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Mount Mianshan
    2007-12-30 13:38:34     CRIENGLISH.com

With a history dating back some 2,500 years, Mount Mianshan boasts enchanting natural scenery and rich cultural significance. It is definitely a recommended stop if you're traveling around northern China's Shanxi Province. It is even worth considering as a weekend trip from Beijing. Today let's follow Ning Yan to explore this charming mountain.

Mianshan is located on the southern side of the Fen River, 20 kilometres from Jiexiu City in central Shanxi Province. At about 2,000 meters above sea level, Mianshan provides tourists with various means to enjoy its spectacular scenery.

Visitors can explore the deep, narrow, winding Qixian Valley with its hanging bridges and splashing falls. If one is lucky enough, they can watch the sun rise at Dragon Head Temple and get close to the sea of clouds among the mist-wreathed peaks of Dragon Ridge. Those seeking cultural relics can trudge to lofty Lord Jie Ridge and worship Jie Zitui, also known as Lord Jie, a well-known loyal official from ancient China, who was burned to death here.

Steeped in legend and ancient history, Mt. Mianshan, also called Jieshan, was named after Jie Zitui. His story can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period, some 2,500 years ago, when China consisted of various kingdoms. When the Jin State (nowadays Shanxi Province) was in turmoil, one of Jin's princes, Chong'er, was exiled. When he was on the verge of starvation, one of his faithful followers, Jie Zitui, saved him by slicing some flesh off his own leg for the prince to eat.

After the prince was restored to the throne as Duke Wen of Jin, he gradually forgot his saviour. Jie was so sad that he retreated to Mianshan and lived in seclusion with his mother. Years later Chong'er felt so guilty that he went deep into the mountain to look for Jie. But his efforts were in vain, because it was impossible for him to climb the steep slopes and search among the endless trees and hills. Eventually, the king ordered the entire mountain to be set on fire to force Jie out of hiding. But Jie and his mother were later found dead on the mountain after the fire was extinguished.

To convey his grief and to keep Jie Zitui's memory alive, Chong'er issued an order marking the day of Jie Zitui's death as Hanshi Day, which means Cold Food Day in Chinese. It falls one day before the nation's Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival, that's held every spring. On that day, no fires or smoke were allowed, and people had to eat cold food only.

It was not until the Qing Dynasty about 300 years ago that the practice of eating cold food was replaced by Qingming Festival, which has now become an annual occasion for people to visit family graves.

Lord Jie Ridge, is the origin of Jie's culture. After Jie Zitui died, Chong'er ordered that a tomb be built to commemorate his most loyal follower and bury his used articles. Since that time, a countless number of people began to visit his tomb and pay their respects. A temple in the name of Lord Jie has been established on the ridge, displaying his life story through murals and sculptures. They provide details about his birth, his studies as a youngster, his exile with Chong'er and his retreat to Mianshan. Lord Jie Ridge is also said to have been of great strategic importance as a military defence in ancient times, due to its inaccessible terrain.

Mianshan and Jie Zitui passed together into folklore. Since then, religious masters and court officials have meditated and sought refuge here. Groups of Taoist and Buddhist monks subsequently built wondrous temples that perch atop the impossibly craggy cliffs.

Unfortunately, Japanese troops destroyed most of the original temples during the Second World War, and for decades the mountain's past was forgotten. It wasn't until 1996 when the local government transferred to individuals the management rights of the area's rebuilding. The newly constructed site opened in 2000, and construction work continues on the mountain even today.

Gone are the days of dangerous climbs to access the temples. Now a road runs halfway up the mountain, leading cars and buses to every scenic spot. Visitors see breathtaking views on both sides of the road, featuring steep precipices and ravines. A three-hundred-meter plank way that winds along the cliff face has also been built, adding more charm to this dramatic landscape.

A strong Taoist atmosphere pervades the place among a cluster of Taoist temples and pavilions that dot the cliffs and exuberant hillside. Among them, Daluo Temple is the largest and most magnificent temple on Mianshan. It houses a great number of Taoist texts, including the wooden engravings of Dao De Jing. This Taoist classic written by ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi is gaining increasing popularity at home and abroad, and Mianshan has attracted an increasing number of religious followers and visitors because of it.

Buddhist temples also made their way to Mianshan. Among the mountain's hundreds of caves, Baofu Temple is located in the largest one called Baofu Cave. The cave resembles two hands holding a stomach. The "stomach" is so huge that it houses more than 200 temple rooms and can hold thousands of people. Looking forward from the bottom of the cave, the temple and winding paths seem to hover in the air of the beautiful mountainous surroundings. According to legend, Baofu Cave used to be the lecture site of a Buddhist master named Zhichao in the Tang Dynasty, some 1,400 years ago. During the reign of Taizong, the capital city of Chang'an suffered a terrible drought. When Emperor Taizong came here and prayed for rain with Monk Zhichao, a heavy rain poured down immediately. Since then, it has been regarded as a holy Buddhist site, attracting countless emperors and officials from successive dynasties to pray for peace and prosperity. To express his thanks to Monk Zhichao, emperor Taizong had the first thanksgiving bell hung at Baofu Temple. Nowadays, visitors can watch the bell-hanging ceremony during festivals and other special occasions.

Natural scenery is one of Mianshan's biggest draws for visitors in search of an unspoiled piece of land. Shuitao Valley is surely not to be missed. The valley is covered with dense, verdant plants year-round. It is more enjoyable in the spring and summer time when flowers blossom luxuriantly. The green vegetation not only endows the mountain with vitality, but also creates a natural fairyland for animals. Looking from afar, a stretch of mountain peaks extend far from visibility. When you go into the valley, you will have an immediate sense of being refreshed by the plants and water. Dozens of waterfalls cascade down the mountain slopes and the crystal brooks babble from afar. The main sights in the valley include the fall of the ox-fighting-tiger, two dragons playing in the water, the five-dragon falls and the water curtain cave. At the end of the snake path in the valley lies the water curtain cave. Water pours down like a curtain shielding the cave's entrance and splashes onto the rocks. The diversity of the well-preserved plant species and the fresh cool water here make it a natural oxygen bar for visitors.

Besides such natural scenes, temples and relics, some particular religious elements have been integrated into Mianshan, lending a mysterious and charming sense to the mountain at night. Lights forming religious designs are cast on the cliff at each temple's site, such as the 28 constellations and Taichi lights, which are closely associated with Taoism. All of these are for bringing forth blessings and good luck.



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