Living china>Travel>Stories & Reviews

Pilgrimage to Wudang
By Wang Fang (Beijing Today)
Updated: 2004-05-11 10:30

Wudang Mountain, in the northwest of Hubei Province, is perhaps the best known of China's Taoist holy mountains. It was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994.

The main tourist attractions, spread over an area of 300 square kilometers, compose a spectacular panorama of traditional Chinese landscape painting.

Known to locals as Taihe or Xuanyue, Wudang Mountain's beautiful scenery o tranquil valleys juxtaposed with precipitous peaks offers three main areas of interest to travellers.

Ancient Taoist temple complex

The oldest structures date back to 1300, during the Tang Dynasty, and there are examples of architecture from each subsequent dynasty; the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing.
There are altogether 72 temples, 39 bridges, 36 nunneries and 12 pavilions, a statistic that gave rise to the old saying, "a nunnery every ive miles and a palace every mile." The oldest temple, Wulongci (Five Dragons Ancestral Temple) represents the commencement of the promotion of Taoism, hence Wudang is known as the cradle of Taoism. In 1413, Emperor Zhdi of the Ming Dynasty ordered 33 temples to be built within ten years, representing the peak of its development.

At twilight at Zixiaogong (Purple Clouds Palace), Taoist monks can be seen walking in the empty square in front of the palace. The master, Guo Gaoyi, a white whiskered and extremely healthy septuagenarian, suggests measures for preserving health, "Practising is to train ourselves and taking care is to protect ourselves. Thee are three kinds of treasure in the universe; the sun, the moon and the stars. Humans also have three kinds of treasure, the vigor, the breath and the spirit. It is important to know how to use them appropriately."

In Wudang Temple, the bell and the drum strike out the time. Every morning, the monks get up at around 5 and assemble in the palace to read Taoist canons, to the accompaniment of Taoist music, then do so again in the afternoon, also singing Taoist songs. At Zixiaogong, there are statues of gods and immortals on the altars, as well as sacred objects and musical instruments. This is where the largest Taoist rite for the saving of the souls of the dead is performed.

“You must be a good person before becoming a Taoist,” is the often-heard mantra at Wudang. Taoists should be compassionate, loyal and faithful. Only by becoming a good person can one train oneselto become immortal, it is believed.

Wudang kung fu

Wudang kung fu enjoys great popularity, both in China and abroad. According to legend, Zhang Sanfeng, the originator of Wudang quan (taiji) was inspired by a fight he witnessed between a pied magpie and a snake. Wudang quan advocates the cultivation of morality and fostering of nature in conjunction with physical training.

The film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon attracted students of kung fu travel from all over the world to study with the masters at Wudang. Visitors to Wudang, if they are lucky, will see masters practicing on the roofs of the halls and on the mountain.

The Hall of Yuzhen is the cradle of Wudang kung fu. In 1417, Emperor Zhudi decreed Wudang to be the "Grand Mountain" and ordered the construction of the Hall of Yuzhen for Master Zhang Sanfeng.

On January 19, 2003, a fire broke out in the hall, reducing the three rooms that covered 200 square metres to ashes. A gold-plated statute of Zhang Sanfeng, which was usually housed in Yuzhengong, was moved to another building just