The venerable Shaolin Temple is both the ancestral home of Zen Buddhist teaching and the cradle of Shaolin martial arts. According to legend, Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, came to the Shaolin Temple after crossing the river on a bulrush leaf. He faced a wall for nine years of meditation and finally established Chan Buddhism, developed in Japan as Zen, thus making Shaolin the birthplace of this school. The Shizu Nunnery and Damo Cave relics echo this part of its history. To the west of the temple stands a “forest” of 232 pagodas – the reliquary stupas of eminent Shaolin abbots. In terms of numbers, area and relic value this is the biggest of its kind in China.
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism – though three different ideologies – merge with each other on Mount Song. The stele Three Religions and Nine Sects that stands before the Shaolin Temple’s Bell Tower portrays Sakyamuni, Confucius and Laozi and records “Three religions come from one root; Nine sects derive from one headstream; A hundred schools of thought are developed within the same theoretical system and all means and solutions are for one aim,” conveying the notion of integration and harmonious coexistence between the three teachings. Anyang Palace, where statues of Laozi, Goddess Nüwa, Bodhisattva Guanyin and Confucius stand, is primarily a Taoist temple, but also accommodates Buddhism and Confucianism. Mount Song is truly a religious melting pot.
Danxia in South China
Danxia landform is a term coined by geologist Chen Guoda, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Prof. Feng Jinglan in the 1920s from the eponymous mountain in Guangdong Province. Literally danxia means “rose-colored clouds” or “red rays of evening sunlight,” but it is a recognized earth science term for a typical Chinese landform characterized by red stone and steep-sided cliffs.
In fact, Danxia landform appears only in the Chinese geology glossary. Internationally, this kind of petrographic geomorphology is widely known as “Red Beds.” They are formed from hard and soft strata of reddish sedimentary rocks where erosion of the soft strata exposes the harder strata as steep cliffs, like red rays of sunlight.
There are 800 Danxia landform sites distributed widely across the southeast, southwest and the arid northwest of China. The six examples that made the UNESCO list this time are from six different provinces, all in humid areas of south China and falling within a narrow latitude band. High humidity and temperatures here mean that the Danxia evolve better, creating mountainscapes of fantastic scenic value.
Located in Shaoguan, in northern Guangdong, Mount Danxia consists of red clastic sandstone. Its classic landform features, great diversity of forms and grotesque shapes make this an iconic example of the formations in China. In 2004, it was ratified by UNESCO in its first batch of World Geoparks, and is also known as China Red Stone Park.
Mount Lang, located in Xinning County, southwestern Hunan, is home to some 60 Danxia sites in various forms, among them the “triangular belt,” “divided block” and “wall with side slopes.” The Danxia landforms here are very mature, so their geological evolution is apparent.