donderdag 1 augustus 2013

China, Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth”

Mount Songshang is considered to be the central sacred mountain of China. At the foot of this 1500 metre high mountain, close to the city of Dengfeng in Henan province and spread over a 40 square-kilometre circle, stand eight clusters of buildings and sites, including three Han Que gates - remains of the oldest religious edifices in China -, temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory. Constructed over the course of nine dynasties, these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the centre of heaven and earth and the power of the mountain as a centre for religious devotion. The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology and education.

Evidence for human occupation around the mountain dates back to Palaeolithic times with rich finds in, for instance, the Zhiji cave. During the Neolithic period, the mountain had one of the most advanced cultures in China, as demonstrated by finds related to the Longshan culture at Wangchenggang in Dengfeng. This evolved into the beginnings of what are seen as the earliest states in China and the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties - some of whose capitals, including Yangcheng, were around Mount Songshan. One of the two capitals of the Xia Dynasty was at Wangchenggang.
During the first few centuries after Buddhism was introduced into China in the Han Dynasty, many Buddhist temples were established around Mount Songshan, including Songyue, Shaolin and Huishan, and the Chan sect was spread from the Shaolin temple. The Region also played an important role in the development of Taoism.
The Buddhist temples as well as being associated with the dissemination of Buddhism are said to have had their historical significance heightened by their proximity to the centre of heaven and earth and to one of the later capitals, the city of Luoyi and to the beautiful landscape.
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Empress Wu decreed the god of Mount Songshan to be the ‘Emperor of Central Heaven', whilst Emperor Xuanzong nominated the god as ‘King of Central Heaven' and expanded the Zhongyue temple.
In the Song (960-1279) and Jin dynasties (1115-1234) there was further imperial support that led to rapid development of religions and temples and also the creation of the Academy of Classical Learning. The Yuan Dynasty saw the creation of 44 pagodas as well as the building of the Observatory.
In the Ming Dynasty (1365-1644) the religious structures reached their greatest extent and prosperity and nine halls and 143 pagodas still survive from this period. It was in this period that the concept of the centre of earth was abandoned as western ideas about a spherical earth were adopted.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), buildings were renovated or rebuilt and there are now more Qing structures than from any other dynasty, including 34 temple buildings. Construction came to an end during the Republic of China.
For around 2,000 years the process of building and rebuilding temples continued, even though the capitals of the dynasties since the 3rd century BCE had not been around Mount Songshan. Sixty-eight rulers visited the mountain, or sent their deputies to offer sacrifices, and men of letters, scholars and eminent monks were attracted to live in the religious establishments and in some cases commissioned buildings.
The area thus retained its influence not just for its association with a sacred mountain or for its association with the concept of the centre of heaven and earth in astronomical terms, but also due to Dengfeng being at the heart of the country and thus associated with the soul of China.

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