Mount Kongtong

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Mount Kongtong (崆峒山) is west of the city of Pingliang in Gansu Province and is where, according to legend, the Yellow Emperor studied Daoism under Guangchengzi. It is said that, after the Yellow Emperor defeated Chi You, he heard that Guangchengzi was living in seclusion on Mount Kongtong and was skilled in Daoist cultivation. The Yellow Emperor then went on a special trip to ask Guangchengzi for advice on the major principles of self-cultivation. Guangchengzi told him: “The essence of perfect Dao is profound and obscure while the extremity of perfect Dao is dim and silent. Do not listen and do not look. If you keep your spirit in quietude, you will keep your body in perfect order. If you keep silent and calm, and refrain from toiling your body or wasting your energy, you will be able to live a long life.” (The Book of Zhuang Zi, Chapter 11). He also gave the Yellow Emperor a volume of the Book of Spontaneity. The Yellow Emperor ascended into heaven and became one of the Five Heavenly Emperors after attaining Dao. He occupied the central position, taking charge of everything. He was worshiped as the remote ancestor of Daoism, so Mount Kongtong was dubbed the “first mountain of Daoism.”

There are many large ancient temples on Mount Kongtong. Legend has it that Daoists started to build palaces for cultivation during the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BC-AD 220). Daoism flourished on the mountain during the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties (220-589). During the Ming Dynasty’s Wanli reign period (1573-1619), the emperor ordered the construction of Daoist temples according to the size and shape of those on Mount Wudang. Mount Kongtong became the largest site of Daoist monasteries in northwestern China. There are now 15 Daoist temples still extant on the mountain, of which three are occupied by Daoists. The Mount Kongtong Daoist Association was established in 1990.

The largest temple on Mount Kongtong is the Palace of Supreme Harmony, also called Huangcheng. It is now managed by Daoists. Based on the contours of the mountain, the temple’s halls are apparently scattered about but they are properly spaced. Its major halls include the Hall of the Perfect Warrior, the Hall of the Jade Emperor, the Hall of the Supreme Master, the Hall of the Three Officials, the Hall of the Grand White Star, the Hall of Patriarchs, and the Hall of the King of Medicine. Most of these were built during the Ming Dynasty. There are vivid Ming Dynasty engravings of curled-up dragons on the bluestone path on the slope up to the Hall of the Perfect Warrior. In the middle of nine pillars engraved with curled-up dragons, there is a shrine with a baldachin for worshiping at a gilded statue of the Great Perfect Warrior Emperor. The Supreme Master, the Perfect One Men Yin Xi and Xu Jia are worshiped in the Hall of the Supreme Master. “The Eighty-one Transformations of the Supreme Master,” a Ming Dynasty painting of 60 square meters, on the wall depicts the story of the Supreme Master’s birth, the popularization of Daoism, and the cultivation of people from all parts of the country.

The Palace of Descendants and the Cave of Three Religions are the two other sites managed by Daoists. Worshiped in the Palace of Descendants are Daoist goddesses such as the Primordial Lady of the Azure Cloud, the Child-Giving Goddess, the Goddess of Midwifery, and the Wet Nurse Goddess. Worshiped in the Cave of Three Religions, a building in the style of a cave dwelling, are the Supreme Master, Sakyamuni and Confucius, symbolizing the integration of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism.

The Stairway to Heaven is the only pass to Mount Kongtong. The stone gorge route rises steeply and is very winding. The ancients laid 378 stone steps on the steep cliffs where no path is available, and this section is more than 80 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. Tourists have to hold onto the iron chains between the stone pillars on each side of the steps to climb the stairs.

One distinctive feature of Mount Kongtong is that caves can be found all over it. Of these, the Black Crane Cave on the Eastern Tower’s jutting cliff is characterized by the strongest legendary flavor. It is said that the black crane was originally the servant boy in front of Guangchengzi’s throne. The boy, going against the immortals’ regulations, fell in love with a servant girl of the Dragon Palace when he was sent to get some top-quality wine. Irritated, Guangchengzi turned the boy into a black crane and threw him into the stone cave. The black crane has lived there in seclusion since then, with continuous feelings of love and hatred, only hovering outside the cave occasionally when the rain has stopped and the sky is clearing up with a gentle breeze.

All the ancient strategists vied for the magical Mount Kongtong, which is in a strategic location in northwestern China and difficult to access, towering over three passes and giving control over five plains. Now it has become a scenic spot in eastern Gansu Province, where the number of pilgrims and visitors increases with each passing day.