Sacred Mountains of China

Wednesday, 8 September 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  7 minutes

Sacred Mountains of China © Pufacz/cc-by-sa-3.0

Sacred Mountains of China © Pufacz/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Sacred Mountains of China are divided into several groups. The Five Great Mountains refers to five of the most renowned mountains in Chinese history, and they were the subjects of imperial pilgrimage by emperors throughout ages. They are associated with the supreme God of Heaven and the five main cosmic deities of Chinese traditional religion. The group associated with Buddhism is referred to as the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism, and the group associated with Taoism is referred to as the Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism. The sacred mountains have all been important destinations for pilgrimage, the Chinese expression for pilgrimage being a shortened version of an expression which means “paying respect to a holy mountain“.

The Five Great Mountains or Wuyue are arranged according to the five cardinal directions of Chinese geomancy, which includes the center as a direction. The grouping of the five mountains appeared during the Warring States period (475 BC – 221 BC), and the term Wuyue (“Five Summits”) was made popular during the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty 140-87 BC. In Chinese traditional religion they have cosmological and theological significance as the representation, on the physical plane of earth, of the ordered world emanating from the God of Heaven (TianShangdi), inscribing the Chinese territory as a tán, the Chinese concept equivalent of the Indian mandala.

The five mountains are among the best-known natural landmarks in Chinese history, and since the early periods in Chinese history, they have been the ritual sites of imperial worship and sacrifice by various emperors. The first legendary sovereigns of China went on excursions or formed processions to the summits of the Five Great Mountains. Every visit took place at the same time of the year. The excursions were hunting trips and ended in ritual offerings to the reigning god.

The emperors, starting with the First Emperor of Qin, formalized these expeditions and incorporated them into state ritual as prescribed by Confucianism. With every new dynasty, the new emperor hurried to the Five Great Mountains in order to lay claim to his newly acquired domains. Barring a number of interruptions, this imperial custom was preserved until the end of the last dynasty, when, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Yuan Shikai had himself crowned as emperor at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. But just to be safe, he also made an offer to the god of the northern Mount Heng.

Model of Putuo Shan island (Buddhism) © Ctny/cc-by-sa-3.0 Sacred Mountains of China © LifanDefense/cc-by-sa-4.0 Song Shan (Daoism) © Brookqi Tai Shan (Daoism) © Davidge/cc-by-sa-3.0 Wutai Shan temple grounds (Buddhism) © flickr.com - David Wilmot/cc-by-sa-2.0 Emei Shan (Buddhism) © Rako~commonswiki Heng Shan - North (Daoism) © Charlie fong/cc-by-sa-4.0 Heng Shan - South (Daoism) © TheNeon/cc-by-sa-3.0 Hua Shan (Daoism) © chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0 Juihua Shan (Buddhism) © Boule02de/cc-by-sa-3.0 Sacred Mountains of China © Pufacz/cc-by-sa-3.0
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Wutai Shan temple grounds (Buddhism) © flickr.com - David Wilmot/cc-by-sa-2.0
In the 2000s formal sacrifices both in Confucian and Taoist styles have been resumed. The Five Great Mountains have become places of pilgrimage where hundreds of pilgrims gather in temples and caves. Although the Five Great Mountains are not traditionally canonized as having any exclusive religious affiliations, many of them have a strong Taoist presence, thus the five mountains are also grouped by some as part of “Sacred Taoist Mountains”. There are also various Buddhist temples and Confucian academies built on these mountains. Alternatively, these mountains are sometimes referred to by the respective directions: the “Northern Great Mountain”, “Southern Great Mountain”, “Eastern Great Mountain”, “Western Great Mountain”, and “Central Great Mountain”. According to Chinese mythology, the Five Great Mountains originated from the body of Pangu, the first being and the creator of the world. Because of its eastern location, Mount Tài is associated with the rising sun which signifies birth and renewal. Due to this interpretation, it is often regarded as the most sacred of the Five Great Mountains. In accordance with its special position, Mount Tài is believed to have been formed out of Pangu’s head. Mount Heng in Hunan is believed to be a remainder of Pangu’s right arm, Mount Heng in Shanxi of his left arm, Mount Song of his belly, and Mount Hua of his feet.

In ancient times mountains were places of authority and fear, ruled by dark forces and faithfully worshipped. One reason for such worship was the value of the mountains to human existence as a spring of welfare and fertility, as the birthplace of rivers, as a place where herbs and medicinal plants grew and as a source of materials to build houses and tools. A basic element of Taoist thought was, and still is, an intuitive feeling of connectedness with nature. As early as the fourth century, the Taoists presented the high priests with the 180 precepts of Lord Lao for how to live a good and honest life. Twenty of these precepts focused explicitly on the conservation of nature, while many other precepts were indirectly aimed at preventing the destruction of nature. Respect for nature has been a key component of Taoism from the very outset and, in its own right, explains why the Five Great Mountains are considered sacred. In addition, Taoists consider mountains as a means of communication between heaven and earth and as the place where immortality can be found. The sanctity of the Five Great Mountains is the reason why even today these mountains still host an exceptional diversity of plants, trees and animal species.

The “Five Great Mountains” are: East Great Mountain: Tài Shān, West Great Mountain: Huà Shān, South Great Mountain: Héng Shān (Hunan), North Great Mountain: Héng Shān (Shanxi) and Center Great Mountain: Sōng Shān.

The “Four Sacred Mountains” of Buddhism are: Wutai Shan, Emei Shan, Jiuhuashan and Putuo Shan.

The “Four Sacred Mountains” of Taoism are: Wudang Mountains, Mount Longhu, Mount Qiyun and Mount Qingcheng.

Read more on Wikipedia Sacred Mountains of China (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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