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Mount Wutai

Updated : 2014-11-27

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Mount Wutai is in Wutai county, near the city of Xinzhou in the northeastern part of Shanxi province, 230 kilometers from Taiyuan, Shanxi's capital, 78 km from the Wutai county seat, and 150 km from the city of Xinzhou, and is one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains, the others being Putuo in Zhejiang province, Jiuhua in Anhui, and Emei in Sichuan.

It was designated a national forest park by the Agriculture Ministry, in 1992, the first national AAAA tourist attractions by the National Tourism Administration in January 2001, a national geopark, in September 2005, a national AAAAA tourist attraction by the National Tourism Administration in August 2007, and added to UNESCO's World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee in Seville, Spain, on June 26, 2009.

It has several mountains and peaks, with five high ones with majestic views that spread on a 250–sq-km area. The total area of Mount Wutai is 592.88 square kilometres.

The area dates back to the Archeozoic era of the Precambrian, about 5 billion to 2.5 billion years ago. During the Sinian period, Mount Wutai was formed by the "Wutai Uplift" to become the area's most majestic mountain. During the Quaternary period, it was covered by glaciers which left an interesting landform and Wutai has strata peculiar to the period, making it areas an important geological area for China. The lowest point on the mountain is 624 meter above sea level, the average is around 1,100 m, and the highest 3,061 m, giving it the name "Roof of North China". The mountain consists of crystalline rock and the northern part has deep valleys and five flattop peaks, hence the "Wu Tai", meaning "5 Platforms". To the east is Wanghai Feng (peak), to the west, Guayue Feng, to the south, Jinxiu Feng, to the north, Yedou Feng, and in the center, Cuiyan Feng. The area outside the circle of peaks is known as "Taiwai", and inside, "Tainei". The circumference of the circle is about 250 km and the total area around 2,800 sq km.

The climate is cold, with ice on the top all year round. In midsummer, it is cool, so it is referred to as Qingliang (Clear Cool) Mountain. It is a popular summer resort with the vegetation mainly consisting of grass and meadows, which are excellent pastures in summer. The average annual temperatures of -4℃. Its hottest period is July to August, when average temperatures run around 8.5 - 9.5℃. January is the coldest month, with average temperatures of -18.8℃. Spring comes to the Taihuai area a month earlier than up on the top of the mountains, and autumn a month later. Average annual temperatures in the Taihuai area are 2 - 3℃, with the lowest being -30℃ and the highest 30℃, with the clouds comparatively low and full of moisture, and rainy days. Wutai is also one of China's oldest Buddhist temple sites, with the work on temples and monasteries beginning during the Yongping period of the Eastern Han Dynasty (58-75AD) and there are still plenty of temples and monasteries, with pagodas towering over them, Wutai's architecture comes from different dynasties and there are sculptures, stone inscriptions, frescoes, and calligraphy in all of them. At the height of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), there were more than 300 temples and monasteries in the area, but most of them were damaged or demolished over the past centuries.

These days, there are 47 temples or monasteries in the Taiwai and Tainei area, with Foguang and Nanchan temples being two of the oldest. The Xiantong (Lingjiu) Temple, Tayuan Temple, the Buddha Ding, Shuxiang Temple, the Luohou Temple are known as the "Five best places for meditation in Mount Wutai". There are temples and monasteries concentrated in Taihuai township, which is the center of Buddhist rites as well as economic activity.

Wutai is said to have been the abode of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Wen Shu and, during various historical periods, Buddhists from as far away as India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka or from Korea, Japan, and Mongolia made pilgrimages to Wutai or came to study Buddhism. It is also China's only Buddhist Bodhimanda to combine both Han and Tibetan Buddhism. In midsummer, tourists from China and abroad come and go for sightseeing, and to burn incense and pray and visit the picturesque peaks and cliffs, more than 50 which are known worldwide. One example is Handwriting Cliff, where you can see traces of handwriting of the characters zhuan or lishu if the surface is wet. Each character on each rock is unique. Historical documents record s three-line couplet having been there: "The three treasures in the sky are the Sun, the Moon and the Stars; the three treasures on Earth are water, fire and wind; the three treasures of Man are life, vital force and mental faculty." The five peaks tower up into the sky like five columns holding up the sky while the tops are flat. It is a tourist attraction that integrates natural, the landscape, old architecture, relics, Buddhist culture, folklore, customs, and summer rest and recuperation.

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