Category of site: Cultural site
With its five flat peaks, Wutai Mountain is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. It has 53 monasteries and includes the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber building of the Tang Dynasty, with life-size clay sculptures. It also features the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 statues showing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water.
Overall, the buildings on the site present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China over more than one millennium. Wutai Mountain, literal meaning as the five terrace mountain, is the highest mountain in Northern China and is celebrated for its morphology characterized by precipitous slopes with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on the site since the 1st century AD to the early 20th century.
Wutai Mountain displays the outstanding fusion between the natural landscape and Buddhist culture, religious belief in the natural landscape and Chinese philosophical thinking on the harmony between man and nature.
It was added to the list on June 26, 2009.
For a thousand years from the Northern Wei Period (471-499) there have been nine Emperors making 18 pilgrimages to pay tribute to the bodhisattvas, commemorated in stele and inscriptions. This has added more significance to the mountain. That is why tradition of pilgrimage to the five peaks is still very much alive. With the extensive library of books collected by Emperors and scholars, the monasteries of Wutai Mountain is an important repository of Buddhist culture, attracting pilgrims from across a wide part of Asia. Furthermore, Wutai Mountain is China’s only holy mountain where both Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Lamaism are practiced. Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas and Lcangskyahothogthu (a Living Buddha) have visited and preached here, some are even buried here.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a Buddhist academy was established here, attracting believers from both at home and abroad through the ages, such as India, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Today, most of the temples are still in good condition. Within their walls is a rich legacy of over 100,000 superb sculptures and paintings, along with a great quantity of Buddhist cultural relics.
For hundreds of years, Wutai Mountain has been China’s most sacred Buddhist ground mainly because it was where the highly revered Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, once lived and taught Buddhism. Numerous temples on Wutai Mountain contain many relics and have different features.
With a history of 1,200 years, the main hall of the Nanchan Temple on the mountain, which houses 17 painted figurines, is the earliest wooden structure of its kind preserved in China today. And it’s a real treasure of China. Its eaves stretch out, and the hall has not a single column. Its outer appearance looks simple and its structure concise, which are similar to the Tang Dynasty art in style.
The Big White Pagoda for Buddha’s Sarira, the symbol of the Wutai Mountain, is said to have been built there before the Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The pagoda, Nepalese style in shape, has a base circumference of 83.3 meters and is 75.3 meters high. Inside the pagoda, there is small India-made iron stupa, where some remains of Sakyamuni are kept.
Xiantong Temple is the oldest temple in China and also the biggest on Wutai Mountain. Originally built in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), it has been placed under state protection. Covering eight hectares, the temple has 400-odd halls. Inside, there are three pure copper halls cast in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), engraved with fine patterns and bronze Buddhist figurines. On the sides, two 13-storied bronze towers also made in the Ming Dynasty, each with a height of 8 meters, are covered with cast Buddhist figurines, carved patterns and various inscriptions.
Wutai Mountain is a famous scenic spot under national protection. It is famous for its Tibet-like bright blue sky and the breath taking natural beauty – beautiful surroundings, with trees covering ancient temples and monasteries. The buildings look exceptionally impressive, and the stone carvings are of superb craftsmanship. The painted sculptures are of various shapes and types and no two sculptures are of the same kind.
In the mountain area, spring arrives in April, and snow falls in September and even in mid-summer, it is cool and pleasant. The cool and pleasant summer climate of Wutai Mountain has also given rise to another name: Qingliang (Cool and Pleasant) Mountain. The mountain has been regarded as an ideal place for escaping summer heat since ancient times.
Wutai Mountain displays the outstanding fusion between the natural landscape and Buddhist culture, religious belief in the natural landscape and Chinese philosophical thinking on the harmony between man and nature. The mountain has a far-reaching influence: mountains similar to Wutai were named after it in Korea and Japan, and also in other parts of China such as Gansu, Shanxi and Hebei province.