The Wudang Mountains (Wudangshan in Chinese) are widely referred to as the most sacred of China’s Five Great Mountains. Taoist philosophers have been drawn to the mountain’s peaks, to meditate and practice martial arts, for centuries and we have designed a brand new journey to the region. Perfect for those who are curious about the breeding grounds for this ancient philosophical system, these are our pick of the top 4 sacred Taoist sites on our Wudangshan: Taoist Heartland Tour.
Taoism is an ancient philosophy that has a strong hold over China’s past and present. Dating back to the 4th century BCE, Taoism, or ‘Dao’ 道 as it is known in Chinese, has advocated harmony with the natural flow of the universe, ‘Wu-Wei’ or freedom from intention, and connection with the natural world.
Taoism rose to prominence in China during the 7th century, and, blended with rural religion, maintains huge popularity in the Middle Kingdom today. Sacred sites of Taoism are scattered across mainland China but there’s no place quite like the Wudang Mountains for connecting with Taoist history and contemporary practice.
Taoism In the Wudang Mountains
The Wudang Mountains in China’s Hebei province are home to one of China’s most ancient and significant collections of Taoist temples and monasteries, built in honour of the ‘Mysterious Warrior,’ the deity Xuan Wu.
The region is also known as the putative birth place of Taiqiquan, or Tai Chi. This internally focused school of martial arts focuses on the practice as a vehicle for Taoist philosophy, as one learns focus, control and harmonize with nature. It is the sister martial art of Shaolin Kung Fu which, though similar in practice, is influenced more by Zen philosophy than by Taoist traditions.
In 1994 UNESCO named the ancient complex of temples and monasteries in Wudangshan a world heritage site, describing them as exemplifying the “architectural and artistic achievements of China’s Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.”
Dating back the the 7th century, UNESCO notes that the site originally contained 9 palaces, 9 monasteries, 36 nunneries and 72 temples. Today, 53 ancient buildings remain, the oldest of which were constructed during the 12th century.
53 ancient buildings is a lot to explore though so we have picked out our top 4 sacred Taoist sites, to make planning your trip that bit easier.
The Purple Cloud Temple
Liuzr99 via Flickr
Among the most famous surviving buildings in the Wudang Mountains is the Purple Cloud Temple. Build between 1119 and 1126, the hall of the temple holds several famous cultural relics. It is even rumored to be the home of the Green Dragon Blade, the legendary weapon that featured in Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms!
The Golden Hall
Sitting 1612 meters above sea level at the top of Tianzhu Peak, the Golden Hall was built during the 15th century. Legend has it that it was constructed in Beijing, before being transported over 1000 kilometers to Wudangshan, and carried to the top of the mountain. The Golden Hall contains several statues, including a bronze statue of Zhen Wu, the Northern Emperor, a Taoist deity.
Vincent Liu via flickr
Built during the Ming dynasty, the Yuzhen Palace is the largest Taoist temple in Wudangshan and is one of the most sacred sites in Taoist history. Built over 600 years ago by Emperor Chengzu, the temple is a tribute to the mythical Taoist priest Zhang Sanfeng. In 2013 it was the focus of a $30 million restoration project. To avoid flooding from a nearby diversion project, the temple was elevated by 15 meters, earning it the Guinness World Record for highest building jack-up. As if 600 years of history wasn’t enough!
Nanyan or “South Cliff’ temple is one of the most breathtaking sites of the Wudang Mountains. Devotees would view the cliff as a gateway to heaven, and it’s easy to imagine the cliff as the edge of the natural world. Situated on the cliff around the temple are over 500 iron statues of ancient figures and officials, blending traditional art and culture with the stunning natural surroundings.
Whether or not you’re a follower of Taoist philosophy, you’ll find it hard to resist the beauty of Wudangshan. Go there for the history, the architecture and of course, the breathtaking scenery of the mountains.
Curious about making a pilgrimage to the sacred land of Taoism for yourself? Let’s start planning your Wudangshan: Taoist Heartland trip.