Must-see on Mianshan Mountain: Sky Bridge

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Cliff-side architecture is perhaps the most prominent feature of Mianshan Mountain. Nearly all the temples, hotels, and restaurants in the scenic area are built into the sides of cliffs. There is also a bridge built along the cliff face there known as the Sky Bridge. The Sky Bridge is a plank road suspended over 200 meters from the mountaintop and over 300 meters from the bottom of a gorge. The walkway is over 300 meters long and less than one meter wide. When it is surrounded by the clouds and mist that often drape Mianshan, people strolling on the bridge will see the clouds floating below their feet and feel as if they are flying like the immortals.

When one stands at the bottom of the mountain and looks up to Sky Bridge, the walkway looks like a giant dragon winding its way around Mianshan that seems as if it might break loose from the mountain and soar into the sky.

Sky Bridge was first built by Shi Le (274–333 A.D.), who was emperor of the state of Later Zhao. He was an almost mythical ruler who rose from a slave to an emperor. The emperor established Mianshan as his base when he realized the steepness of the slopes there could not be easily scaled. From Mianshan, he launched a campaign during which he conquered Henan and Shandong Provinces before moving on to capture the state of Xiang and make it his new headquarters. He later took northern Anhui Province and seized hold of Shaanxi and Gansu Provinces, eventually unifying China and becoming the emperor. At the right end of Sky Bridge are the relics of the Shi Fortress ("Shi" also means "stone" in Chinese) built by Shi Le.

Shi Village was built onto a mountain crag with sheer drops on three sides and as such was the most steep and dangerous military fortress in China. It was first built during the reign of Emperor Hui of Jin. Shi Village was. Behind it, there are intricate ravines, natural barriers, three lines of defense and a maze. All of these made the fortress unbreakable and impregnable. Now there are many historic treasures on display here such as the Eight Diagrams, books of tactics, weapons and documents used by Shi, edicts in which Shi Le ordered the construction of the Temple of Jie Zitui and the revival of the Cold Food Festival, as well as the statue of Shi Le commissioned by Shi Hong, Emperor Ming of Later Zhao. The military culture of two Jin dynasty states is carefully preserved here.

Another legend about Sky Bridge states that Jie Zitui went there with his mother and saw auspicious clouds up there, so he went to site of Sky Bridge to pay homage. When he arrived, he discovered that this was a place where the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord (the Grand Pure One) practiced Taoism and made elixirs. The Lord of Primordial Beginning (the Jade Pure One) and the Lord of Numinous Treasure (the Supreme Pure One) also went there very often to discuss their actions and interventions in the world with each other. The guardian deity for the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord was a jade dragon, which circled the sacred place to guard it. This was supposedly the origin of the bridge. Because the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord practiced Taoism and made elixirs at the site of Sky Bridge, many other immortals also visited the spot.

The Dongshen Palace is the main structure at the level level of the Sky Bridge scenic spot complex. It is the divine palace of the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord and is said to have been built by Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong Li Shimin. The emperors of Tang dynasty, who were surnamed Li, worshiped Laozi as their ancestor and deeply respected Taoism because the personal name of Laozi, the founder of philosophical Taoism, is Li Er. In the center of shrine, the statue of the Honored Lord of the Tao and the Virtue, aka Laozi, sits on the Sumeru Lotus Seat. A fire screen stands behind the statue, which is flanked by golden servant children. According to Taoist myth, the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord had 81 incarnations in the mortal world, of which Laozi is the 15th. The wall of the shrine is covered with a vivid and brilliant painting of all 81 incarnations of the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord.

The Eight Diagrams Furnace that stands in the temple complex below Sky Bridge is said to be the one that the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord used to make magical elixirs. Two divine beasts are depicted on each side of the furnace. On the left it is Baize, which has a tiger’s head, a dragon’s claws and a phoenix’s tail. On the right is Suan’ni, which has a dragon’s head, a fish’s body and a dragon’s horns. They both guard the elixir furnace.

On the right side of the Dongshen Palace is the Hall of Ancient Masters, which enshrines 10 statues of the Five Southern Ancient Masters and the Five Northern Ancient Masters. On the left side of the Dongshen Palace is the Hall of Seven Immortals and the Hall of the Immortals, which enshrine seven chief immortals and other immortals. One can go up the stairways beside both the Hall of Ancient Masters and the Hall of Seven Immortals in order to get up to the Sky Bridge.

But why are ancient masters and immortals worshiped in a place that was sacred to the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord? During the reign of the Ming dynasty’s Emperor Shenzong, Jiexiu, Fenyang, Lingshi and many other places near Mianshan were suffering from plagues, and many people died. A Taoist master and dignitary named Fan Rong performed rites and prayed to heaven while the Ancient Masters and Seven Immortals happened to be here. The deities used their powers to vanquish the plagues, so the local people donated money to build shrines and renovate the statues at Sky Bridge to express their gratitude.

A long cave below Sky Bridge contains statues of all 81 incarnations of the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord as well as statues of four ancient Chinese inventors: Zhang Liang, the strategist of, the Han dynasty’s Emperor Gaozu, Liu Bang; Zhu Geliang, the chancellor who assisted Liu Bei, ruler of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period; Li Chunfeng, the Chinese mathematician, astronomer, and historian from the Tang dynasty; and Liu Bowen, military strategist and main advisor to Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty. All of them are honored there because they famously meditated at the site. The second level of the Sky Bridge is the cultural exhibition hall displaying precious historic relics such as edicts, memos, poems and rubbings from tablet inscriptions by Tang dynasty emperors and officials.

Upon reaching the Sky Bridge cliff-side walkway, visitors will see a marvelous stone called Sumeru Stone, which is said to have flown from Sumeru Mountain, the source of all being and the center of the world and the universe in Buddhist cosmology. According to the legend, this stone was once incarnated as a young boy who traveled around the world, but when he reached Mianshan and saw the wonder of the landscapes and temples there, he could not bring himself to leave the place. An old Taoist master at Mianshan discovered who the boy was and returned him to his original form as a stone, and it has remained there ever since.

At the top of Sky Bridge is a small pavilion called the Book-Giving Pavilion. According to legend, in the Northern Wei dynasty, the Taoist master Kou Qianzhi came to Mianshan to practice Taoism and write a religious tract. He believed that his text was actually given to him by the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord, so he asked people to build a small pavilion at Sky Bridge to commemorate the Grand Supreme Elderly Lord’s gift.

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