Mount Laoshan

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Mount Laoshan (崂山) was known in ancient times by the names Laoshan (劳山), Laoshan (牢山), Mount Futang and Mount Aoshan. It is located in the southwest of the Shandong Peninsula, to the east of Qingdao. The main peak is called Gigantic Peak (Ju Feng 巨峰) or Lao Peak (Lao Ding 崂顶) and has an altitude of around 1,100 meters. With a plain behind it and the sea in front, Mount Laoshan is lofty, sheer, magnificent and picturesque. It is no wonder that ancient people said: “Mount Taishan rises into the clouds but it is inferior to Mount Laoshan by the East Sea.”

Mount Laoshan has enjoyed a reputation as a “residence of immortals and a dwelling place of spirits.” It is said that there were once nine palaces (gong), eight Daoist temples (guan) and 72 hermitages (an 庵) on Mount Laoshan when Daoism was at its peak there. But now little has survived other than the Palace of Supreme Purity, the Palace of High Purity, the Palace of Supreme Peace, the Magnificent Tower Palace, and the Bright Clouds Grotto (Mingxia Dong 明霞洞).

The Palace of Supreme Purity (Taiqing Gong 太清宫), also called the Lower Palace, lies beside the Lower Palace Bay (Xiagong Wan 下宫湾) in the southeastern part of Mount Laoshan, with the mighty sea in front of it and seven peaks behind it. With pleasant weather, it has been honored by being described as a “little Jiangnan,” referring to the area south of the Yangtze River.

The Palace of Supreme Purity consists of three courtyards and halls with a total of more than 150 bays. Each courtyard has a wall and a gate. The southeastern courtyard is the Hall of the Three Officials, inside which there are the heavenly, earthly and water officials, as well as statues of the Great Perfect Warrior Emperor and the Thunder God. In the courtyard blossom crape myrtles, ginkgoes, peonies, camellias, and so on. In the front courtyard of the main hall in particular, there are two camellia shrubs, with one producing red blossoms and the other white. Before the arrival of spring, the two camellias are in full bloom for three months. It is said that the Daoist Zhang Sanfeng took the two camellias to this site from an island during the Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle’s reign. A red peony and the white camellia in the courtyard are said to be the incarnations of the two girls Xiangyu (Fragrant Jade) and Jiangxue (Crimson Snow) described in the story “Fragrant Jade” in Pu Songling’s book Strange Stories from Make-Do Studio.

A walk along the flagstone path after an exit through the west gate of the Hall of the Three Officials leads to the central courtyard, the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones. Here, there are statues of the Primeval Lord of Heaven, the Heavenly Lord of Numinous Treasure, and the Heavenly Lord of Dao and Its Virtue. At the east side of the hall gate is an elm that grew during the Tang Dynasty. Its trunk is twisted like a dragon’s head, so it is called the Dragon’s Head Elm. Below the steps by the west side of the gate, there is a spring called the Spring of Sacred Water. The sweet and refreshing spring never goes dry during a drought, nor does it overflow during a flood. It is Mount Laoshan’s best-known spring.

West of the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones is the Hall of the Three August Ones, where there are statues of Fu Xi (a legendary Chinese ruler who taught people how to fish, hunt and raise livestock), Shen Nong (the Divine Farmer or the Red Emperor, a legendary ruler supposed to have introduced agriculture and herbal medicine to ancient China) and the Yellow Emperor. On the hall gate is a couplet carved in the calligraphic style of seal characters, being a quotation from Lao Zi’s Dao de jing (Tao Te Ching): “When the world has Dao, war horses are used in farming; when the world lacks Dao, even mares in foal have to serve in battle.” In the courtyard in front of the hall, there grows a cypress that is more than 2,000 years old and is said to have been planted by Zhang Lianfu, the founder of the Palace of Supreme Purity. Twisted around the cypress is a trumpet vine as thick as the mouth of a bowl. People call this an “ancient cypress twisted by a dragon.” There is a three-meter-tall parasitic gallnut on the cypress, along with the trumpet vine, the three forming a trio that has gained a reputation as a “wonder of Mount Laoshan.”

The Magnificent Tower Palace (Hualou Gong 华楼宫) is on a precipitous northwestern peak of Mount Laoshan, with picturesque scenery. To its south is the Magnificent Tower Mountain (Hualou Shan 华楼山) and to its north is the Mount Laoshan Reservoir. The peak where it is located is rocky with four sides that are steep cliffs but the top is flat like a platform. The peak is like a high tower, so the mountain is called Magnificent Tower Mountain. On the peak are carved the words “the most famous mountain by the sea.” It has a reputation for being “Mount Laoshan’s most grotesque peak.” The Magnificent Tower Palace was built in 1325, the second year of the Yuan Dynasty’s Taiding reign period. It includes the Hall of the Supreme Master, the Hall of the Jade Emperor and the Hall of Lord Guan, each of which has three rooms. In front of the palace grow two large ginkgo trees. East of the palace, there is a mountain with a flat peak. One legend says that this is where fairy maidens get washed and dressed, so the mountain is called Washing and Dressing Tower (Shuxi Lou 梳洗楼).

Behind the palace is the Golden Juice Spring, one of Mount Laoshan’s famous springs. On the hillside northwest of the palace, there is a hole with a diameter of two meters and this is said to be where the Jade Emperor’s daughter bathes, so it is called the Jade Maiden’s Bathtub (Yunü Pen 玉女盆). West of the Jade Maiden’s Bathtub is the Mountain of Rising Mist (Lingyan Gu 凌烟崮), which has a flat top and a dozen or so natural hollows shaped like basins, bowls or spoons. At the southern foot of the mountain is a cave where the Yuan Dynasty Daoist Liu Zhijian is buried. Beside the cave is a tablet on which is inscribed his experience of cultivating the Way. Of all the Daoist temples and palaces on Mount Laoshan, the Magnificent Tower Palace has the biggest collection of carved stones kept as very important documents for research into the mountain’s Daoist history.

Mount Laoshan is a wonderful summer resort, with lush vegetation, a rich variety of trees and flowers, moderate rainfall and a temperate climate. Visitors to Mount Laoshan can listen to the tide, enjoy the sunrise, wander among the palaces and temples, and visit Daoists from whom they can learn a lot.