HuaShan has long been regarded as the most precipitous mountain in China, edged with sheer granite rock face, rugged cliffs and deep valleys. Its pathway is also one of the most treacherous, winding its way two thousand feet high to a narrow ledge on the rockface. In spite of or perhaps because of this inhospitable landscape, HuaShan is rich in flora and fauna. Taoist knows this as the mountain of wealth, and according to tradition, wealth is measured by the diversity of species living on the land. Consequently HuaShan has been worshipped as a site of natural abundance for many centuries, possibly for millennium. The beauty and rich terrain of Huashan is enhanced by its profound historical and cultural significance. It is one of the five Taoist sacred mountains of China. It is a place steeped in legend, where the very rocks are engraved with tales and poems from its long history; where gods are said to have performed magic, where emperors have worshipped and sacrificed; and where forefathers of Taoism have set down their religious legacies. HuaShan is both naturally and culturally a vital national inheritance to China and the world.
The range of HuaShan covers an area of 204 square kilometers. This comprises 148 kilometers of protected scenic land and 56 kilometers of peripheral protection area. HuaShan takes its name from the five peaks which, when viewed form afar, resemble a lotus flower. The southern peak is the highest, reaching 2160 meters above sea level. Geographically the area is of rock stratum formation and displays the typical granite faces, which cause its precipitous scenery. There are currently 323 major natural scenic sites in HuaShan.
HuaShan began to form about 70 million years ago from granite of the Mesozoic Era. The rock strata and the geographical formation of HuaShan indicate the evolution of the solid earth in the last 300 million years form the late Archean Era to the present geological period. Through analysis of this formation and isotope testing, sufficient evidence has been discovered in the area to reveal its long geological history-for example, the metamorphic rock at the foot of the mountain which is the oldest rock in this area, from the TaiHua group of the late Archean, and the huge granite formed about 220 to 100 million years ago in the five peaks. In front of HuaShan, there is a fault line extending East-West. It separates HuaShan form the Wei River Basin nearby. This fault structure was formed about 100-200 million years ago and not only served as the boundary beyond which HuaShan was lifted and the Wei River Basin subsided, but also explained the present geographical landforms of the mountain.
HuaShan is an outstanding example of a well-preserved eco-system. The vegetation has a typical vertical distribution due to the steepness of the mountain. Its diversity has made HuaShan an ideal site for the study and research of biological evolution and the geographical distribution of plants. Its plant species number 1200. The complexity and uniqueness of HuaShan?s environment is very favorable to the differentiation and the development of new species. There are five species endemic to HuaShan and fourteen quasi-unique species. Two species are on the list of plants under first category state protection, and 17 species belong to the second category. There are 474 species of medical plants on HuaShan, and about 200 species of these can easily be collected on the mountain. There are also over 90 species of mutations.
HuaShan is an ideal place for the study of plants and soil. Due to the joint landform of granite, the plants on HuaShan show the full process of the evolution from lichen-moss-shrubbery-tress. And the soil illustrates the changes from rock-sand-soil forming parent material-soil.
There are a large number of ancient trees on HuaShan. Some of them are very rare and are of considerable value in terms of appreciation of nature. 88 species are treated as either important or endangered and are now under special protection of the mountain management bureau. The joint landform of granite has contributed to the fascinating scenery of trees growing from rock and the rock blossoming with moss on the mountain.
HuaShan is inhabited by many species of wild animals.204 species of vertebrate animals have been recorded, belonging to 24 families and 65 orders. These include over 83 species of animals traditionally associated with Chinese medicine. There are122 species of birds, form 14 families and 36 orders, 52 types of mammals from 5 families and 17 orders, 20 species of amphibious reptiles, 9 species of fish and over 1500 species of insects belonging to about 20 families. 123 rare and valuable species have been recorded, including 3 on the list of first category state protection and 20 in the second category and one protected at Provincial level. There are also 15 species protected from trade by the Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES) 5listed in the first category and 10 in the second. HuaShan is also home to a particular subspecies of the Chinese tiger butterfly, considered of great academic importance.
HuaShan has also been an important cultural site for thousands of years. The area around HuaShan is one of the key regions where Chinese civilisation began. It was a place of sacrifice from the earliest times, and as the nearby city Xi'an was made capital to 13 dynasties in Chinese history, it was the main site of sacrifice for most Chinese emperors who wanted to lessen the hardships of travelling. In the spring and autumn and Warring States periods (770-221BC) many kingdoms fought for control of this mountain, and after the unification of the country, the First Emperor Qinshihuangdi made HuaShan the sacrificial site of the state. Ever since then, HuaShan was not treated as the symbol of the God, but also represented imperial power in the eyes of Chinese people. Legends say that the Chinese Ancestors ?the Yellow Emperor, the emperor Yao and Yu-had once climbed HuaShan on a pilgrimage. The Emperor Xuandi in the West Han dynasty made it a rule to undertake regular pilgrimage to the five Taoist Mountains and this practice was continued until the late Qing dynasty.
Archaeological excavations have revealed seven sites belonging to prehistory, and eight from the Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin and the Han periods. The remains of the great wall of the Wei State and the bacon tower on this site are 145 years older than the Great Wall of Qin period. Within the HuaShan Scenic Area, two historical sites are under state protection, namely the great wall of the Wei State and the Western Mountain temple; three sites are under provincial protection. The total number of cultural relics amount to 1500 sets and pieces.
HuaShan has over 300 pieces of stone tablets and about 570 rock inscriptions. The tradition of making stone tablets began to appear in the second century, and the carving of inscriptions on the rock started in the Song Dynasty approximately 1000 years ago. The stone tablet carved with the name of Western Mountain temple, inscribed in 165, is regarded as the No 1 piece in the Chinese official writing system. This piece is now a state treasure. The tablet cared with the same name by the Emperor of the Tang dynasty in 724 is the largest piece of this art in China. There are also many works of the most famous Chinese calligraphers and painters in Chinese history.
HuaShan houses some relatively large Chinese ancient buildings and their remains. They are good examples for research and study of the history of Taoism, the art of Chinese ancient architecture and the art of Taoist architecture. The Western Mountain temple, first built in the spring and autumn period, is the largest one in this area. The temple covers an area of 12000 square meters and is one of the biggest and earliest temples for sacrifice in mountain areas. It was built according to the scale of the second category of the imperial architecture. The outlook of this temple resembles the Forbidden City and was also called the Forbidden City in the Shanxi Province. The Jade Spring temple built about 1000 years ago, the Dong Tao temple and the Qinke temple built 1549 are good examples for the research of Chinese Taoism and Taoist architecture. Nowadays three Taoist temples in HuaShan have been listed as nationally famous Taoist temples, namely the Jade Spring temple, the Zhenyue Palace temple and the Dongdao temple. So far HuaShan has listed over 120 ancient architectures, including the temples, pavilions and caves.
HuaShan is increasingly well known all over the world for its profound Taoist culture. Records show that Taoist activities began to appear on HuaShan about 1800 years ago in the late East Han dynasty. After that many Taoists flocked here to pursue the Taoism. HuaShan is unique amongst the five great Taoist Mountains in that it is the only absolutely pure Taoist Mountain, free from the intrusion and presence of any other religions. Among the great Taoists associated with HuaShan is Mr. Chenchuan in the northern Song dynasty. He created a profound tradition of internal Alchemy and is honored as one of the Taoist Ancestors. He carved the diagram of the ultimateness into the rock face near where he medicated on the Inner Alchemy. The current president of China Taoism Association Mr. Min Zhitin started his Taoism training in HuaShan and was based here for several decades.
Across the whole mountain are scattered 72 caves and 21 remains of Taoist buildings. The caves are the ideal places for the Taoists to meditate since they are completely inaccessible to ordinary people. Taoism believes that the tranquility is an essential prerequisite to the exploration of the Tao.
Taoists in HuaShan have made great contributions to the Taoist development. Through their great efforts, a new and independent Taoist sect ---the HuaShan sect was formed. Generally, the Taoism is composed of the QuanZheng and Zhenyi; two major sects, The HuaShan sect is subordinate to the QuanZhen sect.