The Sacred Five Mountains
Key words:Landscape Architecture; Sacred Five Mountains of China; World Heritage; Value
, Mt.Hengshan in Hunan Mt.Huashan
Mt. Songshan Mt.Hengshan in shanxi
Abstract:The Sacred Five Mountains of China (SFMC) originate from the imperial conferment and sacrifice culture. They have long been considered as a whole and with outstanding universal value. The SFMC bear unique witness to the traditions of the disappeared Chinese imperial culture and display the interaction and fusion of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in the traditional Chinese culture. They are the carrier of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy including mountain worship, the "five elements" theory, the concept of "universal unity" etc. On the five mountains there are religious buildings and cliff inscriptions which represent the human creative genius, stupas which are the earliest and most outstanding specimen of Chinese brick and stone architecture with their artistic and technical traits, observatory of Yuan dynasty which is an important example of the development of ancient science and technology in China. Created by crustal movement during different geological ages, the preserved and crop-out strata of the five mountains are best records of the early evolution of the Earth. The five mountains are of special importance to protection and research of bio-diversity as they represent different climatic zones and habitat of different vegetation types including some endangered rare species. The SFMC are also well-known for their outstanding natural beauty.
In the preface of his book The Sacred Five of China written in 1926, William Edgar Geil, the famous American traveler and member of Royal Geographical Society (UK), compares the “sacred five mountains of China” to the Islam Hajj Mecca and the Christian holy land Canterbury and suggests that they are “Mecca” and “Canterbury” to the Chinese. Undoubtedly, the Sacred Five Moutains has a position in the several thousand year history of China comparable to Mecca and Canterbury, but as sacred “mountains”, they also have additional natural heritage values the other two do not have.
1 The Birth and Development of SFMC
The Sacred Five Mountains (SFMC) of China originate from the imperial conferment and sacrifice culture. Imperial conferment, or fengshan, meaning “conferment on the mountain and practice Buddhist sacrificial rituals there , is a religious ritual practiced by ancient kings and emperors to report his accession to the throne in a bid to gain supreme recognition of his ruling power. According to reliable records, Emperor Qinshihuang is the first to practice the fengchan rituals. In 244 BC, he made his conferment on Mt. Taishan (Dongyue, the Eastern Mountain) as the Emperor. Later Emperor Liu Che (156BC-87BC) of the Han Dynasty proposed for the first time the SMFC based on the “five elements” theory and in accordance with the land boundaries of that period. In 61 BC, the regular ritual of imperial conferment was established by Emperor Liu Xun and religious buildings were set up on the five mountains.
2 Universal value of the Sacred Five Mountains of China
2.1 Witness to a Disappeared Culture
Corresponding to World Heritage Criteria iii, the Sacred Five Mountains of China bear unique witness to the traditions of the disappeared Chinese imperial culture.
The Wuyue Sacrifice system, with the Sacred Five Mountains of China as the carrier, is an outstanding example of the imperial sacrifice culture of China, and is an important component of the traditions of the Chinese royal culture. Under the impact of the traditional Chinese culture and philosophical ideas, the feudal authorities developed a mountain safari, worship, sacrifice and fengshan system as is represented by The Wuyue Sacrifice system, of which “fengshan” later evolved gradually into the grandest state ceremony among all feudal imperial rituals in ancient China.
2.2 Carrier of Conventional Thoughts and Concepts
Evolution of the Wuyue Culture is closely related to traditional Chinese culture and philosophy including mountain worship, the “five elements” theory, the concept of “universal unity” etc, which meets the requirement of World Heritage Criteria vi.
Nature Worship, a primitive thinking universal to all cultures, can be traced back to ancient days in China. There is a long history of mountain worship in China, ancient people believing there are immortals living in the mountains. As important mountains in the plain areas, the Sacred Five Mountains have been the carrier of the nature worship since ancient times. In accordance with the “five elements” theory, the Sacred Five Mountains stand for five directions which form a unity; while in accordance with the “universal unity” concept, the Sacred Five Mountains constitute the territorial boundary of the state. In this connection, fengshan becomes an important symbol of state unity.
2.3 Display of Cultural Exchange
The ancient buildings existing in large numbers at the Sacred Five Mountains of China display the interaction and fusion of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism in traditional Chinese culture with their sites, spatial arrangement and interior decoration. The cultural traditions at the Sacred Five Mountains in their capacity as the holy lands of Buddhism and the symbol of the throne have far reaching impact on other Asian countries and the world at large, which is in line with the World Heritage Criteria ii.
Beautiful natural landscapes and the special political status attached to imperial conferment attract Buddhists, Confucianists and Taoists to the Sacred Five Mountains, where they have built palaces, and academies to spread their thoughts. Meanwhile, these values interact, assimilate and merge with each other and have profound influence on the development of ancient Chinese philosophy. At Northern Hengshan, the tallest building is centered on Sanjiao Hall which is enshrined with the statues of Confucius, Laozi and Sakyamuni. As famous holy lands of Buddhism, Mt. Hengshan (Nanyue) and Mt. Songshan (Zhongyue) bear witness to the development and spread of Buddhism in China. Shaolin Temple on Mt. Songshan is the birth place of Chan Buddhism.
The impact of the cultural traditions of the Sacred Five Mountains (as the symbol of the throne) is felt in other southeastern Asian countries. The Wuyue system, spread east to Korea, and the Shilla dynasty created a similar system and established its Sacred Five Mountains there. The fengshan tradition also spread to the Arabian world, leaving a long-lasting impression.
2.4 Masterpiece of Human Genius
Sacred Five Mountains of China include religious buildings and cliff inscriptions which represent the human creative genius, which complies with the World Heritage Criteria i.
On the Sacred Five Mountains, there are large numbers of religious buildings and cliff inscriptions which are outstanding examples of human creative genius in architectural arts and building techniques, in particular those at the Hanging Temple of the Central Mountain, Mt. Hengshan and Songyue Temple of Mt. Songshan.
Cliff inscriptions, such as the inscription of “Heng Zong” on the Northern Mt. Hengshan and of the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra at the Sutra Valley of Mt. Taishan, are outstanding displays of the human creative genius in inscriptions.
2.5 Specimen of Ancient Science and Arts
The stupas, as the earliest and most outstanding specimen of Chinese brick and stone architecture, display typical artistic and technical traits of Chinese brick and stone architecture. The observatory of Yuan dynasty is an important example of the development of ancient science and technology in China. This corresponds to World Heritage Criteria iv.
The Pagoda of Songyue Temple of Mt. Songshan is the oldest existing multi-eaved brick pagoda in China, first constructed in the first year of the reign of Emperor Zhengguang of Northern Wei Dynasty（520 A.D.）. The stupa forest of Mt. Songshan occupies a total land area of 21 000m2 and has over 230 stupas built during different dynasties since Tang. It is the largest of its kind and involves stupas of brick, stone, brick and stone structure. There are two stupas built in Tang, two in Song, 10 in Jin, 46 in Yuan, 148 in Ming, the remaining in Qing or unknown dynasties.
The observatory of Yuan dynasty on Mt. Songshan is the oldest existent observatory in China, a structure famous in world astronomy, and an important example of the development of ancient science and technology in China.
2.6 Extraordinary Natural Beauty
The Sacred Five Mountains of China are of extraordinary natural beauty and of great aesthetic value, corresponding to World Heritage Criteria vii.
Each of Sacred Five Mountains has a natural beauty different from the others, and contains large numbers of cultural relics and ancient buildings hiding on the mountains and the valleys. Since ancient times, the Sacred Five Mountains have attracted numerous scholars, writers and celebrities who left a long train of poems, painting and landscaping masterpieces with strong national characteristics and rich cultural connotations. The Sacred Five Mountains has thus become the major resource of aesthetic preference for mountain and river landscapes unique to China.
2.7 Best Record of Evolution of the Earth
Created by crustal orogeny during different geological ages, the preserved and crop-out strata of the five mountains are the best records of the early evolution of the Earth. This corresponds to World Heritage Criteria viii.
Created by crustal orogeny during different geological ages, the Sacred Five Mountains of China have preserved and crop-out strata of different geological ages and places from which many crustal orogenys derive their names. The framework of the Western Mt. Huashan came into being 270 to 230 million years before now. The crop-out granite of Mt. Huashan is named the “Mt. Huashan Granite” because of its location. The Northern Mt. Hengshan has a complete range of strata, including Archean, Proterozoic, Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cainozoic eras with crop-outs of varying degrees for each. The Central Mt. Songshan preserves clear signs of the configurations created by the three Pre-Cambrian land-forming and mountain-forming activities. This is known as the “Songyang Orogeny”, “Zhongyue Orogeny” and “Shaolin Orogeny” respectively. In the Mt. Songshan area there are crops out showing the consecutive and complete lava, metamorphic and sediment strata of the five different geological ages of Archean, Proterozoic, Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cainozoic eras. This is called the “Five Generations under the Same Roof” in the geo-science field.
2.8 Important Biological Habitat
The Sacred Five Mountains of China represent important biological habitats types in different climatic zones, with different vegetational types. Endangered and endemic biotic species live in these areas, which significant for biodiversity conservation and research, corresponding to the World Heritage Criteria x.
The Sacred Five Mountains of China are situated in different regions of vegetation types, The Sacred Five Mountains of China have been under sound protection for many years, so they are in rather good natural condition now. Each of the Sacred Five Mountains has large number of wild plant and animal resources, and is important regions for conservation of biodiversity.
Thanks to its unique geological landforms and rich vegetation resources, the Sacred Five Mountains of China contain large numbers of ancient trees5 and species unique to each. The Southern Mt. Hengshan has intact secondary forests distributed at different altitudes and one species unique to it (Gleditsia vestita) with the only two living singles in the world kept at the Guangji Temple.
3 Inalienable Natural and Cultural values of the Sacred Five Mountains of China
One of the most pronounced features of world heritage sites in China is that there are many mixed natural and cultural heritage sites. Currently, there are 35 world heritage sites in China, 4.1% of the world total. Of the 25 mixed heritage sites, there are 4 in China, accounting for 16% of the world total or 11.4% of the total number of world heritage sites in China. This feature makes China different from other countries in the world: natural heritage and cultural heritage are of equal value, interdependent and inalienable from each other.
The Sacred Five Mountains of China reflects the close linkage between the natural and cultural heritage values. On the Sacred Five Mountains, there are large numbers of very old ancient buildings inside of which there are many ancient trees. The flora forms an important part of the cultural landscapes: cultural values are closely linked to the bio-diversity values.
The Sacred Five Mountains of China have different configurations: The different landforms created by different geological evolutions with the Sacred Five Mountains were captured by the ancient Chinese who attach different cultural connotation to the Sacred Five while turning them into a unitary cultural concept. The Sacred Five Mountains derive their beauty and grandeur from the nature, which gives life to their cultural values. In traditional Chinese culture, nature is bestowed with cultural significance, adding one more interpretation to the natural heritage values.
From a philosophical point of view, all matters are interrelated. The Sacred Five Mountains of China represent a unique understanding of the relations between different matters of ancient Chinese and a cultural concept based on reflection about the natural phenomena. Inheritance of these cultural concepts makes it possible for the natural landscape to be kept intact. It is nothing rare to find in the Chinese civilization, with a content accumulated over several thousand years that the natural heritage values, in terms of bio-diversity and geological landforms are embodied in the cultural values while natural heritage are better protected and managed with the help of cultural traditions and customs. The significance of the natural heritage sites may penetrate through the sacred mountains and rivers into the minds of the 1.3-billion Chinese population.
The Sacred Five Mountains of China has outstanding universal value. Considered as a whole since ancient times, the Sacred Five Mountains of China reflect traditional Chinese culture and bear witness to the development of China over thousands of years. The mountains are of rich natural heritage, a value not to be neglected. As an extension of the mixed heritage of Mt. Taishan, the Sacred Five Mountains of China shall be inscribed on the world heritage list as an inalienable whole and taken as the common asset of the whole world.