Table of Contents
The Western Hills park is located 15 km west of Kunming and consists of Huating Temple, Taihua Temple, Sanqing Pavilion and Dragon Gate, etc.
The Huating Temple in the mountain 2050 meters above sea level, was originally built up in the 14th century.
With magnificent buildings, it a Buddhism holy place in Kunming. The Taihua Temple with fragrant flowers and thriving trees was built up in the 14th century. The Wanchai Pavilion in the temple is a good place for viewing the sunrise. The Sanqing Pavilion and Dragon Gate is an architectural complex with 9 stories and 11 pavilions among steep cliffs and overhanging rocks The Dragon Gate sculptures, including a stone path, stone rooms, stone railings, grottos, and Buddhist statues, is the highlight of the resort. Ascended the Dragon Gate and look down from the railings, overhanging rocks and steep cliffs are under your feet. Looking into the distance, the Dianchi Lake is in your sight.
The Dragon Gate of Western Hill
Geographic location: in Kunming Dianchi Lake Scenic Area
Scenic status: an attraction in Dianchi Lake Scenic Area
Tour time: 2 ~ 3 hours
- The Western Hill Scenic Area has a history of more than one thousand years. It is famous for its grand, rare, breath-taking, and elegant natural scenery in Yunnan Province and is called the “First Mountain in Yunnan”. Here are collected natural mountain sceneries, Buddhist and Daoist temples, courtyards, and villas. There are nine historical artifacts under state, province, and city protection. Due to its long history and unique natural scenery, Western Hill is listed as a famous attraction in China. There is a saying in Kunming: “Once on the Dragon Gate, your fortune will be made.”
- On the 3rd of March every Chinese lunar calendar, Kunming people have a custom of spring outing. They sing songs in antiphonal style, hold dragon and lion dances, go picnic and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
- There is a round trip cable car from Yunnan Ethnic Village to Western Hill.
Recommended Tour Route
Sanqingjing → Lingguan Hall → Sanqing Pavillion → Lanhaichu (Lake Viewing Place) → Stone Tunnel → Ciyun Cave → Yunhua Cave → Datian Pavilion
Overview of the Dragon Gate, the construction of the Dragon Gate, the significance of the Dragon Gate in Daoism in Yunnan
Overview of the Dragon Gate
The Arhat Cliff can be seen after a walk around a small mountain cliff. The Dragon Gate Scenic Region is built here. The cliffs here are precipitous. The golden roofs of the Sanqing Pavilion Complex are shaded by the ancient trees. The Dragon Gate Scenic Region consists of the Sanqing Temple Complex and Dragon Gate Grotto Complex.
The buildings of the Sanqingge Daoist Temple are arranged in nine tiers with eleven pavilions: the Sanqing Pavilion, Lingguan Hall, Zhenwu Hall, and so on. The Dragon Gate Grotto Complex, on the other hand, includes Lanhaichu, Ciyun Cave, Yunhua Cave, and Datian Pavilion. It is the largest and most beautiful Daoist grottoes in Yunnan Province. Sanqing Pavilion was a country villa for a prince in the Yuan Dynasty (1279—1368) and later fell into disuse due to the chaos of war.
The buildings were rebuilt by a Daoist monk with the support of the Duke Mu clansman in the Ming Dynasty (1368—1644). By the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644—1911), the temples on the cliff were crowded like beehives and birds nests. Developed and rebuilt through hundreds of years, the old remains still exist and new scenery is continuously added. This site thus becomes a good spot for a view of the flying eaves covered by green woods, colorful clouds in the blue sky, and white sails in green water in the Dainchi Lake. These sights make this place a perfect attraction with its beautiful scenery and rich cultural flavor.
An archway stands at the end of the road. This is the starting point to ascend the Sanqing Pavilion. There are four Chinese characters inscribed on the archway: “cang ya wan zhang”, which means the cliff is thousands of meters high.
A picture of eight diagrams is inscribed on the top of the archway. This is called “Taijitu”, a symbol of Daoism. This indicates that this place is a Taoist fairyland. The steep flight of 72 stairs from Sanqingjing to Lingguan Hall stands for the 72 earthly demons, and the 36 steps from Lingguan Hall to Sanqing Pavilion implies the 36 heavenly gods of Daoism. The numbers are commonly used in Daoist architectures. The mountain gate here is called “Sanqingjing”, which means the Three Purity Realms.
The highest tier is the Realm of Precious Purity in which the God of the Prime Origin lives; the second-highest tier is known as the Realm of Lofty Purity in which the God of the Sacred Jewel lives, and the third-highest tier is called the Realm of Absolute Purity wherein lives the God of the Way of Power or the Master Laozi. According to Daoism, there are 36 tiers of heaven, in which the top three fairylands are inhabited by the three utmost deities respectively.
That shows why “Sanqing” is commonly used in Daoist structures and the origin of the name “Sanqing Pavilion”. Coming to this place indicates one has come to the heaven of Daoism. At the entrance is a couplet depicting a Daoist fairyland. At the back of the mountain gate, another couplet encourages the climbers to go on striving till they reach the top. This couplet also implies a deep understanding of life: one should not be self-satisfied. On the contrary, he should be a person of lofty aspiration and forever moves forward.
Opposite to the mountain gate is Lingguan Hall in which Wang Lingguan is enshrined. Wang Lingguan is a guardian god in Daoism. He is enshrined at all the main entrances of temples. He has three eyes and a red face and holds a whip in one hand. He is clad in armor. On both sides of him are two attendants, one holding books and the other with an official seal in his hand. Wang Lingguan looks valorous and imposing. It is said that he lived in the Song Dynasty (960—1279), about one thousand years ago. He is an outright official who died just after he was appointed by Jade Emperor to oversee every person who breaks the law in the heavens or on the earth.
A horizontal board inscribed with the words “Fei ge liu dan”. It means the brilliant red pavilions rise up to the sky. The couplet here depicts the beautiful scenery of both Dianchi Lake and the Western Hill.
There are two platforms on the roadside to the Dragon Gate. On one of them lies Sanqing Pavillion. It is regarded as a summer resort for Prince Liang during the Yuan Dynasty. Now, it serves as a teahouse. In the Sanqing Complex, this is the only place spacious enough for people to take a rest and enjoy both tea and scenery simultaneously. On the other platform stands a building called Zhenwu Hall. Enshrined within is God Zhenwu. He is a popular god commonly seen in Daoist architecture. By the road is a stone carving, a tortoise within the coils of a snake. In Chinese culture, snake and tortoise both symbolize longevity. It is said one can live longer if he touches this stone carving.
Behind the Zhenwu Hall is a small spring named Filial Calf Spring. There is a story about it that says that a calf rescued his mother from the cow butcher by hiding the butcher’s knife. What the calf has done moved the cow butcher and he left his home with his cows and became a Daoism follower. To return the good deeds of the cow butcher, the calf drilled the stone with its horn and made a small spring. This legend reflects the Confucian idea of piety: filial piety is the first among all virtues. It also goes with Daoist ideals: good acts will be well rewarded.
Lanhaichu (Lake Viewing Place)
Going through a narrow stone channel, one will come to an open space known as “Lanhaichu” (Lake Viewing Place). Here one can see that the sea and the sky connect with each other, which gives the feeling of a harmonious atmosphere of man and nature. It is a good place to view Dianchi Lake and the Western Hills. Inside the stone room are some inscriptions, a tablet in the room records how Longmen (the Dragon Gate) Cave was cut.
Inscribed above the front part of the room is a graceful picture—a mythological phoenix with spread wings. It is said the first emperor in China—the Yellow Emperor—who lived in Luoshui (Henan Province), ordered the phoenix to take a message to Dayu to control the flood. This fresco tells that legend. Further on there is a stone wall, with the inscription “Pu Tuo Sheng Jing”, meaning “The wonderful scenery of Putuo”. Putuo Mountain is a sacred mountain of Buddhism in China. The appearance of the Buddhist term in Daoist construction indicates that Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism are combined with each other. The combination of three religions is obvious in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Filial Spring exhibits the thought of Confucianism as well as Daoism. Here it indicates Buddhism and Daoism. In Ciyun Cave, one can see the statue of Guanyin, showing Buddhism more deeply.
The stone window makes the tunnel bright. Looking out from the stone window, one can see Dianchi Lake. Standing here gives one a feeling of being in a heavenly castle. This grotto is called Ciyun (Benevolent Cloud) Cave. It was chiseled by a Daoist monk. All the statues, as well as the inscriptions here, are carved from one original big rock. In the middle of the cave is the statue of the Goddess of Mercy. In front of her knees is a little kid.
This statue shows that Guanyin is the bestower of descendants. Guanyin is regarded as the bodhisattva of mercy, who saves all miserable people. In ancient China, there are three forms of unfilial conduct, of which the worst is to have no descendants. So Buddhists believe that Guanyin will help women give birth. On both, her sides are his two attendants: Golden Boy and Jade Girl. Further on, she is flanked by two guardians, one riding a dragon and the other a tiger. In front of the stone, the room is a stone incense burner carved with two poems written by a poet named Na Wenfeng in the Qing Dynasty. He highly praised the Daoist monk for his hard and arduous work.
Construction of the Dragon Gate
The stone room in Lanhaichu was chiseled by a Daoist monk named Zhaolian and his co-workers about 300 years ago in the Ming Dynasty. He erected a plank road along the face of the cliff. When people were walking on it, the plank road trembled so much which scared people. To solve this problem, a Daoist monk named Wu Laiqing opened up a new stone path instead of the plank road.
He started the work in 1781 and completed the stone path linking the Lake Viewing Place with the stone archway “Putuo Sheng Jing”, and Ciyun Cave. It took him 15 years to complete the project. Further onward, there is a zigzagging tunnel measuring 40 meters. The tunnel from Ciyun Cave to Datian Pavilion is called Yunhua Cave. It was constructed by Yang Rulan of Yunnan within nine years starting from 1840, 45 years after the death of Wu Laiqing. Later on, his son Yang Jitai carried on and cut the Da Tian Ge (Sky Reaching Pavillion), which is known as Longmen or Dragon Gate. They completed the work in four years, that is, in 1853. It is said more than 70 stone carvers defied death and worked on the cliff by hanging from chains.
Walking 40 meters ahead, one reaches the top of the Dragon Gate, the Datian Pavilion. The entire Datian Pavilion was chiseled from bedrock. The whole layout is very beautiful and exquisite in workmanship. The stone carvings include stone archways, a stone platform, a stone room, stone column inscriptions, stone statues, an incense burner, and so on. The most vivid sculpture is Kuixing, located in the middle of the stone room. Kuixing is the god of scholars.
This statue is about one meter tall and stands on a turtle’s head. From the right foot dangles a wooden container that holds a dou (deciliter) of grain. The sculpture looks just like the Chinese character “kui”, exhibiting a vivid pictographic word-formation. The Kuixin God is holding a magic brush in his right hand and a Yuanbao (ancient Chinese money, here used it as an inkstone) in his right hand. In Chinese legend, Kuixing possessed the power to appoint number one in the imperial examinations by using his magic brush. Only the number one was allowed to stand at the stone turtle’s head which is carved on the stone platform in front of the palace. This is called “Kuixing diandou, Duzhan aotou”. On both sides of him are the statues of gods of war, Guansheng, and Wenchang, the god of promotions. The two statues are static while Kuixing God is dynamic and more vivid and lively.
A careful observer will find out that the writing brush held by Kuixing has no tip. It is said that a stonecutter went to the West Hill and chiseled the stone tunnels. He devoted himself to this masterpiece for years. He had just finished the project of the stone tunnels, stone caves, the stone archway, and stone statues in the stone room, and was working on the very last part of the grotto when the brush tip was broken. The man was so disappointed and frustrated that he jumped off the cliff. The young stonecutter left us not only a sad story but also his example of pursuing a spirit of perfection in arts.
Behind the statues are the inscriptions of the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea (Baxian guohai). It shows the eight famous deities in Daoism respectively displaying their magical powers. On both sides of the wall are pictures of the traditionally cultivated arts in China: “qin” (musical instrument), “qi” (Chinese chess), “shu” (calligraphy), and “hua” (painting); and two galloping horses. On the ceiling, are the pictures of two cranes and some peach fruits. Above the rock outside, the room is a stone shrine in the shape of a flower with the name “Nanji xianweng” or the “god of longevity” carved on it. The carvings are graceful and lifelike. To the north of the stone room is carved a jumping carp and to the south is a golden dragon spewing water. Here is the story about the carp jumping over the Dragon Gate.
The legend goes like this: Dayu —— a famous person who controlled floods in the Yellow River, opened up the Dragon Gate with a magic ax, letting water flow down into the sea. The present-day Hukou Waterfall is thus called Dragon Gate. However, the carp could no longer go back home because of the waterfall. Seeing this, Yu’s kindhearted wife pleaded with the Jade Emperor to allow those carp to jump over the Dragon Gate to become dragons than go up to heaven. As for those that could not, he dyed their foreheads and sent them back home. Since then, all the carp in the Yellow River have a red spot on their foreheads and later generations regard those who have succeeded in the examination as dragons and those who have failed as carp.
This is just a legend, but when one climbs up the difficult passage to the top of the Dragon Gate, he would feel a sudden boost in self-pride.
Guabangshan (Roll Hanging Hill), a brown rock on the south side of the Dragon Gate looks like a red roll of silk, so it is known as the “Hanging Silk Roll Hill”. In ancient China, all those who sat for the imperial examinations and got the title of Jinshi, a successful candidate in the highest level of the imperial examinations, would be regarded as having “ascended the Longmen” and their names would be announced on a special red roll. Seen from the lake, the cliff looks like an honor roll hanging high, thus the name. These beautiful legends add mystery to the hills and leave much for people to imagine. Step on top of the Dragon Gate, one can be surprised by the marvelous nature that created this high spire-like cliff, and the creativity of human beings who carved the graceful Datian Pavilion. It is a site worth visiting.