The Flaming Mountains of Turpan, Xinjiang, China. (Dosisdemi.com)

The Colorful Folklore Behind the Flaming Mountains of Turpan

(Read the article on one page)

The Flaming Mountains of Turpan (also known as Turfan) are located in the Tian Shan Mountain range in China’s Xinjiang province. These mountains lie to the east of the city of Turpan, which is located on the northeastern rim of the Taklamakan Desert. This is the largest, driest and hottest desert in China. The name of these mountains certainly conjures up an image of an inhospitable environment, in accordance with the harsh reputation of the Taklamakan Desert.  

The Geological Origins of the Flaming Mountains

According to geologists, the Flaming Mountains were formed by the movement of tectonic plates on the earth’s surface during the formation of the Himalayas fifty million years ago. Over time, erosion of the red sandstone bedrock caused the formation of the ravines and gullies that crisscross the mountains. These features give the mountains a fiery appearance at certain times of the day. During the summer, the surface temperature of these mountains can exceed 70 °C (158°F)!            

The Folkloric Origins of the Flaming Mountains -The Uighur's Dragon Story

Literature and mythology, however, provide a more colorful explanation to how the Flaming Mountains were formed. For instance, the local Uighurs have a story to explain the red color of the mountains’ surface. According to the Uighurs, the Flaming Mountains were once ravaged by a dragon. When the dragon was eventually slain by a young hero, its blood was spilled on the mountains, hence giving the earth its bright red color.

Another Origins Story for the Flaming Mountains from The Journey to the West

Another story regarding the Flaming Mountains can be found in Chinese literature. In the Chinese language, the Flaming Mountains are also known as ‘Huo Yan Shan’. This name is derived from a story in one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature, The Journey to the West . This novel was published during the Ming Dynasty, and is attributed to Wu Cheng’en. The origin story of the Flaming Mountains can be found in Chapter Sixty of this popular novel.

In the novel, the protagonists encounter an impassable mountain with flames that burnt continuous. According to the local god, this fire was caused by Sun Wukong (known also as the ‘Monkey King’), one of the novel’s protagonists. When Sun Wukong wreaked havoc in Heaven 500 years prior to the journey to the West, he was subdued by the god Erlang. He was then placed in Laozi’s Eight Trigrams Furnace to be destroyed. When the furnace was opened, however, Sun Wukong was not reduced to ashes. In rage, he kicked over the furnace, and some of its bricks which still had fire in them fell to the earth and became the Flaming Mountains.

Painting of a scene from The Journey to the West depicting the four protagonists: Sun Wukong, Xuanzang, Zhu Wuneng, and Sha Wujing. Summer Palace, Beijing, China (Rolf Müller/Wikimedia Commons

Painting of a scene from The Journey to the West depicting the four protagonists: Sun Wukong, Xuanzang, Zhu Wuneng, and Sha Wujing. Summer Palace, Beijing, China ( Rolf Müller/Wikimedia Commons )

Xuanzang and Faxian: Two Chinese Monks who Completed the Journey to the West

Whilst Wu Cheng’en’s novel is a work of fiction, it is based on the historical figure of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk from the Tang Dynasty who journeyed to India via a land route. Whilst Xuanzang’s journey was made famous due to Wu Cheng’en’s novel, he was not the first Chinese monk to make such a journey. Several centuries prior to Xuanzang, the monk Faxian also travelled to India by land. Both these monks would have travelled along the Silk Road, as did those who brought Buddhism from India to China. Buddhist structures and monuments can be found along the Silk Road, including the Flaming Mountains.

Illustration of the monk Xuanzang (11th Century) (Wikimedia Commons)

Illustration of the monk Xuanzang (11th Century) ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Bezellik Thousand Buddhist Caves

In the Mutou Valley at the western end of the Flaming Mountains is a complex of Buddhist cave grottoes known as the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. Today, there are 77 known grottoes, the oldest of which can be dated to the Tang Dynasty. The construction of these grottoes continued up till the 13th century. Of these grottoes, 40 of them still have murals inside them.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Aristotle’s Masterpiece Completed in Two Parts.
A perverted "sex manual" featuring shocking magical and mythical X-rated content will be sold at a UK auction next month. The first edition of this sordid book entitled Aristotle's Masterpiece Completed In Two Parts, The First Containing the Secrets of Generation, was published in London in 1684.

Myths & Legends

Human Origins

Silhouettes (Public Domain) in front of blood cells (Public Domain) and a gene.
Most people who have the Rh blood type are Rh-positive. There are also instances, however, where people are Rh-Negative. Health problems may occur for the unborn child of a mother with Rh-Negative blood when the baby is Rh-Positive.

Ancient Technology

The Lycurgus Cup.
A strange chalice made its way into the British Museum’s collection in the 1950s. It is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman artifact called the Lycurgus Cup. The image on the chalice is an iconic scene with King Lycurgus of Thrace...

Ancient Places

The highly-decorated tomb is built in a distinctive ‘L’ shape
A mysterious ancient tomb with “unusual and rare” wall paintings has been discovered in Egypt. Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Enany told BBC reporters the discovery of a 4,400-year-old tomb found during excavation work in Giza’s western cemetery “likely belonged to Hetpet, a priestess to Hathor, the goddess of fertility, who assisted women in childbirth.”

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article