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Mount Longhu - the birthplace of Taoism

Xiong Xiaoxing ( China Daily )

In China there is an old saying: "In the North there was Confucius while in the South there was Zhang Tianshi."

And in the north of Jiangxi Province there is Lushan, and 270 kilometres southeast is the less well-known Mount Longhu, where Taoism is believed to have been founded by Zhang Daoling.

Taoists believe that Zhang Daoling, the first Zhang Tianshi (Heavenly Master Zhang), founded Taoism at the end of the Han Dynasty nearly 1,900 years ago at the foot of Mount Yunjin, where he made the pills of immortality. While he was making the pills, a green dragon and a white tiger hovered over the cooking vessel.

Later the dragon and the tiger changed into two rocky peaks that faced each other. From that time on, Mount Yunjin was called Mount Longhu, or Dragon and Tiger Mountain (in Chinese, "long" means dragon and "hu" means tiger).

Located in Guixi County 20 kilometres southwest of Yingtan, the mountain covers an area of 200 square kilometres. The Luxi River, rippling and shining like a jade ribbon, runs through the scenic area. Along both banks of the river are high rocky cliffs riddled with ancient cave-tombs, and rocks shaped like animals or human beings.

The beautiful scenery inspired many ancient poems, one of which went like this:

When I came back to West stream, The fishing boat seemed to dip into the greens.

Green hills appeared from the flowers, And a white egret flew out of a mirror."

Mount Longhu displays its best scenery in April and May, the best time for visitors to tour the mountain. In the spring, wild red azaleas bloom everywhere, and the green peaks and hills are reflected in the river.

"Tourists come in hordes in April and May every year," said Ding Shanliang, the chief of Yingtan Mount Longhu Scenic Spot Administration Bureau. "Sometimes we receive 7,000 tourists a day. Mount Longhu is especially popular for spring outings."

Although the weather in the spring and fall is the best, Mount Longhu, located in the subtropics, has a mild climate all year round.

Last year more than 20,000 tourists came here, Ding said. Still, since Mount Longhu is not mentioned in most English-language guide books, it may be China's best-kept secret.

Rafting down the river in bamboo rafts, tourists can enjoy the splendid scenery on both sides while listening to their guides tell local legends and fairy tales.

In addition to enjoying the scenery, visitors come to Mount Longhu because it is a holy site of Taoism and rife with Taoist relics.

Local records show that there were once 10 Taoist palaces, 81 monasteries and 36 Taoist temples. Although many were destroyed by fires and wars, the Heavenly Master's Mansion, which is also called Shihantianshi Mansion, is still well preserved.

In 1983, the Heavenly Master's Mansion was listed as one of China's 21 Taoist temples open to visitors from abroad. Every year many Taoist rites and religious observances are held here for believers.

Since 1990, the annual Taoism Cultural Activities Week of Mount Longhu has been held in the mansion in October. Thousands have come to participate and enjoy.

Facing the Luxi River and located in the centre of Shangqing town, the Heavenly Master's Mansion, surrounded by camphor trees, is a large, magnificent structure that combines the imperial and Taoist architectural styles. Built in 1105 in the Song Dynasty, it was the residence of the heavenly masters for hundreds of years.

The mansion once covered an area of 24,000 square metres and included 230 Taoist palaces, halls and pavilions dating from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The mansion today has an ancestral altar and a gorgeous private residence featuring carved beams and painted pillars. It compares well to the Confucian Temple in Qufu, Shandong Province.

Each year thousands of devotees, Taoist followers from Southeast Asia, visit the mansion to pay homage to the holy site. Music plays and incense burns all year round.

One kilometre east of the mansion are the remnants of Shangqing Palace, a major historic site.

Built in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), it was one of the largest and oldest Taoist palaces in China and served the masters as a place of worship.

The palace was almost a replica of the Imperial Palace, although the roof of Shangqing structure was one chi - about one foot - lower than that of the palace in Beijing. It once had 24 halls and 36 courtyards. Although most of the palace has since been destroyed, visitors can still see the Dongyin Temple, built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Good-Evil Well which was believed to tell what is good or evil, the Dreaming Bed of the Heavenly Master and a well that suppressed devils.

The Well to Suppress Devils became widely known from a famous Chinese classical novel, "The Outlaws of the Marsh" by Shi Nai'an.

Besides the Heavenly Master's Mansion and the Shangqing Palace, visitors will find many other relics relating to the development of Taosim.

Taoism is an important part of Chinese culture, the sole indigenous religion of the Han nationality in China. By contrast, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity were all introduced into China from the outside.

Originating in ancient sorcery, Taoism teaches people to believe in dao, the "way," customarily spelled tao in the West. Taoists believe dao is everywhere and contains everything. In this sense, Taoism stipulates that disciples should "practice dao and cultivate virtue," and by obtaining dao, disciples can rid themselves of secular troubles and become immortal.

The rock tombs are another prize feature of Mount Longhu.

Scattered along the sheer surface of the cliffs, some resemble honeycombs, wine jars or fish mouths. Ancient coffins and other funeral objects still lie in some of the caves.

In 1979, archaeologists in Jiangxi Province tried to gain access to the caves by setting up several stories of bamboo platforms in the Luxi River and erecting an iron tower on top.

Eighteen rock tombs were excavated; 39 coffins and 220 relics were found. Archaeologists say the tombs were built during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC) and Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC).

There are numerous legends explaining how the coffins were put into the caves. In 1989, the mystery presumably was solved.

Archaeologists brought a coffin to the river and used a winch to haul it upward to a height next to a cave. Several medicinal herb collectors swung into the cave on ropes which were tied firmly at the top of the mountain; they dragged the coffin into the cave.

Visitors who visit Mount Longhu during the Third Taoism Culture Activities Week this year can see this operation duplicated.

It is about 40 minutes by bus from Yingtan to Mount Longhu. Since Yingtan is a railway transportation hub for South China, it is easily reached by train. Tourists may also take a plane to the provincial capital, Nanchang, about 130 kilometres away, and take a bus or train to Yingtan.

Some of Southeast China's major scenic spots are not far from Mount Longhu. Wuyi Mountain is about 200 kilometres to the east; Huangshan Mountain is about 300 kilometres to the northeast, and Lushan Mountain is about 270 kilometres to the northwest.

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