seen in the two stele "forests" at the foot of Mount Fanjing, famous writer-calligraphers such as Zhao Puchu, Qi Gong, and Shen Peng.
The Revolutionary History of Mount Fanjing
Though it is little publicized, Mount Fanjing figured in the revolutionary struggle of the country. During the 1930s, General Helong set up the first Guizhou revolutionary base for the Red Army at the foot of Fanjing Mountain. In addition, in December of 1934, during the famous Long March of the Red Army, the city of Zunyi, about 150 kilometers due west of the city of Tongren (Tongren lies southeast of Mount Fanjing, while Zunyi lies southwest of the mountain), is where the beleaguered Red Army, under the command of a young Mao Zedong, took a much-needed pause to consolidate its leadership and to realign the army's tactics in accordance therewith.
The Ecological Significance of Mount Fanjing
Mount Fanjing has a well-preserved virgin forest - the largest of its kind in Guizhou Province. The area was designated a national nature reserve by the government of the PRC, and is now included in the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program.
The mountain range to which Mount Fanjing belongs is considered to be between 1 to 1 ¼ billion years old. Mount Fanjing has many rock outcroppings, most of which have been greatly eroded over time, resulting in odd-shaped rocks, sheer cliffs, and narrow precipices. There are also stone pillars here and there, remnants of aeons of erosion. In the caves are stalactites and stalagmites. The mountain has eight major streams etched into its slopes, some of which streams produce raging rapids, and countless small brooks.
Due to its pristine state, the area around Mount Fanjing is a prime habitat for a number of plant and animal species. Mount Fanjing Nature Reserve is believed to contain the best preserved virgin forest of any area at this latitude on earth. It contains many flower types, and is otherwise extremely rich in plant resources, many of which are unique and grow only in this part of the world. There are altogether more than 800 plant species in the Reserve, among them 413 species of higher plants. Of the lower order plants, there are 151 species of tremellas alone (the tremella is a "jelly fungus", a type of fungus that grows on trees and is not generally regarded as edible… or perhaps the appropriate word is "palatable"). There are 15 species of plants in the Reserve under direct state protection, including the dove tree (its flowers are in the shape of a dove, hence the name) and the Chinese tulip tree.
The Reserve exhibits clear vegetation stratification along its vertical zones, which include temperate evergreen coniferous forests, evergreen broad-leaf forests, deciduous broad-leaf forests, deciduous mixed forests, and mixed, coniferous and broad-leaf forests. With its relatively high temperatures, even at high altitudes, shrub-like forests and other vegetation, such as azaleas and Chinese ilexes, abound even at heights near the top of the mountain.
The Reserve is a paradise for wild animals. With its unspoiled nature, Mount Fanjing provides an ideal habitat for a large number of rare birds and animals. The Reserve has catalogued 304 species of vertebrates, including 173 species of birds, 57 species of animals, 40 species of reptiles and 34 species of amphibians. Among the protected species are the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, the clouded leopard, the South China tiger, the giant salamander, and the Guizhou crape myrtle.
The Reserve has a very large population of birds, thanks in no small part to the management policy of the Resvere, which permits trees to stand until they decay completely, thus providing an ideal habitat for the insect life on which birds depend. Water is also plentiful in the Reserve, both in the form of streams and ponds, something which invites especially water birds. For example, there are 9 species of egrets (a member of the heron family) distributed around Mount Fanjing Nature Reserve.
Mount Fanjing boasts three "Golden Peaks": Fenghuang Golden Peak at 2572 meters above sea level; Lao Golden Peak at 2493 meters above sea level; and Fanjing Golden Peak at 2336 meters above sea level, which has a 94-meter-high dragon-like rock projecting up from its top. Fanjing Golden Peak lies in the "valley" between the other two peaks. Colorful clouds often hang in the air above Fanjing Golden Peak, which has prompted a nickname for the peak: Hongyun ("Red Cloud") Peak. All in all, Mount Fanjing provides an exceptionally interesting natural setting for the visiting tourist.