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Category of site: Cultural site

Brief introduction

The historic monuments of Dengfeng in “The Center of Heaven and Earth”, which include the ancient architectural complex at Songshan Mountain and the site of the Xia Dynasty capital, are situated in and around Songshan Mountain in Henan.

The mountain is considered to be the central sacred mountain of China. At the foot of this 1500 meter high mountain, close to the city of Dengfeng in Henan province and spread over a 40- square-kilometer circle, stand eight clusters of buildings and sites, including three Han Que gates , remains of the oldest religious edifices in China – Zhong yue temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory. Constructed over the course of nine dynasties, these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the centre of heaven and earth and the power of the mountain as a centre for religious devotion. Other sites registered include the Songyang Academy (484 AD), the 1,500-year-old Pagoda of Songyue Temple as well as the country’s oldest existing ritual structures; three pairs of towers (Taishi, Shaoshi, and Qimu) built during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).

The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology and education.

Dengfeng was considered the center of ancient China, and therefore it served as the capital and cultural center of many dynasties. Disciples of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism settled here to advance their religious cultures. Because of this historical background and architectural significance of Dengfeng, it is called “The Center of Heaven and Earth”.

The Center of Heaven and Earth was added to the list on August 1, 2010.

Zhongyue Temple

The Zhongyue Temple, listed by the State Council as a key national temple of Taoism, is located on Songshan Mountain in Dengfeng county, Henan province. Songshan Mountain is a famous beautiful scenic spot. Many religious sites have been constructed there since ancient times. The famous Shaolin Temple is located there. In addition, there are many Taoist buildings, among which the Zhongyue Temple is extremely well preserved.

The Zhongyue Temple is situated at the foot of Huanggai Peak, which is at the southern side of Taishi Mountain of Songshan Mountain. It was first established in the 3rd century BC. After Empress Wu Zetian came there for worship in 688, the Zhongyue Temple began to flourish. The temple had been repaired many times and had 900 rooms in various buildings by 1013, but subsequently declined to a certain extent.

Now, there are over 400 rooms, covering an area of 100,000 square meters. It is the extant ancient Taoist architectural complex that is the most complete and has the largest scale. The main buildings include the Zhonghua Gate and the Tianzhong Pavilion, etc., spanning 6,500 meters from south to north. There are many precious cultural relics in the temple. Especially, its numerous inscriptions on tablets are now the important materials for calligraphic research. The principal building is the Main Hall, which displays very delicate craftsmanship and is the most grandiose building in the Zhongyue Temple. At present, the Zhongyue Temple can receive 1.5 million person-times of tourists and disciples every year.

Dengfeng Astro Observatory

The Astro Observatory, located at Gaocheng town, to the southeast of and 15km away from Dengfeng, is the largest ancient observatory now existing in China. It is the cultural relics of significant value for scientific research and has the functions of measuring the shadow cast by the sun, observing celestial bodies, and telling time.

The observatory was in 1961 listed among the Key Cultural Relics under State Protection. At the request of the imperial order, the observatory was built by Guo Shoujing and Wang Xun in 13th year of the Emperor Zhiyuan (1276 AD), Yuan Dynasty, and was one of the then 27 observation stations in China. The observatory, of masonry construction, consists of the body and the stone gnomon (or the night blooming cereus, unofficially).

As the plane is square, the observatory has smaller upper part and larger lower part, and is 12.62 meters in overall height. At the north of it are designed with two symmetrical step entrances for observation. The center of the northern wall is built into a hollow groove that is perforated through from top to bottom, so the higher gnomon at the groove’s straight wall and the stone gnomon at the bottom constitute a series of gnomon apparatus for measuring the length of shadow cast by the sun. The stone gnomon at the bottom of the groove is connected with 36 blocks of blue stone from south to north, and is 31.2 meters in length and 0.53 meters in width. The gnomon is carved with two parallel two-way watercourses. To the south of the watercourses is a suction sump, and to the north a discharge sump. Each sump has scales for measuring the levelness.

Songyang Academy of classical learning

Songyang Academy is located at the south foot of the Songshan Mountain, 3 kilometers north of Dengfeng county seat. Embraced by hills to the east and west, Songyang Academy enjoys a beautiful view with two brisk clear springs joining in front of it into a river and fertile fields extending far away to the south. Standing at the academy gate, visitors can see all the peaks of the Songshan Mountain and overlook the Dengfeng county seat. Being an ideal place for study, it is laurelled as one of the Four Academies of the Song Dynasty (960–1729 AD), together with the Suiyang Academy in Suizhou (also named “Yingtian Academy”), the Yuelu Adacemy in the Hunan province and the Bailudong Adademy in Jiangxi province.

In history, Songyang Academy was jointly dominated by Buddhism and Daoism at first, later by the Confucianism exclusively. During the ages from the Later Zhou Dynasty (951–959 AD) of the Five Dynasties Period (907–959 AD) to the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), Chenghao and Cheng Xi, two great masters of the Luo School of the Confucianism, spread their theories here with hundreds of students. First built in 484 AD, it had been renovated and extended for several times in different dynasties, later developed into an academy of a large scale with an air of simplicity and elegance.

General Cypresses of the Western Han Dynasty and the Great Tang Stele of the Tang Dynasty are the feature cultural relics of the Songyang Academy. Legend has it that more than 2,000 years ago, when Liu Che, or the Emperor Hanwudi of the Han Dynasty, came to visit the Songyang Academy, he was much impressed at the grand flourishing cypress standing in front of him on his stepping into the courtyard. Looking up for a while, he called it “the Greatest General” out of appreciation. Stepping further into the second court, however, an even more majestic cypress appeared. Regretful as he was, he could only name this cypress “the Greatest General No 2”, as every word spilt out by Chinese emperors would never be taken back.

Cultural heritage

The astronomical idea of “The Centre of Heaven and Earth” is closely related to the idea of imperial power, with the propitiousness of establishing capitals at the centre of heaven and earth, and with its natural attribute, Songshan Mountain and the ceremonies and ritual associated with it. The serial property demonstrates the significance of the area in terms of prestige and patronage.

The concentration of sacred and secular structures in the Dengfeng area display the strong and persistent tradition of “The Centre of Heaven and Earth” linked to the sacred mountain which sustained imperial sacrifices and patronage over 1,500 years and became of great importance in Chinese culture. The Buddhist structures began to have a symbiotic relationship with the sacred mountain.