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Fangshan Mountain and the Ten Crossings

Fangshan County lies in the southwestern corner of the Beijing municipality. The Great Fangshan range winds its way through this county, its undulating peaks stretching far into the distance. Here there are many fine landscapes and places of historic interest, the most famous of which are described as follows:

Shangfang (Upper Square) Mountain

Shangfang Mountain, known in ancient times as Liupin Mountain, is a branch of the Great Fangshan range. It is situated some 75 kilometers southwest of Beijing and 20 kilometers from Zhoukoudian, the ancient home of Peking Man.

According to historical records, some time between 58 and 75 AD (Eastern Han Dynasty), a monk of the Huayan School named Huisheng built a number of pagodas and temples here, designating the area as center of Buddhist worship. Later, the buildings were renovated and 72 convents were constructed between nine grottoes and 12 peaks of the Shangfang Mountain, with the Tusita Temple (Doushuaisi) at their center. Sixteen of these convents are still standing today.

This area of imposing crags and gullies, and verdant woodland, scattered with fine buildings and temples has been a center of Buddhist activity for more than 1,000 years. Its famed beauty has inspired the saying: "In the south are Hangzhou and Suzhou, while in the north there is Shangfang Mountain." In 1949 the site was in a state of ruin and was overgrown with weeds, but following restoration it has become one of the finest historical sites in Beijing suburbs.

Setting out from Zhoukoudian, there are two possible routes to Shangfang Mountain, both of which pass through Gushankou. One route passes through Louzishui Village and Bazhaizi, while the other goes through wajing and Tiankai Village. The first route is shorter but steeper, making it the natural choice for mountaineers. In June 1980, the Fangshan County authorities constructed two mew roads to the east and west of the Yunshui (Clouds and Rivers) Grotto. The east road is tarred and can be used by vehicular traffic, while the western route is a footpath only.

Arriving at Gushankou, one can discern in the distance the uneven line of mist-covered peaks, the winding paths, the crags and sheer cliffs, the steep ravines and strange-shaped summits that form the Great Fangshan range. Closer by is a lush green woodland and the villages of Shangzhongyuan and Xiazhongyuan, fine resting places for the hike ahead.

Leaving Gushankou, one follows a path along the Shahe River to the entrance gate of the Temple of Welcome (Jiedai' an), the first of the 72 convents. From here, one has to turn northward and follow a twisting mountain path leading to the East and West Pigeon halls (Donggetang and Xigetang), where a number of different species of pigeons reside.

Crossing the Fragrant Water Lake (Xiangshuihu) and he Stinking Water Lake (Choushuihu), one comes to the Thunder-Cleaved Rock (Pileishi). According to local legend, a snake demon named Bare-Tailed Old Li came to Fangshan and committed many grave misdeeds. When the old Buddhist monk Huisheng discovered this, he admonished the snake demon, but it paid no heed and the two began to fight. The snake demon was no match mountain. The monk chased the demon to the Stairway to the Clouds (Yunti) and raised his hands, whereupon a tremendous clap of thunder and lightning split the mountain asunder. The snake demon was beginning to weaken and when it arrived at Sweating Ridge (Fahanling), lightened its burden by discharging all of the stolen stinking water. The monk continued chasing after it and the snake demon, finding no means of escape, discharged the fragrant water as well. Hence to this day there are two springs, one stinking and one fragrant, which continue to flow al year round. This fairy tale is depicted on a wall in the Hall of the Dipper Spring (Yidouquan).

Sharp crags flank the path, which crosses the Sweating Ridge, and abrupt cliff faces that tower up to s height of over 30 meters. A stairway of over 100 steps (said to have been constructed by the Ming eunuch Feng Bao) has been cut into the rock, and a steel cable aids climbers in their ascent. At the top of this Stairway to the Clouds, there is a convent of the same name, which was built in the Ming Dynasty. The convent contains a fine collection of ancient art and images of the Buddha.

Heading north from the Convent of the Stairway to the Clouds and crossing the Kuanlong Bridge, one will come to another gateway. Nearby, one can visit the Mingled Fragrances Convent (Banxiang' an), the Pagoda Courtyard (Tayuan), the Ten Square Courtyard (Shifangyuan), the Ksitigarbha Hall (Dizangdian), and the Seaview Convent (Wanghaidian), before going on to the Shangfang Temple.

The Pagoda Courtyard contains numerous pagodas said to hold the remains of Buddhist monks. One pagoda, dating from 1070 (Liao Dynasty), displays a stone tablet which reads: "Here lies Cao Chang who dwelt on his mountain for 30 years and ordained over 200,000 monks. He passed away in 1070."

Heading northwest, one will pass the Convent That Faces the Sun (Chaoyang' an) before coming to the Sea view Convent (Wanghai' an). In its courtyard is the famous old"King of Cypresses" with a trunk of over five meters in circumference. Turning east from here and crossing a lush bamboo thicket, one comes to the Manjusri Hall (Wenshudian), where there are over 20 finely sculpted Buddhs images.

The Shangfang Temple, situated near the central peak of the mountain range, is the most important of the 72 convents. It is surrounded by many other buildings- the Abbot's Courtyard (Fangzhangyuan), the Hall of Quiet Return (Qingguidian), the Great Kitchen (Dachufang), and the monks' dwellings. The majority of these buildings date from the Ming Dynasty. Although many of the wooden beams were repainted in the Qing Dynasty, the style remains typical of the earlier period.

At the Convent of Retreat (Tuiju' an) and the Hall of the Dipper Spring (Yidouquan), the scenery begins to change. Splendid architecture is no longer to be seen and the sounds of the wind in the pine trees and chirping of birds have disappeared. Instead, simple buildings constructed in the form of local residences surround one. The Hall of the Dipper Spring and the Great Bell Tower (Dazhonglou) complement each other, the former standing at the foot of the steep slope and the latter on the very summit of the crag. Although there is a small natural pathway connecting the two, it is necessary to scramble through trees and vines to get to the top. The large bell in the Great bell Tower, still in perfect condition, weighs some 1,500 kilograms and is 2.5 meters high. How did people in ancient times manage to transport such a huge bell up this mountain? Perhaps by laying a path of ice and sledding the bell up the mountain. Of the nine grottoes of Shangfang Mountain, Yunshui Grotto is surely the most exotic; and of the 12 peaks, Tianzhu Peak is the steepest and most rugged-to this day, it has no road to climb.

The Yunshui (Clouds and Rivers) Grotto

The Yunhui Grotto lies on the western slopes of Shangfang Mountain, about eight kilometers from the Tusita Temple. In front of the cave entrance stands the Convent of Great Compassion (Dabei' an), which dates from the Ming Dynasty. Its main hall contains a number of Ming wall paintings. The life-like human figures stand 1.6 meters tall and are vivid.

The grotto opens onto a natural cavern six meters high, though the height of the ceiling in the rest of the grotto varies greatly. Over thousands of years, the cave walls have gradually dissolved into strange and wonderful natural shapes, some of which resemble familiar things. These have been given appropriate names, such as "Crouching Tiger Mountain," "Elephant Bearing a precious Jar," "Watermelon Patch" and "Snow-Flake Mountain."

Two "dragons" guard the entrance to this grotto. Entering into the grotto, one will come upon a crouching "tiger" which looks ready to pounce at any moment. Further on, one will discover the figure of a "sprightly old gentleman" with long eyebrows hanging down from his forehead, sitting alone on the rocks. "Bell Towers" and "Drum Towers" rise from the floor and hang from the ceiling. When struck, these stalagmites and stalactites produce the sounds of bells, drums and the Buddhist "wooden fish" wood blocks, which are struck to accompany the chanting of scriptures. Proceeding further amidst the echoes of this strange music, one will arrive at the "Mountain of Gongs," a group of stalactites which vibrate like stone chimes when struck lightly, but which sound like Chinese gongs when struck harder. Hanging from the roof of the cave are large, broad stalactites, which resemble the long cloth banners, suspended from the ceilings of Buddhist temples. Other forms inside the cave include "The Goddess of Mercy Explaining the Buddhist Cannon," "The Precious Snake Jar" and "The 18 Arhats."

The grotto is a total of 600 meters long and consists of seven consecutive caverns. In February 1980, the Fangshan County government built a road to the grotto, widened the walkway inside the cave and illuminated it with colored lights.

The Mountain of Stone Scriptures (Shijingshan)

It takes approximately three hours to walk along the mountain path that leads from Shangfang Mountain to the Mountain of Stone Scriptures. It is also possible to go via Tiankai Village and through Changgou, yet this route is slightly longer.

The Mountain of Stone Scriptures was originally called White belt Mountain (Baidaishan) and later Little Western Heaven (Xiaoxitian). The "Fangshan Stone Scriptures" found on this mountain is the only complete set of texts of the Buddhist cannon carved on stone slabs in China. This outstanding feat of craftsmanship dates back 1,000-odd years the earliest of the Fangshan Stone Scriptures are from the Sui Dynasty and the latest from the Ming Dynasty. Rubbings taken from the inscriptions are preserved in the Guangji Temple in Beijing.

The inscribed stone tablets are found in nine caves which face the Cloud Residence Temple (Yunjusi) on the eastern peak, and a number of other tablets are buried underground. The nine caves are situated about half way up the mountain and are on two levels, the upper level containing seven caves and the lower only two. The latter two caves along contain nearly 2,000 tablets. Of these, the Buddhist priest Jing Wan in the Sui Dynasty carved a small number, while the rest were completed in the Liao Dynasty. The fifth cave on the upper level is the largest and its contents are rich. Called the "Roar of Thunder Cave"(Leiyindong), it contains four unevenly hewn octagonal stone pillars on which 1,806 statues of the Buddha have been carved. The four walls of the cave are covered with 77 different Buddhist inscriptions, including the Diamond Sutra and Lotus Sutra, which, apart from a few inscriptions carved in the Yuan Dynasty, were executed by Jing Wan. In 1956, the Buddhist Association of China took a complete set of rubbings of these inscriptions.

On the top of the mountain here stands a single story stone pagoda carved with a five-line inscription. Built in the year 898 during the Tang Dynasty, both its architecture and the carvings on its walls are particularly fine.

The Ruins of the Cloud Residence Temple (Yunjusi)

The Cloud Residence Temple stands within the walls of a small cemetery in Shangle People' s Commune in Fangshan County. It is perched on the slope of the White Belt Mountain (Baidaishan) at a distance of about 75 kilometers from Beijing. Vermilion Mountain (Zhushan) forms a backdrop to the temple.

According to Tang Dynasty records, the Cloud Residence Temple was built in the early seventh century by the Buddhist monk Jing Wan, after a violent flood which brought with it thousands of tree trunks later used in the construction. After the monk's death, his disciples took over the temple. In spite of the damage wrought by wars and strife over the centuries, the temple was rebuilt in the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. In 1940, it was severely damaged by Japanese troops and in the Ming and Qing dynasties sections were entirely razed. The Southern Pagoda, dating from the Liao Dynasty, was also damaged, along with the fine treasures it contained. Among the ruins of the Cloud Residence Temple there are still, however, many points of interest.

By entering the white marble arched gateway and climbing gradually upward, one can easily imagine the former glory and splendor of the temple buildings. The original temple had five central courtyards and six great halls, with further auxiliary halls, imperial lodges and monks' dwellings adjoining them.

The Cloud Residence Temple was designated as a holy Buddhist shrine for the Hebei Province area. At its height, the temple was occupied by as many as 100 monks. A part from the fame of the carved stone scriptures, in particular two still stand to the north and south of the temple. The Southern Pagoda is octagonal with 11 stories and pointed eaves, and is constructed of brick. Buried under the pagoda is a depository of Buddhist scriptures. Hence the pagoda is also known as the "Pagoda that Covers the Scriptures." It was built in 1117 in the Liao Dynasty.

The Northern Pagoda, also built in the Liao Dynasty, was originally called the Buddhist Shrine, but was later named the Argats' Pagoda (Luohanta). Because the pagoda is painted red, it is also known locally as the Red Pagoda. The bottom half of the pagoda is octagonal with bracketed eaves and carved niches. On its four sides are arched entrances and false windows. The upper half of the pagoda is cone-shaped and decorated with nine circular bands. It is surrounded by smaller stone pagodas dating from the Tang Dynasty, several of which resemble the Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi' an. There are fine carved inscriptions on both sides of the pagoda doors.

After the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, extensive excavation and restoration work was carried out on the stone tablets inscribed with Buddhist scriptures in the Cloud Residence Temple. Today, a total of 14,278 pieces of stone tablets are distributed among the nine caves on the Mountain of Stone Scriptures and the depository at the temple.

In 1961, the State Council classified the ruins of the Cloud Residence Temple, the Liao and Tang pagodas and the Buddhist scripture caves as national historic sites. The Liao Dynasty Northern Pagoda was repaired and a depository to preserve the stone scriptures was built.

The Stone Buddha Cave (Shifodong)

The Stone Buddha Cave is a cavern of karst rock situated at the foot of Danan Mountain near South Cheying Village in the hebei People's Commune. It is over 700 meters in length and, according to legend, once contained 10 stone statues of the Buddha from which it acquires its name. The cave contains many strange and varied rock formations that rival in beauty those of the Yunshui (Clouds and Rivers) Grotto.

Though the question as to whether or not stone Buddhas ever stood in the cave remains unanswered, the cave does have an enchanting fairy tale attached to it: Once upon a time, there was a black dragon which lived in the Black Dragon Pass (Fangshan County). This dragon took a beautiful local village girl to be his wife and they lived a contented life together. Some time later, however, a white dragon crossing through the Black Dragon Pass took an interest in the fine land here and decided to claim some of it for himself. Of course, the black dragon would not concede his land and entered into a terrible battle with the impostor. The black dragon's father-in-law, realizing that the black dragon could not defeat his opponent, shot an arrow and injured the white dragon. The latter made a terrible cry, leaped into the air and then fled into the Stone Buddha Cave.

The Stone Buddha Cave contains six different caverns. To gain access to the cave, one must first walk through a tunnel 20 meters long, the entrance of which is guarded by a stone lion. Following along the tunnel, the route gradually widens into a large cavern with a high domed roof and a smooth floor, filled with a veritable forest of fantastically shaped stalactites and stalagmites. In the lamplight, the rocks take on a rosy tint and their variegated contours become apparent-one can easily imagine oneself among a bevy of dancing fairies.

To get to the second cavern it is necessary to slip through a narrow crevice, which leads to a flat, raised platform and a much larger flat area beneath it. This cavern contains many strange jagged rock formations and a group of stalactites with countless cascading forms, which resemble a waterfall.

By turning left on the raised platform and walking around a deep underground spring, one comes to the third cavern. At the cavern entrance there are two large rocks, one hanging down from the roof and shaped like candied cherries-on-a-stick, and the other a formation of two contiguous rocks, one resembling a dragon's claw and the other the crest of a wave which is called "The Dragon Entering the Sea." To the right, there are numerous flat-topped stone pillars of many different sizes and on the left wall of the cavern, a pillar over 10 meters high which appears like a great glacier inching its way downward. This is appropriately named "The Tianshan Glacier." On the opposite side of the cave is a grotto before which stalactites are suspended like a watery screen. Between these two groups of formations, four gigantic pillars are arranged in line like the four great warrior attendants of the Buddaha (Devarajas). Going through a narrow passageway, one comes to the fourth cavern.

Here one will notice a narrow underground"chimney"40 meters long, through which the legendary white dragon is reputed to have entered the cave. The hollow at the bottom of the chimney is even larger than the Stone Buddha Cave and it too contains many fantastically shaped stalagmites and stalactites. However, since the "chimney" is extremely steep, few visitors are able to descend through it.

To the left of the"chimney"there is a sloping area. By climbing up the slope and passing through a narrow chink, one will discover the fifth cavern, which resembles a small mountain slope. The rocks on the slope have been worn smooth by running water, which has created small gullies in the stone. The slope is known as the"Ox Trough."

Climbing to the top of the slope will take you to the sixth cavern. The roof and floor of this cavern contain several dozen hollows, which have small mouths but are spacious inside. Their resemblance to earthenware jugs has given them the name,"Jugs of Heaven and Earth."The countless stalactites hanging from the ceiling of these hollows resemble mountain peaks reflected on the surface of a lake.

"Ten Crossings"(Shidu)

The "Ten Crossings" are situated about 100 kilometers to the southwest of Beijing on the upper reaches of the Juma River. To get from Zhangfang to "Ten Crossings" Village it is necessary to cross the Juma River 10 times, which is how the spot acquired its name.

The Juma River flows out of the mountains at the village of Zhangfang, 20 kilometers from Zhoukoudian. The entire valley, which begins at the village, is filled with sparkling streams, for apart from the Juma River itself which serpents its way through the valley, the marshy swampland of the valley floor is also traversed by brimming tributary streams and gushing springs which descend from the mountainside.

One makes the first of the"Ten Crossings"upon entering the river valley and crossing the bridge. By following the path that winds around the mountains, one will come to the second bridge. The path continues to meander in this manner, crossing the stream a total of 10 times.

Traffic: Bus No. 917 and Tourist Bus No. 10 go there each day from Tianqiao and Qianmen Bus 17 terminus;

Tel: 86-10-61340841 (Chinese language only).


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