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Wutai Mountain

(Please click for enlarged image)


The object image

Figure 1


The object image

Figure 2

The object image


Figure 3






The object image

Figure 4

The object image

Figure 5


Mogao Cave 61
Five Dynasties period
Copy by Li Zhenfu and Wan Gengyu

Wutai Mountain (literally Five-Terrace Mountain) is one of the four most famous Buddhist sacred mountains in China, located in the northeastern part of Shanxi province. During the period when Dunhuang was under Tibetan rule (around the mid Tang dynasty), paintings depicting the landscape of Wutai Mountain were brought to the northwestern regions. Murals at Dunhuang began to take up this theme. During the period when Dunhuang was governed by the Cao family, a huge mural depicting Wutai Mountain was painted in Cave 61. The original mural is 3.42 metres tall and 13.4 metres wide. It affords a glimpse of the temple designs of the late Tang and Five Dynasties periods. The highest peak in the painting is labelled as ‘Summit of Middle Terrace'. The other four peaks representing the East Terrace, South Terrace, West Terrace and North Terrace are also respectively labelled. This is the mural consists of the largest number of buildings among all murals at Dunhuang. It is also the largest surviving example of ancient topographic map in China.

This painting is a copy of the right section of the mural in Cave 61 showing a panorama view of Wutai Mountain. It presents a bird's-eye view of the landscape stretching from Zhenzhou of the Hebei Circuit (present-day Zhengding county in Hebei) to Dafoguangsi (Great Foguang Temple) up on Wutai Mountain. The landscape labelled as ‘Summit of East Terrace' on the upper part of the painting is interspersed with many small temples, straw huts and Buddhist sacred sites. Depicted in the centre are the major temples represented by Dafahuasi (Great Fahua Temple, so inscribed in the cartouche) and Dafoguangsi (Great Foguang Temple, so inscribed in the cartouche). The lower part consists of sceneries along the route extending from Zhenzhou of the Hebei Circuit to Wutai Mountain, portraying a great variety of travellers and shops along the route leading up to the mountains. The social scenario of the time is well reflected in the painting.

Selected Images

Dafoguangsi: This temple was built during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen (471 – 499) of the Northern Wei period and reconstructed in the 11th year of the Dazhong reign of the Emperor Xuanzong (857) of the Tang dynasty. The Grand Hall of this temple is still well preserved. As seen in the painting, the temple is in the form of a rectangular enclosure surrounded by verandahs, with turrets at the four corners, a tower over the entrance gate, and a grand hall with double-eaved roof inside the precinct. The worshipping hall in the painting differs in form from the surviving single-storeyed and seven-bayed grand hall presently existing in the temple. This is probably the appearance of the temple prior to the catastrophic suppression of Buddhism that took place in the 5th year of the Huichang reign (845) of the Tang dynasty. (Figure 1)

Longquan Inn: The name of the inn is inscribed in the cartouche. Two men are depicted as unhusking grains in front of a house. One of them is holding onto the toprail of the husking machine while his feet are treadling the lever to unhusk the grains. Another man is adding grains to the machine. The design of this husking machine is basically the same as those still used in the traditional villages in the New Territories of Hong Kong today. (Figure 2)

Xinrong Inn: This is probably an inn where envoys stayed. Two men are greeting the guests outside the inn. The man in the front is cupping his hands to welcome the guests while his attendant is standing behind him, holding a food tray in one hand and a wine bottle in the other. (Figure 3)

Lingkou Inn: The name of the inn is inscribed in the cartouche. Two men are pushing a grain mill outside the inn. (Figure 4)

Straw huts: These dome-shaped huts with arched entrance and a straw-knotted top are dwellings for religious practitioners. (Figure 5)