Lushan National Park
Lushan National Park is a cultural landscape known for its natural beauty. It has inspired many Chinese artists, writers, philosophers and scientists.
The Lushan world heritage site contains four kinds of cultural relics:
- archaeological sites.
- historic buildings.
- Chinese and foreign villas.
Map of Lushan National ParkLoad map
Time for my first review! I didn’t start writing my own reviews because a lot has been told about most of the WHSs by fellow WH lovers, and there’s really not much to add. Great job, guys! However, judging from the only reviews on Lushan by Els and Stanislaw, I suspect that most people might have missed the highlights of this site, and feel obliged to share my experience with it. Hopefully it will give you an alternative perspective of this great mountain that has become an integral part of Chinese culture over 2,000 years of history.
First, some background information. The name of Lushan was first used in Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian) around 94 BC, to describe the shape of the mountain as dwelling of the immortals. Since then, countless literary works have depicted and praised this mountain, and many architecture and inscriptions have been added to it. If there was tourism in ancient China, Lushan would have been a top 5 destination. Lushan served briefly as the summer capital of Republic of China in the 1930s and witnessed several important conferences of the Chinese Communist Party in the second half of the 20th century.
Before we start, I need to point out that tourism in Lushan is rather poorly administered and causes quite some confusion even for Chinese visitors. If you arrive by train, you should get off at the station of Jiujiang instead of the station of Lushan (a typical complexity caused by the division of administrative regions in China). Most of the sites mentioned in Lushan’s OUV synthesis are outside its main tourist area, which is probably why many people failed to understand its importance. You might enjoy hiking in the main area, but Lushan has much more to offer than some 20th century Chinese political anecdotes. Unfortunately, most people never found out about that because there’s little information.
I spent two days in Lushan, but I never set foot in the main tourist area. It sounds weird, but I absolutely had no interest in the love story of Chiang Kai-shek or the details of CCP politics. So, I decided to explore the sites that embody traditional Chinese culture on the periphery of Lushan.
On the first day, in order to reach the remote Guanyin Bridge, I went with a tourist group on a bus. We first spent the morning climbing the Five Old Men Peak through the east entrance of Lushan. If you get in through the main entrance and head east, you will also arrive at the Five Old Men Peak, but it may take an entire day and a huge amount of energy. Then we arrived at the tourist area of the Guanyin Bridge. There you can see the Five Old Men Peak and the Grand Hanyang Peak, highest peak of Lushan, in opposite directions. It is worth mentioning that visitors are prohibited to enter most parts of the Lushan National Park, including the Grand Hanyang Peak, for the protection of the ecosystem, so you can only look at it from afar. There are also two small villas previously owned by Chiang Kai-shek in the tourist area, which is enough for me to get a sense of it.
But let’s talk about the Guanyin Bridge. What an architectural wonder! This stone arch bridge was built in 1014 in the Northern Song dynasty, one of the oldest of its kind in China. It’s made of 107 pieces of granite, but what’s astonishing is that every piece is connected to each other by mortise and tenon joints, which is traditionally applied to wooden structures. Basically, the masons grinded 107 stones each weighing tons into huge parts and assembled them together. It’s hard to imagine how they achieved it without any machine power. Also interesting to think how primary material (wood vs stone) changes structure from an architectural perspective.
On the second day, I went on my own by bus and first visited Xiufeng (literally the Beautiful Peak), where the famous Lushan Waterfall is. There’s another waterfall on the Five Old Men Peak that’s much more popular among visitors, but this one on Xiufeng is of greater cultural value. It is the theme of a household Chinese poem by Li Bai, one of the greatest Chinese poets ever, by the title of Viewing the Waterfall at Lushan:
Sunlight streaming on Incense Stone kindles a violet smoke:
Far off I watch the waterfall plunge to the long river,
Flying waters descending straight three thousand feet,
Till I think the Milky Way has tumbled from the ninth height of Heaven.
As I ascended the carved stairs, the waterfall jumped into sight. It was exactly how it was described in the poem some 1,300 year ago, a straight stream of water falling right off the cliff. It was always nice to feel connected to your ancestors and share the same experience with them. The waterfall eventually drains into the Poyang lake, the largest fresh waterbody in China, which can be viewed on top of the peak.
Xiufeng also holds some of the most important inscriptions in Lushan. At the foot of the peak lies the works of Yan Zhenqing, a contemporary of Li Bai and one of the most influential Chinese calligraphers ever. The stele recorded the An-Shi Rebellion in the Tang dynasty, a historical turning point in Chinese history, and it narrowly escaped destruction in the Sino-Japanese War. Other inscriptions by Mi Fu and Wang Yangming, both cultural celebrities from different dynasties, can also be found there.
The second stop of the day was the White Deer Cave Academy, the most prominent one of the Four Great Academies of China. It was established in 940, and welcomed the arrival of Zhu Xi, leading scholar of Neo-Confucianism, in 1179 in the Northern Song dynasty. It was his instructions and reformations here at the White Deer Cave that fundamentally changed traditional Chinese education. Although much of it was a modern reconstruction, you could still feel the tranquility of the environment and the atmosphere for learning here.
My final stops were the West Grove Pagoda and the East Grove Temple complex, located close to each other but away from the property area of Lushan. They were also a historical part of the Lushan culture, but perished through time only to be rebuilt recently.
That’s pretty much about it. Not much info I can provide on transportation though, as there never is any written timetable and you really have to ask local people for directions. Anyway, you can always find these sites on Google Maps. Hope this will help future visitors to appreciate Lushan!
Visited June 2017. Lushan National Park is located in the northern part of Jiangxi province and can be easily reached from the city of Jiujiang; there are many buses and minibuses from the long-distance bus station, at least one every hour till 6 pm. (Jiujiang is also a good starting point for the trip to Poyang Lake/Nature Reserve, on Chinese tentative list, already deferred at the beginning of ’80, and re-submitted in 1996.) The entry fee for the park is 180Y – you have to pay it while still in the bus, at the main gate to the park. The bust stop is located in Gulingzhen village, where there are also many places where you can spend a night or two (we slept in one of these old villas and recommend choosing a villa instead of hotels), shops and restaurants. By the bus station you’ll see a huge tourist information centre with a very big UNSESCO sign above the entrance and… no one speaking English, French or any other language but Chinese.
The park is pretty big and if want to get as more as possible from it, you’ll at least two days. But if you just want to thick it on your list, one day is enough to see the most important places/monuments, but be ready for a long and sometimes very steep walking. You can hire a taxi but remember that here everything is more expensive than anywhere else in the area or take one of two tourist buses that sell only one week tickets for each line, so it doesn’t make any sense to buy one if you’re staying just a day or two. Probably you’ll need a map; you can buy in at the post office, a small bookshop or any souvenir stall in the heart of the Gulingzhen village.
There’s a main road (S213) cutting the park into two parts. To the east of this road there are many European style villas built at the end of 19th and at the beginning of 20th centuries. Some of them can be entered, like Meilu Villa that belonged to Chang Kai-Shek or Edward’s, one of the oldest, and charge an admission fee. The only villa you can visit without spending extra money is the one that used to be Mao’s, now Lushan Museum. It is located very close to Lulin lake and the views are really splendid. Want to hear/see more about the Chinese cultural revolution? Go to the big concrete building, the site of the Lushan conference. You’ll see there that Mao is still alive not only in the memories of people but also on hundreds of souvenirs one can buy in front of the building. (I saw there only Chinese tourists and they do buy magnets, cups, pens, caps, posters, bags etc with Mao.)
Lushan is a cultural site that for many centuries inspired and still inspires Chinese artists. And it means that it is a must to see the landmarks of the park, among them temples, inscriptions, waterfalls, rock formations and… three precious trees, very old and very impressive. Close to them is Temple of Yellow Dragon. Only part of this temple is original, most of it is just a reconstruction from 90s.
If you want to see Lusha Park from above, it is possible to take one of three ropeways. In my opinion the western (Xinglong) one gives you the best views and access to a suspended bridge! And from there you can walk to the most interesting part of the park, passing by some old pagodas, small temples and pools. You’ll see also a lot of inscriptions, now paint in red to be better visible – some of them are hundreds years old, and read about the beauty of the place, the beauty of life… In the northern part of the park, you can see some temples, Imperial tablet pavilion and another very popular tree: Stone pine (on the photo). With an inscription, of course.
(Mount) Lushan can be accessed by a 22 kilometer long curved road from Jiujiang. Lushan is an eclectic site, and not having found much information about it in my guidebook or on the internet, I started by buying a map at the local bookstore. It had many places marked on it but I could find only a couple of the sites named in the WH nomination.
As I have seen enough of sacred mountains (and their cable cars and turtle rocks) over the past weeks, I decided to focus on Lushan’s villas. These were built here from 1895 onwards by Europeans and Americans, turning Guling (the little town on Mount Lushan) into an internationally known summer resort.
The Meilu villa is the one closest to the bus station. It was constructed in 1903 by a Lord Reynolds and later used by Chang Kai-shek. You can get inside. Further down the road, there are many other fine villas, like the Williams house and notably the group built by American missionaries. Walking around in this area does feel like you’re not in China anymore (the traffic in and around town is pleasantly low too).
On the other side of the valley there are more natural or traditional Chinese sights. What to think of the Three Ancient Trees? The three (one gingko and two cryptomeria) were reportedly planted in the 3th-5th century and stand now 39 meters tall.
A subject only slightly touched at the ICOMOS evaluation of this site is its connection with 20th-century Chinese politics and the history of the Chinese Communist Party. This is one of the clearest features however. Lushan is famous for its ‘Lushan Conference’ in 1959, when Mao Zedong asserted his power and led him to proceed with the Great Leap Forward. Mao had a house here too, which now holds the Lushan Museum. It’s a spacious building where much of the period furniture has been preserved. One can even have a look at Mao’s bathroom (which surprisingly features a western-style toilet!).
Proposed as a Mixed WHS by China, but at Bureau meeting in Merida this was rejected: "The Bureau also decided not to recommend the inscription of the property on Natural Criteria"
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