With its five flat peaks, Mount Wutai is a sacred Buddhist mountain. The cultural landscape is home to forty-one monasteries and includes the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber building of the Tang dynasty, with life-size clay sculptures. It also features the Ming dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 statues representing Buddhist stories woven into three-dimensional pictures of mountains and water. Overall, the buildings on the site catalogue the way in which Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China for over a millennium. Mount Wutai, literally, 'the five terrace mountain', is the highest in Northern China and is remarkable for its morphology of precipitous slopes with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on this site from the 1st century AD to the early 20th century.
© Nomination File
Outstanding Universal Value
Mount Wutai with its five flat peaks is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. It is seen as the global centre for Buddhist Manjusri worship. Its fifty-three monasteries, include the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, with life size clay sculptures, the highest ranking timber building to survive from the Tang Dynasty, and the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 ‘suspension’ statues, representing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water. The temples are inseparable from their mountain landscape. With its high peaks, snow covered for much of the year, thick forests of vertical pines, firs, poplar and willow trees and lush grassland, the beauty of the landscape has been celebrated by artists since at least the Tang Dynasty – including in the Dunhuang caves. Two millennia of temple building have delivered an assembly of temples that present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building over a wide part of China and part of Asia. For a thousand years from the Northern Wei period (471-499) nine Emperors made 18 pilgrimages to pay tribute to the bodhisattvas, commemorated in stele and inscriptions. Started by the Emperors, the tradition of pilgrimage to the five peaks is still very much alive. With the extensive library of books collected by Emperors and scholars, the monasteries of Mount Wutai remain an important repository of Buddhist culture, and attract pilgrims from across a wide part of Asia.
Criterion (ii): The overall religious temple landscape of Mount Wutai, with its Buddhist architecture, statues and pagodas reflects a profound interchange of ideas, in terms of the way the mountain became a sacred Buddhist place, endowed with temples that reflected ideas from Nepal and Mongolia and which then influenced Buddhist temples across China.
Criterion (iii): Mount Wutai is an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of religious mountains that are developed with monasteries. It became the focus of pilgrimages from across a wide area of Asia, a cultural tradition that is still living.
Criterion (iv): The landscape and building ensemble of Mount Wutai as a whole illustrates the exceptional effect of imperial patronage over a 1,000 years in the way the mountain landscape was adorned with buildings, statuary, paintings and steles to celebrate its sanctity for Buddhists.
Criterion (vi): Mount Wutai reflects perfectly the fusion between the natural landscape and Buddhist culture, religious belief in the natural landscape and Chinese philosophical thinking on the harmony between man and nature. The mountain has had far-reaching influence: mountains similar to Wutai were named after it in Korea and Japan, and also in other parts of China such as Gansu, Shanxi, Hebei and Guandong provinces.
Integrity and authenticity
All the temples and landscape associated with the sacred Buddhist mountain are included in the nominated area. The integrity of some of the temple ensembles was threatened by uncontrolled development but this has been either reversed or is being controlled. For the landscape, the visual integrity relies on sustaining the beauty of the mountain and its forests so that the inseparability of the temples and the mountain can be appreciated together with their religious associations. The temples demonstrate a long history of construction and reconstruction. The exception is Foguang East Hall which with its statues has remained largely unreconstructed since the Tang Dynasty. The attributes such as the assembly of temples, the specific buildings that reflect the interchange of cultures, the relationship of buildings to the mountain landscape, the beauty of the forested landscape to the northwest, the pilgrim routes and the masterpieces within the temples, could be said to clearly reflect the outstanding universal value of the property.
Management and protection requirements
The following plans guide the management of the property: Conservation and Management Plan for the nominated World Heritage site (2005-2025) and the Master Plan of the Mount Wutai National Park (1987 and amended in 2005). Both plans are implemented by the National Park. A World Heritage Protection Division, part of the Wutai local administration, and provided with professional staff, will be responsible for the implementation of the Conservation and Management Plan.
According to the Records of Mount Qingliang, written by Buddhist master Zhencheng in the Ming Dynasty, the first temple built on Mount Wutai was created by the order of the Han Emperor in AD 68. This was at the time when India Buddhist masters visited China to promote Buddhism. They considered that in terms of topography Mount Wutai was identical to the Vulture Peak (Rajgir, India), where Sakyamuni lectured on the Lotus sutra.
During the North and South Dynasties, through the patronage of Emperors who started the pilgrimages to the five peaks, Mount Wutai flourished with over 200 temples and monasteries.
From an early date a link was established between Mount Wutai and the worship of Manjusri, a bodhisattva associated with wisdom. A sutra dating from AD 418, the Residence of Bodhisattva, Scroll 45, identifies Qingliang Mountain as the dwelling place of Manjusri and this mountain is usually taken as being Mount Wutai.
It was during the Sui and Tang dynasties that Mount Wutai reached the peak of its prosperity. All the Tang Emperors awarded imperial edicts for such matters as building, exempting from taxation, drawing up maps or putting the monks and nuns from the entire nation under the control of the monasteries at Wutai, thus making it the centre of Han Buddhism. The number of temples rose to 360 and attracted monks from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Vietnam, Korea and Japan who then spread the Manjusri faith all over south-east Asia.
During the Song and Yuan Dynasties the number of temples declined to around 70 but new halls were built including the Manjusri Hall of Foguang Temple. Tibetan Buddhism spread to Mount Wutai and coexisted harmoniously with Han Buddhism.
Buddhism flourished once more in the Ming dynasties and many temples were rebuilt, including the Great White pagoda and a public Sukhavati monastery. The number of temples increased once more to 104. The Qing Emperors undertook many pilgrimages to Mount Wutai as part of their policy to show ethnic solidarity with neighbouring Mongolians, to strengthen the borders, and to foster social stability. By this time there were 25 Tibetan lamaseries and 97 Han Buddhist communities working side by side.
From the late Qing dynasty to the early years of the Republic of China, Mount Wutai declined through social instability. Since 1949 and the founding of the People's Republic of China, efforts have been directed at reviving and protecting the buildings. There are now 68 temples on the mountain: 21 outside and 47 inside the circle of the five terraces; 7 Tibetan lamaseries and 40 Han Buddhist monasteries; 5 nunneries and 1 public monastery.
Until the 1950s, the temples had as a backdrop to the northwest the mountain slopes afforested with Wutai small poplar, Chinese pine, spruce and small wild shrubs. In the east was the Qingshui River and to the south arable land worked in terraces to support the monks and local residents. With the sudden increase in population in the 1950s, much of the forested land to the northwest was cleared and turned into agricultural terraces, although because of the comparatively high altitude the output was low. In the 1990s with fewer people engaged in agriculture, a large part of this arable land was abandoned, causing soil erosion. At the end of 1990s, in order to protect the ecological environment, and under a national policy to return farmland to forest, the government has started a five year programme of afforestation, planting pines, including the local Chinese pine, and spruce, supplemented by local small shrub.
In the past five years many residents living in Taihuai town have been moved to a new Jingangku Township, 16 kms away where new dwellings and tourist facilities have been built. When the project is complete in 2020, 395 households will have been moved from six villages as well as from the settlements of Dongzhuang and Guizicun and 36 hotels and 108 shops.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation