Wudang Mountain Scenic Area

Wudang Mountain

Wudang Mountain by KongFu Wang. Sourced via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Ancient Buildings on Mount Wudang 武当山 (Wǔdāng Shān) near Dajiangkou City, Hubei province can trace their origins to the Tang Dynasty (AD 627-649). The mountain was a site of worship for both Buddhists and Taoists and the temples here acquired some fame. The the Five Dragon Temple in Wudang dates to this time. The site became strongly associated with the legend of the Great Perfect Warrior Emperor Zhenwu Dadi 真武大帝. It was on Wudang mountain that Zhenwu meditated for 42 years before achieving immortality and ascending form Wudang into heaven. Another semi-mythical celebrity, associated with the Mountain is Zhāng Sānfēng 张三丰. The details of Zhang Sanfeng life are confused throughout history and it is difficult to pin down what dynasty he lived during or where he came from. However, it was on Wudang that Zhang Sanfeng created the form of inner martial arts or Kong Fu that is still taught at the temple today. Zhang Sanfeng's martial arts also resulted in the creation of Taichi 太极拳 (tàijíquán).

In the Tang dynasty, Taoism became the official state religion (along side Confucian thought and Buddhism). The temples at Wudang continued to be used throughout the Song (960–1279 AD) and Yuan (1271-1368 AD) dynasties. It was in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) that Wudang would become highly important. The Emperor of the Yongle era 永樂 (known as Emperor Ming Chéngzǔ 明成祖 or by his birth name Zhu Di 朱棣) came to power in 1402. He had usurped the throne form his nephew, killing all of his nephew's family in the process. In order to consolidate his control of China, he justified his actions by claiming a divine message form Zhenwu Dadi had instructed him to take the throne. The Yongle Emperor was the thrid emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He moved his capital back form Nanjing to Beijing, where the former Yuan Dynasty had reined. He started the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in Beijing. When the first phase of Palace construction was complete, the Yongle Emperor ordered his team of fully 200,000 labourers and craftsmen, to go to Wudang and build a complex of temples there in honour of Zhenwu Dadi. The style of construction followed the Taoist philosophy of the flow of nature. So as not to disturb the form of the Mountain, the buildings were built to sit within the rock faces. They built eight palaces, two convents, thirty-six nunneries, and seventy-two rock temples which are set out in thirty-three groups. The site covered 1.6 million square meters - twice the area of the Forbidden City in Beijing - and took 12 to 13 years to complete. Yongle conferred the mountain with the title "Great Mountain of Supreme Harmony," marking it out as highest of the five sacred mountains in China.

The mountain and temples continued to be held in high regard throughout the 200 or so years of the Ming Dynasty. Successive emperors lavished the temples with statues and ritual utensils making it one of the richest temples in China. During the time of Chongzhen (崇禎), the last of the Ming Dynasty Emperors, the temple fell into disrepair. The new Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 AD) Emperors were not so interested in Taoism. They practiced Lamaism (a form of Buddhism) and Shamanism. Local people and officials provided funds to maintain the temple on a small scale. Emperor Shunzhi (1644-1661) of the Qing dynasty had many buildings reconstructed.

The end of the Qing Dynasty and the ensuing revolts, foreign invasions, and civil wars were a troublesome time for China. The temples survived this period remarkably well. With the onset of the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), the temple complex was abandoned. Some of the buildings were damaged and other left to decay. However, more recent times has seen a revival in historical cultural interest in china. The temples have been systematically and scientifically repaired and restored. Wudang mountain and buildings were added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1994. Several improvements have been made to the area and tourism is encouraged. Sadly, in 2006, a fire broke out in the Yuzhen Palace of Wudang, destroying one of the halls and damaging many cultural relics. Additional funding and fire protection systems have been added to the site as a result of this. Large investment and reconstruction work continues on the site to the present day.

Map showing location of Wudang Mountain Scenic Area

Above: Location of Wudang Mountain Scenic Area in Shiyan, Hubei, China