Michael PRETES

A view of mist-shrouded Mount Wudang. The vast monastery complexes on Mount Wudang are no longer used for religious ceremonies on a scale that they once were, but are a popular destination for tourists.

Wudang Shan (Mount Wudang) is located in northwest Hubei Province, central eastern China, near the city of Shiyan. It is also known as Taihe Mountain. The highest peak, Tianzhu Feng (Heaven-Supporting Pillar), rises 1,612 meters above sea level, and the mountain includes seventy-two peaks, cliffs, ravines, caves, and water pools.

One of the most sacred places in Daoism (and one of 72 blessed sites), Mount Wudang is famous for its complex of palaces and temples, which date from the Yuan (1279–1368), Ming (1368–1644), and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. The oldest of the Taoist temples, Wulong (Five Dragon Temple), dates from the early Tang dynasty (617–906).

The mountain’s fame began in the late thirteenth century, as it was thought to be the place where the god Zhenwu (Perfected Warrior) became an immortal, and the mountain is a reminder of Zhenwu’s spirit. The Nanyan Temple (Nanyangong) marks the site where Zhenwu achieved immortality. During the first thirty years of the Ming dynasty the Hongwu emperor began patronage of the mountain and established a cult of Zhenwu.

The Ming emperor Cheng Zu (also known as the the Yongle emperor), a Daoist, began the construction of thirty-three halls and monasteries in 1412, perhaps the best known of which are the Golden Pavilion (Jindian) on the peak, the Purple Cloud Temple (Zixiaogong), and Nanyan Temple. The temple complex covers more than 1.6 million square meters and contains eight main temples, two monasteries, thirty-six hermitages, and many lesser temples. One of the largest temples, Yuxugong, which covered six hectares, burned in 1745 and only part of it remains today. Wudang, and specifically the Yuzhen Temple (Yuzhengong), is also known as the birthplace of Wudang shadow boxing, or wudang taiyi wuxing.This martial art, known as Tai Chi in the West, was most likely developed by the Wudang Daoist Zhang Sanfeng (1391?–1458?), who is thought to have been inspired by witnessing a fight between a crane (or magpie) and a cobra. The Wudang temple complex was largely abandoned during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) but has since been restored and has become popular with tourists. The Yuzhen Temple burned in 2003 but the golden statue of Zhang Sanfeng had already been removed and escaped the flames. The palace and temple complex on Wudang was inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 1994.

Further Reading

Fu Xinian, & Steinhardt, N. S. (2002). Chinese architecture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

James, C. V. (Ed.). (1989). Wudangshan mountain. Information China, 1. Oxford, U.K.: Pergamon, 113.

Kohn, L. (Ed.) (2000). Daoism handbook. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Kuan Yu-Chien & Kuan, Petra Häring. (1987). Magnificent China: A guide to its cultural treasures. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing.

Pregadio, F. (Ed.). (2007). Encyclopedia of Taoism. London and New York: Routledge.

So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood supply.

留得青山在, 不怕没柴烧

Liú dé qīng shān zài, bú pà méi chái shāo

Source: Pretes, Michael. (2009). Mount Wudang. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1521–1522. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Mount Wudang (Wǔdāng Shān 武当山)|Wǔdāng Shān 武当山 (Mount Wudang)

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