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The Sacred Imagination of Mountains and Its Spatial Influence in Early Medieval China: The Case of Mount Tiantai

Social Sciences in China

Vol. 39, No. 1, 2018

 

SPECIAL ISSUE: GLOBAL “NEW HISTORY” AND THE PRACTICE OF HISTORY IN CHINA

 

The Sacred Imagination of Mountains and Its Spatial Influence in Early Medieval China: The Case of Mount Tiantai

(Abstract)

 

Wei Bin

 

Mountains were among the most important sacred geographical spaces in early medieval China thanks to the widespread building of Buddhist temples and Taoist abbeys in the mountains. They were sanctified both in imagination and in reality in the early medieval era. Accordingly, spatial studies have been conducted along these two dimensions. The former dimension deals with the numerous abodes of sages and immortals, while the latter examines Buddhist and Taoist monks and the stone chambers and temples or abbeys in which they practiced self-cultivation. In the case of Mount Tiantai, an imagined system of immortals’ mountain abodes had emerged as early as in the middle of the Eastern Jin dynasty. A specific immortal was Wang Ziqiao, the Perfected of Mount Tongbai, who had authority over the Jinting palace and administration. The imagining of immortals’ abodes not only helped the Taoists determine the locations of Taoist abbeys, but also inspired monks who hoped to practice self-cultivation with the help of the powers of mountain gods and immortals. In a sense, this was a process in which knowledge of the immortals shaped the landscape of Buddhist temples and Taoist abbeys.

 

Keywords: sacred space, sacred imagination, Mount Tiantai, Buddhist temples, Taoist abbeys