chapter  4
26 Pages

A god and his mountain

The name Wudang first appears in written records in the Western Han period as a district under the jurisdiction of the Nanyang fu南陽府 prefecture, which covered an area boarding present-day northwest Hubei and southwest Henan provinces (Hanshu 28.1564). Mt Wudang is located in the southern part of Wudang county. The Dan River (Danjiang丹江) flows to its northeast and then enters the Han River (Hanshui漢水), a tributary of the Yangzi River. The mountain thus is included in the reaches of the Yangzi River, and is a beneficiary of one of China’s greatest water-route networks, affording manageable communications to pilgrims in eastern, southwestern, and northwestern China (see figure 4.1). On the other hand, this meant that the mountain was comfortably distant from the political center throughout most of its history. Almost 5300 feet at its summit, Mt Wudang is not particularly high. Yet “[a]

mountain, tall or not, is famous as long as it has transcendent beings,” asserted the ninth-century poet Liu Yuxi劉禹錫 (772-842) in verses that were memorized by generations of men and women of letters. Mt Wudang made its fame initially as a refuge for hermits and recluses. The first plausible account in this regard concerns


Dai Meng of the first century CE, a legendary transcendent (xian) and miracleworker based there (Zhengao14, ZHDZ 2.203a). In CE 150, the Eastern Han dissident Zhao Kang 趙康 “withdrew to Mt Wudang,” and “taught the classics and their exegesis” (Hou Hanshu 43.1463). His circle of disciples included ZhuMu 朱穆 (CE 100-163), a well-known prodigy since his youth and a future Regional Inspector, the highest ranking local administrator.1 Thus by the mid-second century, Mt Wudang has become a locus of intellectual circles and a special attraction for scholar-recruits. By the fifth century, Mt Wudang played host to numerous “persons learning the

way.” It was said to be so sacred that those who were not sincere in their spirituality would “be banished by various animals [on the mountain]” (Taiping yulan 43.5b).2