China’s Five Sacred Mountains

There are five mountains in different parts of China that are called “The Five Sacred Mountains”. I’ve been to two of them and I plan to write about them in the future, but I think before that some introduction is in order.

First, I also want to point out that generally, in the mind of the Chinese people, the most beautiful and magnificent mountain is the Yellow Mountain (黄山 Huángshān) situated in Anhui Province. There’s this Chinese saying that goes “五岳归来不看山,黄山归来不看岳”(Wŭyuè guīlái búkàn shān, Huángshān guīlái búkàn yuè) meaning that if one has seen the Five Sacred Mountains, then there’s no need to see other mountains; but if one has seen the Yellow Mountain, then they don’t even need to see the Sacred Mountains, as the beauty of the former exceeds all the other places.

That said, it has been a goal of mine to see all the Sacred Mountains (and Huangshan as well) because I just love the atmosphere and scenery of mountainous areas.

So, what are the Five Sacred Mountains? They are:

  • Mount Tai as the Eastern Mountain in Shandong Province (东岳泰山 Dōngyuè Tàishān)
  • Mount Heng as the Southern Mountain in Hunan Province (南岳衡山 Nányuè Héngshān>
  • Mount Hua as the Western Mountain in Shaanxi Province (西岳华山 Xīyuè Huàshān)
  • Mount Heng as the Northern Mountain in Shanxi Province (北岳恒山 Bĕiyuè Héngshān)
  • Mount Song as the Central Mountain in Henan Province (中岳嵩山 Zhōngyuè Sōngshān)

And why are they actually called the sacred? Well, they are considered to be holy places in the Taoist tradition. Taoist temples (道观 dàoguān) were oftentimes built in mountainous areas or on mountain peaks – places thought to be populated by gods and spirits. Moreover, Taoists in their practice strove to get away from the secular life and earthly matters, and to become closer to nature – and, as the final goal, to become immortal. Hence, the Five Sacred Mountains in China are home to many Taoist temples and shrines.

They were also important in the theory of Five Elements – a Chinese traditional concept in which everything is constituted by elements such as; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, which generate and conquer each other in a constant cycle. For every element, there’s a corresponding direction – east represents Wood, south represents Fire, center – Earth, west – Metal, and north – Water. Hence, each of the Sacred Mountains represents one of these elements based on their location in China.

Because of their important religious role, the Five Sacred Mountains were often frequented by pilgrims wanting to worship the gods. More importantly, the mountains were visited by Chinese emperors participating in formal ceremonies dedicated to the God of Heaven and the God of Earth. As Mount Tai was considered to be the greatest one of the five, it was favored by the imperial court and the offerings for Heaven and Earth were often conducted there. The God of Heaven was worshiped on the peak of the mountain and Earth was worshiped at the foot of the mountain. The tradition, started by the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, was continued throughout Chinese history until the end of the last dynasty (Qing dynasty) in the 20th century.

Nowadays, the mountains are extremely popular tourist destinations and some of the temples are still active.


One of the numerous Taoist shrines on Mount Heng (the southern one)


Anyway, that’s all from me for today. Hope to see you next time!

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