Mount Huashan

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Mount Huashan

Mount Huashan extends in the south of Huayin County in Shaanxi Province. It is where the fourth of the Thirty-six Lesser Grotto Heavens is located. Its main peak rising as high as 1,997 m above sea level, Mount Huashan among the Five Sacred Mountains is second only to Mount Hengshan in the north in height, and it is the steepest of the five mountains and allegedly even of all the mountains in China.

The development and thriving of Mount Huashan have had much to do with the development of Chinese Daoist (Taoist) culture. A well-known Daoist mountain since ancient times, Mount Huashan still has a lot of Daoist relics today. It can be said that the two most striking features of Mount Huashan are the grotesque, precipitous natural landscape and the longstanding Daoist sites.

It is said that Lao Zi, founder of Daoism, once stayed on Mount Huashan and that he used a plough to open up a dangerous length of path up the northern peak called the Supreme Master’s Ploughed Ditch. Today, one can still see the oven he once used to make immortality pills on Mount Huashan’s southern peak. It is said that Lao Zi went from Mount Huashan to Zhouzi County in Shaanxi and taught Dao de jing (Tao Te Ching) to Yin Xi at Louguan Terrace.

Through history, many Daoists have lived as recluses on Mount Huashan, the best-known of whom was Chen Tuan of the 10th century.

Chen Tuan, also known as Tunan or Fuyaozi, is said to have been born in a mysterious way. The legend goes that a fisherman once caught in his net a round object wrapped in a purple robe. Taking it home, he had hardly started to cook it to eat when suddenly there was deafening thunder and a dazzling light. The fisherman was scared and threw the object on the ground. Then the purple robe was torn and a baby broke out from inside. He was named Chen Tuan (literally “rolling into a ball”).

Chen read many books on history and philosophy when he was young, and later gave up his quest for a political career and toured mountains and rivers. It is said that he could sleep for three years on end without waking. He once slept on Mount Huashan for several months and moss grew all over him. A passing woodsman found him and, thinking he was dead, dug a hole to bury him. As the woodsman carried Chen Tuan on his shoulder, Chen Tuan woke up and, rubbing his eyes, said, “Who has disturbed my sweet dream?”

There were constant wars during the Five Dynasties Period (907-960) and Chen Tuan, though living in reclusion on the mountain, was concerned with the outside world and kept an eye on the changing situation. One day, he came out from the mountain on the back of a donkey. In the town of Huayin, he heard that Zhao Kuangyin had become emperor. Chen Tuan was so enraptured that he fell off the donkey. Asked why he was so excited, he replied, “We have peace in the country at last!”

The main Daoist temples still extant on Mount Huashan include Xiyue Temple and Yuquan Monastery at the foot of the mountain, and Dongdao Monastery, Zhenyue Palace, Yunü Temple and Cuiyun Palace.

Xiyue Temple, also known as Huayue Temple, is located 2.7 km east of Huayin County and is where ancient emperors used to offer sacrifices to Mount Huashan. It was built during Wudi’s reign (140-87 BC) in the Han Dynasty and underwent a lot of damage and reconstruction. Today’s Xiyue Temple was built in the style of the palaces in Beijing from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties; hence it is famed as a “miniature imperial palace.”

The main gate, called Haoling Gate, is shielded by a screen with a carving of nine dragons, and flanked by a pair of iron flagpoles. Opposite the gate stands Five Phoenixes Tower. The tower has five adjacent arches and a base of white marble. The single Chinese hip-and-gable roof, supported by 12 thick stone pillars, resembles the Chinese character shan (山, mountain). Set off by the subsidiary buildings on its sides, the tower looks magnificent. The inside gate, Lingxing Gate, is an ingenious work of architectural art in that the dou (斗, blocks) of the dougong (斗拱, bucket arches) are not set at the ends of the longitudinal gong (拱, bow-shaped arcs) but are hooked up with one another to form an S shape called ruyi, which symbolizes good fortune. In the middle of the lever arm are nine exquisitely carved dragon heads, rising up with their bulging eyes staring into the sky, guarding the gate for the God of Mount Huashan from different directions. On the west of Lingxing Gate stands a large rock, about one m high, one m long and five m wide, which is called the Rock of the Five Sacred Mountains. In fact, it is the remains of the “first stele under heaven,” put up in the 12th year of Emperor Xuanzong’s reign (724) during the Tang Dynasty. The original stele, tall and majestic, bore an inscription of 738 characters in the calligraphy of Emperor Xuanzong’s handwriting. Unfortunately, it is now broken. But the flying apsaras (heavenly nymphs) in relief and the round sculptures of warriors in gold armor can still be seen clearly.

Yuquan Monastery, sitting at the entrance to the valley of Mount Huashan, is said to be the place where Chen Tuan cultivated himself as a recluse. With the shade of tall trees, a spring, rocks, magnificent buildings and meandering verandas, the monastery has the best scenery at the foot of Mount Huashan. The spring is believed to have the same source as the Jade Well on the mountain summit’s Zhenyue Palace.

Yuquan (Jade Spring) Monastery was named after the spring with its clear, sweet water. The main building of the monastery, Xiyi Temple, is a quadrangle courtyard. The Hall of Master Chen Tuan houses a statue of Chen Tuan. The hall’s eastern and western wings, with dark blue bricks and tiles and little decoration, are for accommodation and for receiving guests. The architectural structures in the western part of Yuquan Monastery include a meandering veranda, a stone boat, Wuyou (Carefree) Pavilion, Hanqing (Embracing Purity) Hall, Xiyi (Vacuous Quietness) Grotto, and Shansun (Aromatic Plant) Pavilion. Shansun Pavilion, standing on a large rock, is said to have been built by Chen Tuan, and the Wuyou (Free-of-Worry) Tree is also alleged to have been planted by him. In Xiyi Grotto, there is a Song Dynasty stone statue of Chen Tuan in the reclining position, which is exquisitely carved and lifelike. In the eastern part of the monastery lies the tomb of Hua Tuo, a famous surgeon of the Three Kingdoms Period.

The landscape design and architectural structures in Yuquan Monastery made full use of the beautiful natural environment. As the monastery sits by the mountain and a stream, the trickling spring can be heard there and the mountain shrouded in thick mist can be seen towering up from the monastery windows, as well as elegant bamboo standing by rocks, pavilions, terraces and side rooms unevenly arranged, and meandering verandas. The whole scene is full of tasteful artistry.

Dongdao Monastery, originally called Nine Heavens Palace, is located at Qingkeping. It was named Dongdao (meaning “east side”) because it is east of the Qingke Bridge. Built during Emperor Kangxi’s reign (1662-1722) in the Qing Dynasty, the west-facing monastery is relatively small in size, with a three-bay main hall where the Maiden of the Nine Heavens is enshrined. In the bamboo garden south of the monastery, visitors can part the bamboo leaves and look southward to vaguely see the Baiyun (White Cloud), Meihua (Plum Flower), Xuehua (Snowflake) and Shuilian (Water Curtain) caves which, together, are called lesser Penglai Fairyland.

Zhenyue Palace, originally called Upper Palace, sits in a valley between the Yunü (Jade Maiden), Lianhua (Lotus Flower) and Luoyan (Landing Goose) peaks. The dark shade of old pine trees and the entangled wild vines in the valley give an impression of tranquility, seclusion and coolness. The Jade Well in front is about 30 m deep. It is said that a thousand-leave white lotus once grew in the well and that one who ate it could live a long life and even become an immortal. In the main hall of this magnificent palace is enshrined the Great Emperor of the Sacred Mountain of the West. To the west of this hall is the King of Medicine’s Grotto, where the King of Medicine is enshrined.