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Wudang Shan
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Wudang Shan's (Wǔdāng Shān, 武当山) legendary martial arts have inspired numerous kung-fu filmmakers and hip-hop mastermind RZA of the Wutang Clan—not to mention many centuries of Chinese poets, artists and wushu practitioners. And though the Wudang legend is better known today than is the actual mountain range, that's slowly changing.

A former retreat of emperors, a training ground for monks and a refuge of rebels and bandits, Wudang Shan's 72 pinnacles, studded with Taoist temples just as they have been since the the Tang Dynasty, are becoming increasingly popular with hikers, cultural tourists and, of course, martial arts enthusiasts.  

Best known for its martial arts, which command at least as much respect as those of Henan's Shaolin Temple, Wudang Shan's monks teach martial arts to students from around the world interested in Wudang boxing, from which the internal form Taiqiquan is derived.

Those who don't come to the mountain to learn kung fu will still appreciate the area's considerable natural and historical endowments. The hike up to the top of Tianzhu Peak is breathtaking, both literally and figuratively. The entire trail is paved with steps and dotted with bridges criss-crossing pretty rivulets. You'll come across several temples and stunning viewpoints offering increasingly majestic vantages over Wudang's many peaks on the way up too. 

Days can be spent exploring temples and fortresses perched on cliffs, in places like Nanyan Temple and the Purple Cloud Palace, where you can enjoy free tea tastings, observe Taoist ceremonies and take some stunning photographs. 

While in the area you'll also have the chance to haggle over swords and other kung fu memorabilia, see plenty of fauna and flora, take cable car rides, get your palms read by traditional Chinese hand doctors and get treated by the area's renowned blind masseur.

Hubei guide | Wudang Shan attractions
Wudang Shan flights (Wuhan) | Wudang Shan hotels
Wudang Shan on the China Travel Blog

History

Wudang's contributions to the world of kung fu go beyond inspiring films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the scores of tales that make up China's Wuxia genre of fiction. They begin with the immortal, spear-whiskered, Song-dynasty monk Zhang Sanfeng. The technique came to him in a moment of divine inspiration after watching a heated battle between a snake and magpie.

Zhang noted how the magpie's stance and long beak should have given it an advantage over the reptile, but in the end, didn't. This revealed to him the nature of neijia, an internal force used to control "action" with "inaction." The snake’s constant sinuous movements confounded the bird, allowing it to elude every strike. Exhausted, the magpie succumbed to the snake's single, precisely-timed venomous bite.

Wudang's kung fu would prove indispensable to its resident monks, who shared the mountains with vast numbers of outlaws over the centuries. One of these, Li Zicheng—a peasant soldier advocating the repeal of the grain tax—took advantage of the Chongzhen Emperor’s preoccupation with Manchu aggression to launch the attack that would end the Ming Dynasty. The rule of the "thunder king" wouldn't last long. With the Great Wall undefended, the vast Manchu army would soon take over.

Much later, the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, with its emphasis on the destruction of religion and other "old culture," was especially damaging to China's martial arts traditions. Many great masters were executed, and many great traditions lost. During this period, Wudang's monasteries were emptied, damaged and then neglected. However, Wudang's temples were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and since then tourism, and religion, have once again begun to bloom.

Climate

Hubei’s climate is subtropical and subject to monsoons, however, the Wudang Mountains often have a capricious influence on the weather, and as such have earned the area a reputation for unpredictability. If you visit Wudang Shan, be prepared for heat, rain or chill. You could experience them all in one day.

Hubei guide | Wudang Shan attractions
Wudang Shan flights (Wuhan) | Wudang Shan hotels
Wudang Shan on the China Travel Blog