Dragon & Tiger Mountain Scenic Area (or Dragon-Tiger Mountain, as we will designate it here, for short) is situated in the northeastern corner of Jiangxi Province, just across the common border with Fujian Province, and not far from the Jiangxi-Fujian-Zhejiang border. Another way to fix the geographical location of Dragon-Tiger Mountain is to say that it lies about 130 kilometers, as the crow flies, southeast of the provincial capital of Nanchang. Dragon-Tiger Mountain lies at the foothills of, and on the northwestern side of, the Wuyi mountain range, which defines the common border between Jiangxi and Fujian Provinces in this part of China.*
Farther northwest of Dragon-Tiger Mountain lies the large basin through which the Yangtze River flows and in which lies China's largest freshwater lake, Lake Poyang. The basin is surrounded by mountain ranges; if one were to draw an imaginary line that runs through Dragon-Tiger Mountain and Lake Poyang, then extend it on both ends, its southeast end would run through the Wuyi Mountain range while its northwest end would run through the Dabie Mountain range.
Dragon-Tiger Mountain (Longhushan, in Chinese) is one of the five areas of China - all in the southeastern part of the country - where so-called Danxia Landforms are present (they are present in 19 countries on a range of continents, from Australia to Venezuela to Egypt, Greece, Sri Lanka, the UK and the US).** These five area are in the following provinces: Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang. Covering an area of some 200 square kilometers, Dragon-Tiger Mountain in Jiangxi Province boasts 108 special natural scenic sites, comprising 99 peaks and 24 cliffs, and a number of ancient cliff graves.
In addition to these scenic sites, Dragon-Tiger Mountain claims fame as the birthplace of Chinese Taoism (alternatively, Daoism). During the middle of the Eastern Han (CE 25-220) Dynasty, the first Heavenly Master Zhang Ling (aka Zhang Daoling, or, as he would have been known to an Anglo-Saxon audience, Zhang "Dao" Ling) went to Dragon-Tiger Mountain to practice a bit of alchemy - he was in search of 'the elixir of life', or the potion which would bring immortality. Zhang Daoling finally produced Nine Heavenly Pills of Immortality at the foot of Yunjing Mountain (present-day Dragon-Tiger Mountain). When the pills were made, a dragon and a tiger appeared, therefore the mountain was renamed Dragon & Tiger Mountain after this apparition.
Though Buddhism had grown to the stature of a serious rival to Taoism by the time of the Tang Dynasty (CE 618-907), this did not apply uniformly throughout China. On Dragon-Tiger Mountain, Taoism continued to have a strong influence, being the seat, as it were, of Taoism south of the Yangtze River. During what is known as the Silver Period of Taoism, there were 10 Taoist Palaces and 836 Houses of Taoism in the Dragon-Tiger Mountain area, as well as the main Taoist Temple.
The largest of these 10 Taoist Palaces was Shangqing Palace in the city of Shangqing, located about 20 kilometers due south of present-day Yingtan, the closest city to Dragon-Tiger Mountain.*** In addition, nearby Demon Fighting Palace and Evil Eliminating Well were the birthplaces of the '108 generals of Liang Mountain' (from the novel, All Men Are Brothers, by Shi Nai'an). Liang Mountain is situated about 150 kilometers southwest of Dragon-Tiger Mountain.
The Lu Xi River flows through this region, connecting scenic highlights such as Shangqing Palace, Immortal Water Cliff, and Dragon-Tiger Mountain like so many bright stones on a jade belt, as the Chinese themselves like to characterize the experience. Drift trips along this route in specially-constructed rafts are said to be one of the very best ways to take in the majesty of this unique geological area, including its uniquely beautiful Danxia Landforms with their exposed red cliffs.
As the birthplace of Taoism, the area in and around Dragon-Tiger Mountain has been highly revered ever since the mountain was blessed by the arrival of Master Zhang Daoling. It quickly became an important place of pilgrimmage for Taoists south of the Yangtze River. Indeed, the mountain remains a place of pilgrimmage for present-day Taoists, both indigenous Taoist pilgrims as well as Taoist pilgrims who arrive from abroad.
* Natural geographical features such as rivers and mountains often define boundaries between political entities (counties, provinces, states, etc.), but in China, provincial borders seem often to run along the spinal ridge of such mountain ranges, not around their edges, thus dividing the mountain range 50-50, as it were, between the two provinces. Which should come as no surprise to a student of Chinese culture, given the cultural-historical significance of mountains to the Chinese people.
** Danxia Landforms are examples of geomorphology, or changes in the geological structure of the earth's crust. They are remnants of stratified rock - usually reddish and usually standing vertically in the landscape as "fields" of giant "pegs", though some have more odd shapes such as arches - that are the product of two natural forces: geological upheaval of porous bedrock (usually reddish sandstone); and water erosion (in humid climates, this need not be in the form of flowing water).
After the reddish continental shelf has been lifted up (this generally occurs near the foothills of mountains, between the mountains and the nearby rivers, since the same uplifting that creates the mountains - and the basin, or valley, through which rivers were etched - also lifts up portions of the neighboring sandstone bedrock), flowing water begins to whittle away at the uplifted, stratified bedrock, leaving the "pegs", "arches", etc., the other, softer parts having been eroded away by flowing water, or via crumbling in more humid climates. Note that Dragon-Tiger Mountain fits this creation process to a tee, being located at the base of the foothills of the Wuyi Mountains between the mountain range and the resulting basin below, through which the Yangtze River - as well as a string of lesser rivers - flows, and in which Poyang Lake is located. The Danxia Landform sites of China have been nominated for UNESCO inclusion as World Natural Heritage Sites, though no decision has yet been reached.
*** Initially, Buddhism did not fare too well in China, since its very core concept was alien to Chinese culture. For example, whereas Taoism encouraged both filial piety and reverence toward the king, or emperor, Buddhism encouraged self-reflection and the attainment of personal enlightenment, or nirvana - it was strictly focused on the self. It was only when Chinese Buddhism began to embrace elements of Chinese Taoism and Confucianism that it began to be popular "at court", something which thereafter helped to spread Buddhism's influence throughout the country. As we now know, Chinese Buddhism eventually came to crowd out both Taoism and Confucianism as the mainstream religious movement in China, though the latter two religions, or belief systems, continued to have their adherents - and indeed, still have their adherents today.