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From left- Mount Tai (Public Domain), Mount Hua (CC BY 2.5), Heng Shan (CC BY-SA 3.0), and Mount Song

Breathtaking Scenery and Fascinating Traditions Connected to the Five Great Mountains of China


There are numerous mountains in China that are considered to be sacred and the key locations may be divided into several groups. One of these groups is known as ‘Wu Yue’ - roughly translated into English as the Five Great Mountains.

The Five Mountains and Pangu

According to traditional Chinese belief, these mountains were formed from the body of Pangu, the first living being, whose death allowed creation to take place. The mountains are regarded as a directional set, i.e. North, South, East, West and Center. The mountains that correspond to each of these directions are Heng Shan / Mount Heng, Heng Shan / Mount Heng, Tai Shan / Mount Tai, Hua Shan / Mount Hua, and Song Shan / Mount Song.

Map of the great mountains of China.

Map of the great mountains of China. (CC BY SA 4.0)

Permanent Mountain

Permanent Mountain is located in Shanxi Province, and reaches 2017 meters (6617.45 ft.) in height. Amongst the five Great Mountains, this is the tallest. According to tradition, Mount Heng was formed from Pangu’s left arm. As a sacred mountain, Mount Heng is home to a number of temples, the most famous of which is the Hanging Temple (known also as the Hanging Monastery or Xuankong Temple).

The Hanging Temple.

The Hanging Temple. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Apart from that, Mount Heng is also known for its beautiful scenery. For example, Xu Xiake, a renowned Chinese travel writer and geographer who lived during the Ming Dynasty, wrote about how impressed he was with the mountain’s appearance.

Additionally, Mount Heng was regarded as a strategic position during times of war. As it is the bottleneck between the Central Plains in the south and the plateau that lies beyond the Great Wall of China, Mount Heng was naturally considered suitable for defensive purposes.

Balancing Mountain

Balancing Mountain is located in Hunan Province, and measures 1290 meters (4232.28 ft.) at its highest point. Legends say that this mountain sprang up form Pangu’s right arm. To differentiate this mountain with its northern counterpart (the pronunciations of both mountains are exactly the same), the southern Mount Heng is sometimes referred to as Nan Heng Shan (meaning ‘Southern Heng Shan’).

View from the summit of Heng Shan, Shanxi province, China.

View from the summit of Heng Shan, Shanxi province, China. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By contrast, the northern Great Mountain is known as Bei Heng Shan (meaning ‘Northern Heng Shan’). At the foot of this mountain, the Grand Temple of Mount Heng can be found. This is the largest temple in southern China and it attracts tourists and pilgrims alike to the mountain. In addition to temples, Mount Heng is crowned by 72 peaks and contains massive tress that are centuries old.    

Tranquil / Eminent Mountain

Tranquil / Eminent Mountain can be found in Shandong Province. It has a summit of 1545 meters (5068.90 ft.) According to legend, this mountain was formed from Pangu’s head.

Mount Tai is often regarded as the greatest and most sacred mountain in China. This is due to its location in the East, which creates an association between the mountain and the rising sun, and, by extension, a connection with the processes of birth and renewal.

This mountain’s sacred nature is also reflected in the story that in ancient times 72 emperors visited the mountain to make a sacrifice to heaven and earth. A number of Chinese sayings also contain Mount Tai in them. One of these, for example, is ‘you yan bu shi tai shan’, which is used to describe an ignorant person who does not recognize true talent in front of him/her.

The South Gate to Heaven at Mount Tai.

The South Gate to Heaven at Mount Tai. (Public Domain)

Splendid Mountain

Splendid Mountain is located in Shaanxi Province. Mount Hua’s highest peak is 1997 meters (6551.84 ft.) high and is said to be formed by Pangu’s feet. This mountain is known to be extremely dangerous to climb, hence its designation as “the number one precipitous mountain under heaven”. Developments over the years, however, have helped to reduce the dangerous nature of the climb.

In several works of wuxia fiction, there is a well-known martial arts sect known as the Hua Shan Sect, named so as it is based on this mountain. Mount Hua was also an important Taoist site; it was a Taosim residential, teaching, and hermitage center.

View from the North Peak.

View from the North Peak. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lofty Mountain

The summit of ‘Lofty Mountain’ is 1290 meters (4232.28 ft.) high. This mountain is believed to have been formed from the belly of Pangu.

One of Mount Song’s claims to fame is that this is the home of the Shaolin Monastery, arguably one of the best-known schools of Chinese martial arts. Apart from this, a huge Taoist temple with an imperial shrine was built on the southern foot of this mountain.

Mount Song was the first of the five Great Mountains to be regarded as sacred, based on it being mentioned as such in oracle bone inscriptions from the Shang Dynasty. More than 30 Chinese emperors went to this mountain to offer sacrifices to the gods and to ascend the throne.

A view looking down onto the gondola that goes up Songshan—Mount Song.

A view looking down onto the gondola that goes up Songshan—Mount Song. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Top image: From left- Mount Tai (Public Domain), Mount Hua (CC BY 2.5), Heng Shan (CC BY-SA 3.0), and Mount Song, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By Ḏḥwty


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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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