Mount Qingcheng (青城山Green City Mountain) lies 15 km southwest of the city of Dujiangyan in Sichuan Province, back to back with the snowcapped Western Mountain and overlooking a vast expanse of fertile farmland in Chengdu. Covered with verdant and evergreen plants and surrounded by peaks, the mountain is shaped like a city, hence its name. Characterized by towering ancient trees, green vines that block out the sun, with crisscrossing ravines and gullies and unfathomable grotesque peaks, the mountain looks extraordinarily deep and quiet, so it has enjoyed a great reputation as the “most secluded green city in the world.” The fifth of Daoism’s Ten Great Grotto Heavens, it has been called the Nine-Chamber Grotto Heaven of Precious Immortality (Baoxian Jiushi Dongtian 宝仙九室洞天).
Mount Qingcheng is one of the birthplaces of Daoism. During the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Celestial Master Zhang Daoling founded Daoism on Singing Crane Mountain in today’s Sichuan Province and preached his religion mainly on the neighboring Mount Qingcheng. Daoism developed vigorously for a thousand years after the Han Dynasty. Mount Qingcheng’s palaces and temples have been kept basically intact since being rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty. The buildings mainly include Jianfu Palace (建福宫, Establishing Happiness Palace), the Temple of Eternal Dao, the Hall of Patriarchs, the Palace of High Purity, and the Pavilion of the Supreme Master.
Jianfu Palace lies below Mount Qingcheng’s Zhangren Peak (丈人峰, Elder’s Peak). It was first built in 730, the 18th year of the Kaiyuan reign period of the Tang Dynasty, and was originally called the Elder’s Temple (丈人祠). The names of both the peak and the temple came from the legend of Master Ningfeng, the Elder of the Five Sacred Mountains. Legend has it that Ningfeng, an official in charge of producing pottery during the Yellow Emperor’s reign, lived in seclusion on Mount Qingcheng’s Northern Rock after attaining Dao. Learning this, the Yellow Emperor went there to seek advice from Ningfeng and received the Book of the Risen Dragon (Longqiao Jing 龙跷经) from him. After reading it, the Yellow Emperor was able to travel to the remotest areas of the earth on a cloud or dragon. So he had a tower built and ceremoniously gave Ningfeng the title of Elder of the Five Sacred Mountains, allowing him to command the mountains.
Jianfu Palace was rebuilt in 1888, the 14th year of Guangxu’s reign of the Qing Dynasty, making it into the palace known today. The three Chinese characters for the palace name on the upper part of the door lintel were written in 1940 by Lin Sen, the president under the National Government. The palace now has three lines of temples. The temple at the front has a shrine for the worship of the Jin Dynasty’s Fan Changsheng, the Heavenly and Terrestrial Elder Master of the Four Seasons and Eight Solar Terms. In the main hall is worshiped Elder of the Five Sacred Mountains Perfect Sovereign Ningfeng and Du Guangting. The temple at the back is for worshiping the Supreme Master, the Imperial Sovereign Donghua, and Patriarch Wang Chongyang. Hanging on the pillars of the rear temple is a 394-word antithetical couplet poem, which is one of Mount Qingcheng’s cultural wonders.
Climbing the stairs away from Jianfu Palace, the visitor passes the Rain Pavilion, the Natural Pavilion, the Shelter of Happiness, and the Pavilion Leading to Victory, and eventually reaches the Natural Painting Archway. Situated on the ridge of Dragon Dwelling Peak (Longju Shan 龙居山), the archway is a ten-cornered Qing Dynasty pavilion with a double-eaved roof. Towering over the long stone steps, the magnificent archway occupies the gap between the two peaks, forming an outstanding view from halfway up the mountain. Ahead in the distance can be seen the Dragon Dwelling, Celestial Granary (Tiancang 天仓) and Celestial Primodium (Qianyuan 乾元) peaks covered with layers of luxuriant green plants. Close by can be seen egrets playing with water, with birds chirping on the mountain for long periods, as if it was all a natural painting.
Walking up from the Natural Painting Archway, the visitor will reach the Temple of Eternal Dao (Changdao Guan 常道观) after passing Encountering Immortality Cliff (Yuxian Ya 遇仙崖). The cave behind the temple, in which Celestial Master Zhang Daoling used to live, is generally known as the Celestial Master’s Grotto. The temple’s main buildings include the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones, the Yellow Emperor Temple, and the Hall of the Three August Ones.
The Hall of the Three Pristine Ones (Sanqing Dian 三清殿) is the main hall of the Temple of Eternal Dao and was rebuilt in 1923. Here, there are shrines for the worship of the Three Pristine Ones, who are the supreme Daoist gods – the Primeval Lord of Heaven of the Jade Purity, the Heavenly Lord of Numinous Treasure of the High Purity, and the Heavenly Lord of Dao and Its Virtue of the Supreme Purity.
The Yellow Emperor Temple is behind the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones and was first built during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). It is the oldest building in the Temple of Eternal Dao, with a gilded statue of the Yellow Emperor Xuanyuan for worship.
A walk further on from the Yellow Emperor Temple leads to the Hall of the Three August Ones. There is a shrine with three stone statues, each a meter high, of Fuxi, Shennong (the Divine Farmer) and the Yellow Emperor in seated positions. The statues were made in 723, the 11th year of the Kaiyuan reign period of the Tang Dynasty. Fuxi holds a painting of the Eight Trigrams, while Shennong carries a branch of a herbal plant, thus vividly illustrating the legends “Fuxi produces a painting of the Eight Trigrams” and “Shennong tastes a hundred herbs.” They both have curly hair and beards and are wearing short capes and aprons woven with tree leaves. The legendary Yellow Emperor is wearing an emperor’s robe and crown and he looks like an emperor of later generations. The stone tablet with inscriptions in the calligraphy of the Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuanzong, in front of the divine throne, is a rare cultural relic from that dynasty.
A further walk up the stone steps leads to Patriarch Peng Peak (Pengzu Feng 彭祖峰), Mount Qingcheng’s first peak. The famous Palace of High Purity stands on the peak’s eastern slope. The palace was first built in the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and the existing building originates from when the palace was rebuilt during the late Qing Dynasty and early on during the Republic of China period. At the cave-like stone-pile palace gate are three large characters reading Shangqing Gong (上清宫 Palace of High Purity), written by Chiang Kai-shek. On the sides are the two parts of a couplet by Yu Youren (1879-1964). Walking further up the stone steps brings the visitor to the Hall of the Three Pristine Ones. A winding corridor leads to the Hall of the Jade Emperor, in which there is a shrine to the Supreme Master Lao Zi, Patriarch Lü Chunyang and Patriarch Zhang Sanfeng. In front of the southern building on the west side of the hall are the Twin Wells, which are said to have been dug at the time of the Former Shu kingdom (907-932) during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten States. One of the Twin Wells is square and the other is round; one symbolizes man and the other symbolizes woman. The water in the two wells shares the same source but one well has clear water while the other has muddy water. On the eastern side of the hall, there is a long promenade that stretches to the Civil and Military Hall, where Confucius and Guan Yu are worshiped. Under the shrine is an exquisite relief sculpture of nine dragons. On each side of the shrine, there are painted stone carvings of the Queen Mother of the West, Fairy Ma Gu, Patriarch Zhang Sanfeng and Madam Pistil produced by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Down from the Civil and Military Hall to the east lies Ma Gu Pool, which is said to be where Ma Gu washed the pills she refined. The everlasting pool is like a crescent of only a few feet in both depth and width. On top of the peak is the Supreme Master’s Pavilion with a newly sculpted stone statue of Lao Zi riding a black ox.
Mount Qingcheng has enjoyed a reputation not only for its beautiful scenery and many palaces and temples but also its precious resources. Using traditional Taoist secret recipes, the Taoists living on Mount Qingcheng have used the nutritious fruit and plants collected on the mountain to make the “four unique products” of Qingcheng -- Grotto-Heaven Milk Wine, Grotto-Heaven Tribute Tea, stewed chicken with ginkgo, and Taoist pickled vegetables. When you are enjoying Mount Qingcheng’s scenery, don’t forget to try the “four unique products.”