Wu Dang Shan Temples: Fantasy v. Reality

September 14

Initially, I chose to come to Wu Dang Shan (rather than other sights in China) because I wanted to participate in the culture—by way of doing tai chi. But let’s not neglect the fact that sight-seeing is part of the appeal here, too. Come along and enjoy the scenery that is also the history at Wu Dang Shan, stretching way back and housed in a series of Taoist temples, one of which is used by my school.

Revealed here is that the lines between the past and present; the artistic and the real are beautifully woven on this mountain…

Taoism is quite similar to Buddhism, another version of the Eastern spiritual practices of meditation and harmony with all that exists. For more info, here’s the wikipedia link: Just make sure to click it after you finish this article. 😉

The first of these Wu Dang temples was built around the year 0.

Straight out of a movie, isn't it?

(By the way, that “movie” hint is a foreshadow.)

We, the students and teachers, made a couple trips out here to this temple—-it was up the curvy road only a few miles. One time, the staff really encouraged me to come (maybe because I’m a Westerner and there was quite a crowd at the temple.) It appeared to be some kind of press event as there were many folks with cameras.

Yes, from the city to the mountains, from last August to this July, the Chinese always liked showing me off as an ornament. What the heck; I did my best for ’em. And the event didn’t disappoint.

First some simple stuff:

Then the men separated themselves from the boys:

The headmaster, now airborne, with another teacher--the one who got upset with me last post.

Off camera, I got to play around:

well, off most of the cameras, anyway.

Here were a couple of my younger tai chi peers:

They were also English students of mine while I was here.

The whole setting—the landscapes, and temples, and martial arts masters—feels so fairytale. Of course, I was out of my element. But for the locals, these fairytales maintain their place as the arts and customs are still pronounced in everyday life.

For example…

The second part of the “show” was a ceremony taking place this afternoon. Another student, the one to the left in that picture above, was graduating to discipleship.

The ceremony:

Our headmaster addresses the new disciple.

Elders look on:

She will be training under the tutelage of a new teacher, proud to have his first disciple:

And then what every good disciple does: tends to their teacher’s feet:

Along with the formal bows and gestures there were resonant “boonnggssss” from a stately, cool, and solid bronze bell. Who knows how old that bell was; same with the origins of this ceremony. The press sort of turned it into a spectacle, but the actors didn’t seem to notice. It was a solemn and proud event.

It revealed that though communism stripped much of the country of its religious tradition, here on Wu Dang Shan, culture proved stronger than political ideology. Thankfully it’s difficult to separate a people from 2000 years of history.

Here’s a bit of video of the ceremony:

Lastly, and aside from the usual interplay of reality and art here, there was, coincidentally, another wrinkle in this continuum that overlaps the two.

A movie was being shot in one of the buildings below!

I got the feeling these fellas were extras, soldiers or something in this period piece.

Here’s a quick note about Chinese movies. I swear half are about their old kingdoms and empires; the other half depict their battles with Japan in the 1930’s and 40’s.

Me and a couple movie stars.

Man! Suddenly my analogies of performers and actors and fairy tales was kicked up a notch—or maybe shifted over a few ticks. I don’t even know how to express the strange ball of yarn that was the real actors on this set v. the actors of the real during the ceremony; the cameramen depicting reality in the ceremony v. the cameramen re-creating the historic reality for the movie. Then there’s the living history of these temple walls and present-day customs v. the raising of the past ways for present-day audiences to relive.

I guess I can say that this was all a bit surreal.

And may you live out your fantasies, Readers: as imaginative as a child, as present and grounded as a Taoist.

to new plateaus,



Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

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One response to “Wu Dang Shan Temples: Fantasy v. Reality

  1. Lander

    March 21, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Hi Brandon!

    Remember me? I am the other “laowai” who also went to Wudang-Shan the same day! (take a look to the pictures of this post). I was surfing the net searching for “Wudang Shan” when suddenly I saw the photos. Are you still teaching English in China? Do you still keep contact with your friend from Chongqing?
    Will you be back to learn taiji to Wudang?

    Enjoy life keeping the balance!