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About 13 kilometers southeast of Dengfeng stands an astronomical observatory built in the late 13th century. As the earliest of its kind in China, and also one of the first astronomical constructions in the world, the observatory was used to measure the length of the sun’s shadow so as to get an overall picture of the changing weather for each agriculture-related jieqi (24 divisions of the lunar year). Guo Shoujing, the notable 13th century astronomer, used this simple but practical equipment to establish the length of the sun’s shadow at the summer solstice, the height of the North Star above the horizon, and the precise length of day and night. It was here that he formulated the Shoushili – the world’s most advanced calendar system, and calculated the year to be 365 days 5:49:12, only 26 seconds off the actual time of 365 days 5:48:46 as computed by modern science.

Spiritual Magnet

Situated in the “Center of Heaven and Earth” region, Mount Song is extolled as a “Sacred Mountain.” Here all three major cultural ideologies – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism – established temples from which to spread the ideas they espoused.

Songyang Academy, built in 484, was a type of higher educational institute in ancient China and got its name from its location on the southern slope of Mount Song. In the 11th century many prominent thinkers, men of letters and historians came here: the likes of Sima Guang, Fan Zhongyan, Cheng Yi, and Cheng Hao gave lectures, giving the academy a stellar reputation. By transmitting wisdom, imparting knowledge and resolving doubts, Songyang made great achievements in education and became one of the most famous academies in China. Through the ages, countless renovation and expansion projects took place. The majority of the present structures, plain but elegant, date from the 18th century. The precious Datang Tablet, bearing inscriptions of famous calligrapher Xu Hao (703-782), stands intact.

Mount Song is also an important Taoist center and a magnet for pilgrims. Taoism, an indigenous religion deriving from ancient nature worship, holds that the “Tao,” or Way, is the origin of the universe. Zhongyue Temple, whose origins go back more than 2,700 years, is the most important Taoist temple on the mountain. Here emperors would offer sacrifices and pay homage to Heaven and Earth. Zhongyue Temple is 650 meters from north to south and 166 meters from east to west, occupying an area of nearly 110,000 square meters. In 1644 a major conflagration burned the temple to the ground. The existing buildings, rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries, copy Beijing’s Forbidden City to some extent, reflecting the style of official architecture. Zhongyue Temple is the largest ancient architectural complex for ritual use in the country. It reflects hierarchy and status, and embodies the profound influence of Confucian culture on the overall layout of building complexes in ancient China. The Taoist buildings of Mount Song are an important base from which to enjoy and study associated history and arts, including the stone-carved Taishique, Shaoshique and Qimuque towers with their exquisitely carved and well preserved images and characters.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us