Mount Song — Grand Geopark and The Centre of Heaven and Earth

Panoramic View of Mount Song in Henan Province of China

Panoramic View of Mount Song in Henan Province of China, Photo by Gucheng. 

 

What Is Mount Song?

 

In ancient China, Mount Song or Songshan Mountain was respected as the center of heaven and earth, a holy place that many emperors had visited and worshipped, and a holy place of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  

 

Today, it is a World Heritage Site with ancient building ensembles throughout thousands of years of history, as well as a beautiful UNESCO Geopark.

Ancient Buildings of Mount Song

Ancient Building Complext, Photo by Gucheng. 

 

Important Data of Mount Song.

 

  • It is located in Henan Province, the middle of China;

 

  • The Songshan Mountain area is around 450 square kilometers large;

 

  • It has 72 peaks in total;

 

  • The highest peak of Mount Song is 1512 meters;

 

  • The most ancient building there dates back to nearly 2000 years ago.

Ancient Taishi Que Built in the year 118

Ancient Taishi Que Built in the year 118, Photo by Wujiaofeng.

 

Why Mount Song Was Believed as the Centre of Heaven and Earth in Ancient China?

 

Ji Dan, younger brother of the King Wu of Zhou, one of the important founders of the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC — 256 BC), believed the area of Mount Song was the center of the earth and built an observatory to measure the sun's shadow.  

 

Based on his measurements, the Zhou Dynasty built their new capital city nearby. 

 

His observatory had been used by successive dynasties and was rebuilt in the year 723 using stone. 

 

Centuries later, great scientist Guo Shoujing built another advanced, more accurate astronomical observatory from 1276 to 1279,  next to the old one.

 

Throughout history, this area had been believed as the Centre of Heaven and Earth for thousands of years. 

Ancient Astronomical Observatory Built by Guo Shoujing.

Ancient Astronomical Observatory Built by Guo Shoujing.

 

Cultural Importance of Mount Song.

 

  • It is believed the place where Yu the Great had lived and led people to defeat huge floods. 

 

  • This area was the ruling center of Xia (about 2070 BC — 1600 BC) and Zhou (1046 BC — 256 BC) Dynasties. 

 

  • Many kings and emperors had visited and held grand rites to worship Mount Song.

Ancient Cypress (believed at least 4500 years old) Granted as "General" by Emperor Wu of Han in the year 110 BC when He was Worshiping on Mount Song.

Ancient Cypress (believed at least 4500 years old) Granted as "General" by Emperor Wu of Han in the Year 110 BC When He Was Worshiping the Mountain, Photo by Gucheng. 

  • It is a holy place for Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and has ancient buildings of all these three.

Stele to Praise Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, Built in the Year 744

Stele to Praise Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, Built in the Year 744, Photo by Gucheng. 

 

Why Did Empress Wu Zetian Hold the Sacred Feng Shan Ceremony on Mount Song?

 

Throughout Chinese history, six great emperors had held Feng Shan, the most sacred ceremony, on holy Mount Tai

Wu Zetian (623 — 705), the only female emperor, however, held Feng Shan on Mount Song. 

 

The actual reasons for her changing the place were unclear, but speculations had never stopped:

  • Wu Zetian named her dynasty Zhou and believed herself as a descendent of Zhou's royal family.

 

Therefore, she considered Mount Song the holiest place, as the center of heaven and earth and Zhou's ruling;

Painting of Queen Wu Zetian Patrolling in the Royal Palace, by Court Artist Zhang Xuan of the Tang Dynasty

Painting of Queen Wu Zetian Patrolling in the Royal Palace, by Court Artist Zhang Xuan of the Tang Dynasty — National Museum of China

  • It is closer to Wu Zetian's capital city, and she was over 70 years old when she first held Feng Shan (in 696);

  • As the first female emperor in Chinese history, she liked to be a pioneer and break the rules;

  • When she was the queen, Wu Zetian played an important role in her husband's Feng Shan ceremony on Mount Tai.

 

Therefore, as a person that snatched the throne, it would be weird to hold the ceremony again at the same place;  

  • In some sayings, her husband planned to hold Feng Shan on Mount Song and other mountains but passed away before he could realize it. 

Gold Card Buried in Mount Song by Emperor Wu Zetian to Pray for the Forgiveness from Deities about All the Sins that She had Committed

Gold Card Buried in Mount Song by Emperor Wu Zetian to Pray for the Forgiveness from Deities about All the Sins that She had Committed — Henan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Who Is the Deity of Mount Song?

 

Zhongyue the Great, or Zhongyue Dadi, is in charge of the earth, mountains, plants, and herds. 

Mount Song in Autumn, Photo by Liu Kebai.

Autumn Views, Photo by Liu Kebai. 

 

Important Cultural Sites.

 

Zhongyue Temple

Built since the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), to worship Zhongyue the Great, the deity of Mount Song. 

 

During the next two thousand years, it had been expanded and rebuilt several times, as a Taoism holy place. 

 

Now it is an ancient building ensemble, with great religious, cultural, and historic values. 

Zhongyue Temple at the foot of Mount Song

110,000 Square Meters' Zhongyue Temple at the foot of the Mountain, Photo by Gucheng. 

Han Buildings Que

Que was a pair of symmetrical buildings on either side of a palace, as symbolic gates of ancient temples there, which were believed for commemorating two wives of Yu the Great

 

Three couples of Que (Taishi, Shaoshi, Qimu) on Mount Song were built in 118 and 123, from the Han Dynasty, and carved with valuable inscriptions and paintings. 

Qimu Que of the Han Dynasty

Qimu Que of the Han Dynasty, Photo by Li Zhibin. 

Songyue Pagoda

Constructed in the year 520, it is the most ancient existing brick Pagoda in China. It is 37 meters high, with 15 stories above the ground, and a palace underground. 

Songyue Pagoda of Mount Song

Songyue Pagoda, Photo from Official Site of Songshan.

Songyang Academy

 

Firstly built in 484 as a religious temple, it changed to a Confucianism Academy in 1035.  

Afterward, many brilliant scholars of the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) had been teaching there. 

Front Gate of Songyang Academy of Mount Song

Front Gate of Songyang Academy, Photo by Gucheng. 

Shaolin Temple

 

Shaolin Temple, one of the most influential Buddhism places, was built in 495 under the command of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei

 

Over a century later, some of Shaolin's well-trained monks assisted Li Shimin and contributed to defeating another army.

 

After Li Shimin was enthroned as the Emperor Taizong of Tang, he awarded the Shaolin Temple more lands and honor, which kept developing in the next few centuries. 

 

Today, Shaolin Temple is one of the most important Buddhism temples, which has an ancient building ensemble and is the origin place of the famous Shaolin Kung Fu.

Buildings of Shaolin Temple

Buildings of Shaolin Temple, Photo from Official Site of Songshan.

Pagoda Forest

 

It is the tombs of the masters of Shaolin Temple throughout history, this is the largest existing Pagoda Forest in China. Among over 250 pagodas there, the earliest was built in 791. 

Stupas Forest of Shaolin Temple

Pagoda Forest of Shaolin Temple, Photo from Official Site of Songshan.

 

Impressive Natural Scenic Views of Mount Song.

Peaks of Mount Song

Magnificent Peaks, Photo by Liu Kebai. 

Luya Waterfall of Mount Song

Luya Waterfall, Photo by Liu Kebai.