The Five Sacred Mountains

The “Five Great Mountains” is the collective term for the five major mountains in traditional Chinese culture. They are a combination of ancient folk mountain deity reverence, the concept of the five elements, and the imperial tradition of hunting and offering sacrifices. The Five Great Mountains are: Mount Song (1,492 meters above sea level, located in Dengfeng City, Henan Province), Mount Tai (1,545 meters above sea level, located in Taian City, Shandong Province), Mount Hua (2,160.5 meters above sea level, located in Huayin City, Shaanxi Province), Mount Heng (1,300.2 meters above sea level, located in Hengyang City, Hunan Province), and Mount Heng (2,016.8 meters above sea level, located in Hunyuan County, Datong City, Shanxi Province).

In ancient China, towering mountains were revered as if they “reached the heavens,” and were given the title “Yue” to signify this admiration. During the reign of Emperor Xuan of the Han Dynasty, an official decree established Mount Tai as the Eastern Great Mountain, Mount Hua as the Western Great Mountain, Mount Huo (also known as Tianzhu Mountain, located within present-day Anhui Province) as the Southern Great Mountain, and Mount Da Mao (located in Tang County, Hebei Province) as the Northern Great Mountain, with Mount Song as the Central Great Mountain. Later, during the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty, Yang Jian, Mount Heng on the banks of the Xiang River in Hunan was designated as the Southern Great Mountain, and Mount Huo’s status was abolished. In the Qing Dynasty during the Shunzhi period, the worship of the Northern Great Mountain was officially moved to Mount Heng in Hunyuan, Shanxi.

The Five Great Mountains boast diverse natural landscapes and are steeped in prominent cultural heritage. The cultural significance of these mountains is a fusion of ancient mountain deity worship, the concept of the five elements, and the imperial tradition of offering sacrifices to the mountains. This combination highlights the profound and extensive nature of Chinese culture. The numerous imperial temples where emperors of different dynasties performed sacrificial ceremonies, as well as the Buddhist temples and Taoist monasteries constructed on these mountains, contribute to the majesty and mystique of the Five Great Mountains.

The Five Great Mountains are a result of the combination of ancient mountain deity worship and the concept of the five elements. They were once grand locations where feudal emperors offered sacrifices to the heavens and symbolized their mandate from the heavens to rule over the Central Plains. “Mount Tai in the east, perilous Mount Hua in the west, steep Mount Song in the center, secluded Mount Heng in the north, and elegant Mount Heng in the south” are world-renowned landscapes. People describe the Five Great Mountains as follows: “Heng Mountain resembles walking, Hua Mountain resembles standing, Tai Mountain resembles sitting, Heng Mountain resembles flying, and Song Mountain resembles lying down.”
For thousands of years, emperors have conducted ceremonies here, monks and Taoist priests have practiced and chanted scriptures, devout men and women have burned incense and made wishes, and renowned individuals have enjoyed composing poetry and creating art, leaving behind numerous cultural relics. After visiting the Five Great Mountains, literati and poets often express the sentiment, “Returning from the Five Mountains, one does not look at other mountains.”

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