Scenic Mount Wuyi: Peerless in Southeast China
With layer upon layer of peaks and knolls, as well as the surrounding gullies, Mount Wuyi has been hailed as “the most beautiful place in the East” since ancient times.
Like a huge dragon lying on the border between Fujian Province and Jiangxi Province, the picturesque Wuyi Mountains are majestic and elegant. Mount Wuyi is part of the Wuyi Mountains, and is also called “Small Wuyi.” Located in the south of Wuyishan City, Fujian Province, it covers over 70 square kilometres. With layer upon layer of peaks and knolls, as well as the surrounding gullies, Mount Wuyi has been hailed as “the most beautiful place in the East” since ancient times.
In December 1999, Mount Wuyi, a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. According to the World Heritage Committee, Mount Wuyi is the most outstanding biodiversity conservation area in the southeast of China and a refuge for a large number of ancient and rare species, many of them endemic to China. The serene beauty of the dramatic gorges of Nine Bend River, with its numerous temples and monasteries (many now in ruins), provided the setting for the rise and spread of Neo- Confucianism, which has influenced the cultures of East Asia since the 11th century. In the 1st century B.C., a large administrative capital was built at nearby Chengcun by Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) rulers. Its massive walls enclose an archaeological site of great significance.
A Thousand Peaks Reflected in Nine Bend River
Whenever Mount Wuyi is mentioned, people will think of Nine Bend River. Originating from the northwest of Tongmuguan, Wuyishan National Nature Reserve, the river runs from west to east along a total length of 60 kilometres. It winds around peaks and rocks, forming the spectacular scene of the “Small Wuyi.” Nine-and-a-half kilometres of the river run within the scenic area, bending nine times as the water flows through the mountains.
Tianzhu Peak (Heavenly Pilar Peak), also known as Dawang Peak (Great King Peak), is located at one end of Nine Bend River. It is the most famous among all the 36 peaks of Mount Wuyi, referred to as a “king of the wonderland.” Entering the scenic area, visitors are first greeted by Tianzhu Peak. Measuring only about 30 centimetres wide, a path built in the crack of a steep cliff extends from the southern foot of Tianzhu Peak to the top. Halfway up the peak is Zhangxian Rock, said to be the place where Zhang Gai, a monk of the Han Dynasty, passed away while sitting cross-legged. This path is one of the three dangerous paths of Mount Wuyi. Reaching the top of the peak, one can see four big characters engraved on the cliff: “Ju Gao Si Wei” (lit., “be alert to dangers when you are in a high place”). A crack, about one metre (m) wide is also visible on the top of the peak, so deep that a stone thrown into it will rattle for ages. It is said this is the place where sacrificial jade and gold dragon slips were thrown in the Song Dynasty, hence the name “Cave for Tossing Gold-dragon Slips.”
Wuyi Palace, the oldest building in Mount Wuyi Scenic Area, is located at the southern foot of the Tianzhu Peak. Originally built in the Tianbao Period of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907), it is also called Tianbao Palace. This was where Chinese emperors worshipped the Lord of Wuyi, a Taoist immortal; the site has experienced multiple rounds of renovation and expansion. Song Dynasty scholars such as Zhu Xi, Lu You and Xin Qiji all once served as the facility's manager. In the Song and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties, the palace had over 300 rooms and was very grand. However, in the middle of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), the buildings gradually collapsed one after another. Now, only two halls dating from the Qing Dynasty have survived—wannian Palace and Sanqing Hall. Around these ancient buildings are such simple and elegant views: an ancient street in the style of the Song Dynasty, tea houses, mountain villas and shops. The street is about 300 m long from south to north, oozing with classic beauty.
Dazang Peak rises from water, and its sheer rock face runs tightly along the riverbed. Inside the caves in the cliff are ancient reeds and coffins shaped like
boats or bridges, invaluable cultural relics. At the foot of the peak is the clear Wolong Pool. The huge rocks, mysterious caves and deep pool are the three must-sees of Dazang Peak. Opposite to Dazang Peak, Xiandiao Terrace (Immortal's Fishing Terrace) lies on the other side of the river. Its steep top abruptly rises from the water, reaching into the clouds. Viewed from different angles, Xiandiao Terrace takes different forms. Sometimes it looks like an immortal wearing a bamboo hat, fishing along the river; other times, it looks like a huge ancient boat about to take sail. On the rock face is a cave called Zhenwu Cave, in which a boatshaped coffin lies. The boat-shaped coffin is also called a “cliff coffin” or “hanging coffin.” In ancient times, such coffins were placed in cracks or caves in the north hills on the west bank of Nine Bend River, a curious local custom. Scholars and tourists in different ages have all paid attention to this practise.
Yinping Peak is located north of the fifth bend of Nine Bend River. The rock is lofty, square and flat, reaching into the sky. On top of the peak are verdant trees, forming a green screen hidden in the deep forested mountains— this is the source of the name Yinping Peak (Hidden Screen Peak). Halfway up Yinping Peak is a spacious cave called Guangtian Cave, inside of which stand many stones, including the Eight Diagrams (eight combinations of three whole or broken lines formerly used in divination). Behind the cave, there is a rock in the shape of a mendicant Buddhist monk: Arhat Rock. Next to this rock is Arhat Cave. Zhu Xi (1130–1200), a Neo-confucian scholar resigned from office and established Ziyang Academy at the foot of Yingping Peak in 1183.
Zhu Xi was a famous NeoConfucianist, philosopher, educator and poet of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279). As the representative of Fujian School and the most accomplished of the Neo-confucianists, his philosophical and educational thoughts exerted great influence on the politics and culture of the later periods of China's feudal society. Nearly 50 of Zhu Xi's 71 years were spent in Wuyi Mountain, 8 of which passed under Yinping Peak.
In 1183, 54-year-old Zhu Xi resigned from office and returned to Mount Wuyi. At the foot of Yinping Peak at the fifth bend of Nine Bend River, he and his students built an academy with their own hands, which they named Wuyi Academy. Zhu Xi continued his writing and teaching there. Wuyi Academy had three parts: Renzhi Hall was in the middle, and was used for giving lectures, while Yinqiu Chamber and Zhisu Shack on either side were used for rest and accommodation for friends and relatives respectively. After the completion of Wuyi Academy, students from all over China came regularly to Mount Wuyi, and the academy cultivated many esteemed scholars. The academy was very much valued by successive rulers, who provided funds for its renovation. At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, after an expansion, the academy was renamed Ziyang Academy.
Behind Yinping Peak is the lofty Tianyou Peak (Heavenly Tour Peak). Yinping is hundreds of m wide and taller than the surrounding peaks. Climbing to its top to see the sea of clouds is like taking a tour of heaven. Ming geographer Xu Xiake (1587–1641) claimed: “Tianyou Peak has the best scenery along Nine Bend River, so it should rank first among the peaks.” Seated statues of legendary figures like the Lord of Wuyi, Peng Wu and Peng Yi are worshiped on Tianyou Peak. There is an ormosia tree growing on Miaogao Terrace, a tourist spot on the peak. In autumn, the glittering red beans fall on the terrace, becoming a token of love for couples. In the east of Tianyou Peak a mountain stream meanders southward. It pours down from the west side of Miaogao Terrace, forming the marvellous Xuehuaquan Waterfall (Snowflake Spring Waterfall). Beneath Tianyou Peak is a rock over 500 m high and over 1,000 m wide. Huge and smooth, it is the biggest rock in Mount Wuyi Scenic Area. At sunset, one can see vertical stripes on the rock, like cloths being dried under the sun, giving it the name Shaibu Rock (Cloth-drying Rock).
Sanyang Peak is the highest peak in Mount Wuyi Scenic Area. The peak is made up of three layers of monoclinal strata, steep in the east and gentle in the west, like a ladder. The three layers are arrayed according to height. The tallest is called Greater Yang Peak; the second, Middle Yang Peak; and the lowest, Lesser Yang Peak. The east, south and north sides of the three peaks are all cliffs. Standing at either end of Nine Bend River, one can see the magnificent Sanyang Peak. The three peaks are like three flags, facing east and fluttering in the wind.
Sanyang Peak boasts many scenic spots. A cave in the middle of Lesser Yang Peak is 15 or 16 m deep and 8 or 9 m above the ground—bixiao Cave. During the reign of Ming Emperor Wanli (1573–1620), scholar Lin Pei's words, “The highest place in Wuyi,” were engraved in calligraphy on the wall of the cave. Beside the cave there is a well, which, according to legend, is where famous Song Taoist Bai Yuchan made the elixir of life. Halfway up Greater Yang Peak is a big rock, both square and smooth. Called the “Chessboard Stone,” it is said to be the place where immortals played chess. Furong Shoal lies at the eighth bend of Nine Bend River. The shoal is shallow, but the current there is swift.
A Charming Tour
Between Cangping Peak and Beilang Rock is Little Peach Garden, whose scenery is highly similar to the peach garden of Wuling described by Jin scholar Tao Yuanming (AD 365–427) in his work “The Peach Colony.” Many steep cliffs rise around the resort. At Squirrel Gully, rapids thrash and churn. Walking along the gully, visitors can find a cave formed between huge rocks. Continuing along the zigzagging path, they encounter a stone gate with an inscription reading: “It's happy to know
the chess game will not be interrupted by a woodcutter; but I am afraid that the fisherman may come and chat.” Passing through the stone gate, one will be greeted by a piece of open land. Surrounded by mountains, the land is dotted with cottages, peach gardens, bamboo forests, ponds and creeks. Looking around, it seems that there is no path to the place, just as described in the following lines: “What does the Peach Garden look like? I guess it is just like this place.” Song scholars such as Chen Shitang once lived in seclusion in this haven.
The tourist spot “Thin Strip of Sky” is also called Lingyan Rock, and is found in the south of Mount Wuyi Scenic Area. This site has three caves, the strangest in Wuyi Mountain. They are Lingyan Cave, Wind Cave and Fuxi Cave; the most unique is Wind Cave. At the entrance of the cave, the words “Wind Cave” written by Song scholar Xu Ziqiang are engraved on the rock face. It is said that in ancient times, a python lived in Lingyan Cave and hunted people. Later, an immortal surnamed Ge drove gods with spells to fight the python, ultimately killing it. Thus, the cave is also called “Immortal Ge's Cave.”
Huxiao Rock, defined by sheer rock faces, is located to the south of the second bend of Nine Bend River. There is a huge cave halfway up Huxiao Rock. The wind passes through the entrance of this cave and makes a roar like a tiger; hence, the place is named Huxiao Rock (Roaring Tiger Rock). Carved into the rock face are the words “Hu Xi Ling Dong” ( Tiger's Stream and Immortal's Cave) written by Wang Zi, the magistrate of Chong'an County during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1723) of the Qing Dynasty. In 1707, Monk Quansheng revisited Mount Wuyi in search of great scenic vistas. He took a fancy to Huxiao Rock, with its wonderful springs and stones, and built Tiancheng Buddhist Temple on the ruins of Huxiao Temple. He also identified eight scenic spots around the place, such as Bailian Ferry Crossing, Yuba Spring and Binxi Cave.
Located on the bank of the first bend of Nine Bend River, Shuiguang
Stone (Sparking Water Stone) boasts one of the largest inscription groups in Mount Wuyi. Here, waves shine under the sun, and the stone is teeming with inscriptions. Inscriptions on cliffs in Mount Wuyi can be dated back to the Eastern Jin Dynasty (AD 317–420), with a history of more than 1,700 years. Most are poems and notes about travel, NeoConfucianism, religion and tea culture. The earliest inscriptions recorded in the local chronicle Mount Wuyi Records include the Eastern Jin scholar Guo Pu's poems; the Southern Dynasties scholar Gu Yewang's “Thousands of Rocks and Ten Thousands of Gullies”; the imperial order in the Tang Dynasty; Zhu Xi's writings and long travel notes of the Ming Dynasty; and huge rock carvings such as “Wind Cave,” “Mirror Terrace” and “Curtain Pavilion.” Of these contributions, “Ode to Nine Bend River” is the most eye-catching work.
West of Dazang Peak is the Imperial Tea Garden, the architecture of which is both grand and sophisticated. In the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), it was named Penglai Palace (a legendary mythical land). According to local chronicles, in 1279, Governor of Zhejiang Province Gao Xing passed by Mount Wuyi and took some local Shiru tea to the emperor; every year since 1282, the magistrate of Chong'an County was requested to offer 10 kilograms of tea to the emperor. In 1301, Jiuzhu, son of Gao Xing and an official in Shaowu (now Shaowu City of Fujian Province), came to Mount Wuyi to supervise the production of tribute tea. The next year, he established the Imperial Tea Garden as the official site for processing the tea.
The scenery of Mount Wuyi varies with the seasons. As a poem goes: “From dawn to sunset, the clouds are changing unpredictably; / But the green water is always clear and beautiful delicately.” Boating on Nine Bend River, tourists feast their eyes on the peaks, cliffs, hanging coffins, historic sites and inscriptions full of wit and charm. Walking in Mount Wuyi Scenic Area is like stepping into a wonderful landscape painting, or an extraordinary world.