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Wudang Mountain
   
 

Wudang Mountain, also called Taihe Mountain or Xianshi Mountain in the past, is located near the city of Danjiangkou, in central Hubei Province. There are 72 peaks, 36 cliffs, 24 gullies, 3 lakes, 9 springs and 10 ponds there. The main peak, Tianzhu Peak, has an altitude of 1,612 m.Wudang Mountain is well vegetated and boasts rich plant resources. About 600 kinds of Chinese herbs, one third of the total recorded in the encyclopedic Compendium of Materia Medica written by Li Shizhen in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), grow on the mountain. For this reason, the mountain is also famous as a natural drugstore.

Wudang Mountain is a scenic resort perfectly integrating natural landscape with manmade buildings. Taoist temples are prominent here. During the reign of Emperor Zhenguan of the Tang Dynasty (627-649), the Wulong (five dragons) Temple was built. And in 1412, Emperor Zhu Di, an enthusiastic Taoist, ordered the construction of 33 temples, which were completed in 1423. The various Taoist structures cover a total area of 1.6 million sq. m. Among them, the most magnificent temple is the Golden Hall, which is made of fine copper on a granite foundation. The seated Taoist figure in the hall is cast so exquisitely that it is regarded as a masterpiece representing the highest level of ancient China's copper casting.

There are four Taoist palaces, remains of two other palaces, two temples and a number of cliff temples and halls of worship remaining on Wudang Mountain. The original features of these constructions are well preserved in terms of layout, design, style, materials and technique. Taoist halls are mainly built in secluded nooks or on terraces, surrounded by nunneries and halls of worship. And cliff temples are usually built on prominent peaks, with which the mountain abounds. The temples and halls are architecturally superb, and have great cultural and technological value. They are invaluable material for the study of the politics of the early Ming Dynasty, the religious history of China and ancient Chinese buildings.Mount Wudang stretches for 400 kilometers and has 72 peaks, the tallest of which is Tianzhu Peak at 1612 meters above sea level, which is where Golden Hall Temple is situated. Mount Wudang was frequented by Chinese emperors from the Western Han (BCE 206 - CE 009) to the Ming Dynasty, who paid homage to the mountain as 'the grandest mountain', whose status - during the reign (CE 1368-1398) of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Taizu, aka the Hongwu Emperor - was above that of any of China's ancient Five Sacred Mountains.

The figure who made Mount Wudang famous was not, however, an emperor, but a legendary monk and master of martial arts, Zhang Sanfeng, who reputedly founded a martial arts school on the mountain (Zhang Sanfeng is also reputed to have developed the so-called internal martial arts, or the ability to defeat one's opponent via mind-over-matter techniques, as it were). As was popular for the period when Purple Cloud Temple was built on Mount Wudang, Zhang Sanfeng is reputed to have espoused an amalgam of beliefs borrowed from Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism , though this amalgamation of beliefs does not seem to have emerged prior to the Ming Dynasty, which would make the claim regarding Zhang Sanfeng, who supposedly lived prior to the Ming Dynasty, anachronistic.

The Taoist monasteries and temples on Mount Wudang were pillaged and disfigured during the Cultural Revolution, and stood in neglect for a period thereafter, but after China's opening to the West - a time when China began to re-evaluate its cultural history (and thank God for that, one might add, as it is as much world cultural history as Chinese cultural history) - steps were taken to restore the temples and monasteries on Mount Wudang, and the mountain was given special state protection. Then, in 1994, came international recognition in the form of a listing of Mount Wudang, with its obvious religious and cultural heritage, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The art and architecture represented in the Taoist buildings on Mount Wudang have been widely recognized as belonging to some of the finest in China for the period stretching from the Tang to the Ming Dynasties.