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Home Travel in Henan Song Shan and Shaolin Temple
Song Shan and Shaolin Temple
Travel in Henan

Song Shan Overview

Located south of the Yellow River in northwest Henan Province (hé nán shěng 河南省), 63 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Zhengzhou (zhèng zhōu 郑州), 87 kilometres (53 miles) southeast of Luoyang (luò yáng 洛阳), Song Shan (sōng shān 嵩山) is the central mountain of the five holy Taoist mountains. Today, it's better known as the home of the Shaolin Temple (shào lín sì 少林寺), birthplace of the eponymous brand of Shaolin kung-fu (shào lín gōng fū 少林功夫; martial art) that has long been popular in Asia but has only in recent years become increasingly known to the Western world. 

The main town serving Song Shan is Dengfeng (dēng fēng 登封; Ascending to Bestow Honor), named by the Tang dynasty empress Wu Zetian who preferred Song Shan to Tai Shan (tài shān 泰山; Mount Tai) in Shandong Province (shān dōng shěng 山东省), traditionally the favorite mountain of most emperors. Song Shan can be visited in conjunction with Luoyang, or as a day trip from Zhengzhou.

Song ShanSong Shan has fine natural scenery. Its 72 mountains, grouped around the peaks of Mount Shaoshi (shào shì shān 少室山) and Mount Taishi (tài shì shān 太室山), extend for about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from east to west. Besides these mountains, there are many valleys, caves, pools and waterfalls, each of which provides the visitor with a unique and wonderful experience. The landscape is so unique that it has been given the title of 'International Geological Park' by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

The history of Song Shan is as rich and interesting as its landscape. Its proximity to Luoyang, the ancient capital city of nine different dynasties, made it an essential place for emperors to offer sacrifices to their ancestors and the gods and to confer the crown to their heirs. This has left many sites of historic and cultural interest in this area. The beauty of the area's scenery also led to many scholars, eminent monks and famous Taoists chose this area as an important place to give lectures, explain Buddhist sutras and develop the teachings of different religions. Practitioners of the three faiths of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism absorbed ideas from each other, which led to their three belief systems growing closer together.

Song Shan is the birthplace of China Zen Buddhism (chán zōng fó jiào 禅宗佛教), and is the home of many wondrous temples, including Shaolin Temple, the largest pagoda forest in China, Ta Lin (tǎ lín 塔林; pagoda forest) and the most ancient pagoda in China, Songyue Temple pagoda. A visitor can also visit the oldest cypress, as well as the earliest star observation platform in China.

Song Shan's ViewWhat makes Song Shan different from the rest of the Five Mountains is its profound and extensive cultural history. For this reason, a visit to Song Shan will be greatly rewarding for scholars of religion, physical culture, astronomy, archaeology, geology, art, and architecture, as well as for travelers with a passion for beauty and history.

Since the reform and open policy, the Songshan scenery spot has greatly been improved. Eight scenery spots have formed here, including the Shaolin Temple, the Songyang Academy, Taishi Mount, the Fawang Temple, the Zhongyue Temple, Luya waterfall, the star observation platform, and the Shaoshi Mount.

In recent years, there are many new tour activities, such as, mountaineering, Wushu, archaeological studies, religion tour, astronomy tour, geological tour, forest tour, and customs tour, forming a comprehensive tourist system and the Songshan scenery spot has become a good place for sightseeing, mountaineering, adventure, research and recreation.

How to get there:  The nearest airport and rail connections are in Zhengzhou, but air tickets can be bought at CITS (Tel: 0371-62883442). There are tour buses that connect Zhengzhou directly to Shaolin Temple. Unfortunately, you waste a lot of time waiting around because buses don't leave until they're full, there's a 30-minute stop at an uninteresting temple in Dengfeng, and another stop at a random Chinese restaurant right before the mountain. What should have been a 1.5-hour trip can quickly turn into 2 or 2.5 hours. You're better off taking the 30-minute bus from Zhengzhou for CNY24 to Dengfeng and grabbing a 20-minute, CNY3 minibus ride to Shaolin Temple. Buses also connect Dengfeng to Luoyang (every hour 8:00 a.m.-noon and 2:00-6:00 p.m.; 1.5 hours; CNY20). In Dengfeng, all minibuses depart from the ramshackle West Bus Station (Tel: 0371-62872049) on Zhongyue Dajie just west of Songyang Zhong Jie. Buy your tickets on the bus. A taxi from Zhengzhou to Dengfeng will cost about CNY400, subject to negotiation.

Shaolin Temple


Shaolin KungfuThe Kung Fu TV series was very popular in the US in the 1970s, especially among children. It sparked interest in martial arts and Buddhism in the countries where it was televised. Though the history portrayed was fictional, the story of the temple being destroyed in the 19th century by the Qing Dynasty and a monk coming to the US is partially true because the temple was attacked and destroyed several times in the 20th century and monks did escape to the US where they set up a school for Shaolin.

Nowadays, the temple has been reopened by the government and has become a tourist site and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The UNESCO committee recognizes both the old remaining buildings and the historical role of the temple in spreading Zen Buddhism and martial arts to Japan, Korea and other countries. It is a place where people can go to see martial arts performances, some architecture from the Ming or Qing eras, and the graves of hundreds of people in the Forest of Pagodas.

Shaolin Temple was the main temple of Shaolin Buddhism in China. It is located near the base of Songshan Mountain near Dengfeng City in Henan Province in central China. The style of Buddhism developed here centered on martial arts training and Zen meditation. The Zen way of meditation practiced by many Japanese originated here as did certain styles of martial arts in East Asian countries. It is thought that the teachers at the temple had a big influence on both the Buddhism and the martial arts in Korea and Japan, but they didn't have as big an influence in China where there were many other religions and philosophies and martial arts styles.

Gate of Shaolin TempleShaolin leaders left the temple in the 20th century and settled in various places and the US. The religion was repressed first by foreign countries, then by the warlords and political armies, and then by the Chinese government. People trained in those schools that they established in other places say that the martial arts and religious philosophy at the Shaolin Temple site isn't true Shaolin teaching, but a mixture of other styles and teaching. The fighting style at the temple now is called Wushu.

Three major things to see are the martial arts performances staged near the entrance, the old architecture further up the mountain and the Forest of Pagodas. It is said that in the early 1900s, 90 percent of the buildings in the big complex were destroyed. What remains is mainly from the Ming and Qing eras.

The Pagoda Forest is a big group of about 250 stone or brick stupas that were built from about AD 791 during the Tang Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Though they are called pagodas, they are not really pagodas because they are not buildings meant to have people inside them. They are two to four or five storey stone or brick monuments for the people who died.


The Shaolin Monastery was founded by an Indian named Batuo (bá tuó 跋陀). He and the emperor who favored his teachings started to construct buildings at the site in AD 497 or so. Another Indian who is now called Tamo (dá mó 达摩) by Chinese came to China about the year AD 526. According to reports, in India he had trained hard in Mahayana Buddhist practices that required hard exercise and martial arts training as well as study and meditation. When he arrived at the Shaolin Monastery, he criticized the monks for being weak and without martial arts training. He was told to leave. He was said to have meditated in a cave for a period of time, and then he was accepted by the other monks and they started training.

After this, both Buddhists at the temple and Buddhists all over China faced times when they were attacked. In various eras, the g
overnments tried to destroy the religion. Sometimes, the monks were considered to be enemies by various governments or armies. At other times, the monks at the temple were favored if they helped to protect the rulers.

In modern times, the biggest attacks ca
me after the Boxer Rebellion when some Shaolin monks may have participated in the attack on missionaries and foreigners living in China. This Boxer Rebellion started about 1899, and then it turned into an open attack on foreign armies in conjunction with the Qing army. The attack failed, and in 1901, the Chinese Shaolin leaders and monks started to escape to other countries where they formed criminal organizations, Shaolin associations and Shaolin schools. Then in 1928, a warlord set fire to 90 percent of the buildings and destroyed many manuscripts in the library. Again during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Communist students attacked the temple and flogged and paraded the five remaining monks that they found there. The Buddhist materials they found were destroyed.

Kungfu PerformanceHowever, in the last two decades, the Chinese government has established the Shaolin Temple again. Partly because of the popularity of Shaolin and Zen Buddhism in the rest of the world, many "Shaolin" schools opened around the temple. Tourists came to see the Shaolin Temple, and foreigners went to train in the schools, but the government took over the operation of the remaining martial arts school and forced the others to leave the area of the temple site. Now there is only one school operating at the temple site. However, the martial artists might not actually be practicing Shaolin Kungfu or even be Buddhists.

Scenic Spots

Pagoda Forest

The Pagoda Forest (tǎ lín 塔林) at Shaolin Temple stands at the foot of Shaoshi Mountain about half a kilometer west to Shaolin Temple. It is a concentration of tomb pagodas for eminent monks and abbots of the temple.

A rough count shows more than 240 tomb pagodas of various sizes from the Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (AD 618-1911), making it the biggest pagoda forest in China. Most of the pagodas are stone and brick structures, ranging from one to seven stories, less than fifteen meters high; and they all carry the exact year of their construction as well as many carvings and inscriptions. Their shapes are varied, including polygonal, cylindrical, vase-like, conical and monolithic, making the pagoda forest an exhibition of ancient pagodas, carvings and calligraphy of various dynasties.

Ta Lin

There are many invaluable pagodas scattered around the pagoda forest, including the Fawan Pagoda built in AD 791 in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), the Rufeng Pagoda constructed in AD 1268 in the Yuan Dynasty (AD 1206-1368), the Yugong Pagoda erected in AD 1287 in the Yuan Dynasty, etc., which are gems among ancient pagodas. Here also lie the remains and traces of the activities of some eminent foreign monks. For example, in the eastern part of the forest there is a pagoda built in AD 1339 in the Yuan Dynasty, whose epitaph was written by a Japanese monk of Shaolin Temple. In the western part of the forest is a pagoda built in AD 1564 in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644) for an Indian monk.

The Pagoda Forest is a rare treasure for later generations to study the history of Chinese ancient architecture, carving, calligraphy, art and religion. Besides, it is a scenic spot for tourists from home and abroad.

First Patriarch Temple

The First Patriarch Temple (chū zǔ ān 初祖庵) is located on a small earth hill at the foot of Wuru Peak (wǔ rǔ fēng 五乳峰), 1.3 kilometres away from Shaolin Temple. It was built in the Song Dynasty to commemorate Bodhidharma (pú tí dá mó 菩提达摩), the founder and first Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. In the Song Dynasty, a Wall-facing Pagoda was built at the temple, but destroyed with only a tablet relic left. During the period from 1983 to 1986, this temple was renovated thoroughly, and over 200 meters of brick wall was built to resume the original courtyard.

The temple consists of the Mountain Gate, Main Hall, Thousand-Bodhisattva Hall, and other buildings, in which many valuable sculptures and murals are treasured. It has been designated as a state-grade protected historical heritage.

The First Patriarch TempleMountain Gate: The current Mountain Gate was rebuilt during the period from 1985 to 1986 on the original site. It is 9.64 meters wide, 5.27 meters deep and 6.876 meters high. Within the gate, on the east side of the path before Main Hall, there is a towering ancient cypress tree. Legend has it that it was planted by the sixth Patriarch Huineng.

Main Hall: also named as the First Patriarch Hall, is behind the Mountain Gate. It is 11.125 meters wide, 10.615 meters deep and 12.344 meters high. The Hall was built in the 7th year of Xuanhe of the Song Dynasty (AD 1125) with outstanding architectural arts. Though being renovated time and again, many of the original structural features are still observed up to now. The Main Hall is a hall of artistic treasures. There are 23 color murals of Chan masters on the east, west and north walls, and 42 delicate designs embossed at the feet of these walls. Moreover, there are many pictures and reliefs carved on the statues and pillars. In December 1996, it was declared to be in the fourth group of National Key Protected Cultural Relics by the State Council.

East Pavilion: together with West Pavilion on its opposite, are located on the terrace behind the Main Hall. It was built in the 44th year of Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (AD 1705), being 4.21 meters wide, 4.21 meters deep and 7.64 meters high in a square shape. The statues of Bodhidarma's parents and brothers are enshrined inside. Besides, there are varieties of murals on the four interior walls.

West Pavilion: also called Wall-facing Pavilion, was built before the Ming Dynasty, but the current structure was rebuilt in the early Qing Dynasty. It is 3.71 meters wide, 3.71 meter deep and 7.61 meters high, also in a square shape. Originally, Bodhidharma's statue and the Wall-facing Stone were enshrined inside, but the latter was later moved to Shaolin Temple. When the temple was renovated in 1923, the murals on the east, west and north walls were repainted based on the original ones made in the Ming Dynasty which had peeled off.Thousand-Bodhisattva Hall

Thousand-Bodhisattva Hall: It is loacated behind the Main Hall, being the rearmost construction of the First Patriarch Temple. It is 10.27 meters wide and 9.21 meters deep. Inside the hall are enshrined the statues of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the first Patriarch Boddhidharma and the Second Patriarch Huike.

Second Patriarch Temple

The Second Patriarch Temple (èr zǔ ān 二祖庵) is located on the top of the Boyu Peak (bō yú fēng 钵盂峰) opposite the Permanent Residence Complex. It was built in the late Northern Song Dynasty (AD 1126 - 1179) by the disciples to commemorate Venerable Master Huike (huì kě 惠可), the second Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. The temple is on the south of the First Patriarch Temple, thus also named the South Temple. According to the legend, after cutting off his arm in the snow, Master Huike came to heal the wound and cultivate Chan Buddhism at the Boyu Peak.

The Second Patriarch Temple The Second Patriarch Temple is 34 meters long and 28.5 meters wide. Its Main Hall was rebuilt in 1988, and the gateway was built on the original site in 1990. In the courtyard, there are several cypress trees and four ancient wells called "Zhuoxi Springs" or "Zhuoxi Wells". They are created by Bodhidarma to help Huike to fetch water more easily, each having its own distinctive flavor. About 500 meters south to the temple there is an outshooting rock. According to the record, it is the place where the second Patriarch Huike healed his wound, therefore is called "Arm-heeling Terrace".

Bodhidharma Cave

The Bodhidharma Cave (dá mó dòng 达摩洞) is situated on top of the central peak of Wuru Peak, northwest to the monastery. It is the place where Bodhidharma, the Patriarch of Chan Buddhism, used to face the wall in meditation for nine years. It is said Bodhidarma's shadow was reflected upon a stone and embedded on it with clear creases of his clothes because of the long time meditation. That is the stone called "Stone of Bodhidharma's Shadow", which was one of relics preserved and exhibited in the monastery.

The Bodhidharma CaveThe cave is 7 meters deep (about 23 feet) and 3 meters high (about 9.8 feet). Inside the cave, there are three stone statues, with Bodhidharma sitting in the middle and his two disciples on both his sides. Besides, a trough of 1 meter high and about 0.60 meters wide is on the wall, which is the mark left when the Bodhidarma Shadow Stone was taken off.

Outside the cave, there is a stone arch erected in AD 1604, 4 meters high and 2.2 meters wide, in which is inscribed with characters "Mo Xuan Chu" (the Place of Silent Mystery). Moreover, a huge Statue of Bodhidharma, made of marble blocks, 12 meters high, is standing on the top of the Wuru Peak. Before the white marble Bodhidharma statue there are two memorial inscriptions erected in 1995. 50 meters west the huge statue is "Xiyuan Pavilion" built in 1984.

Sweet Dew Terrace

Sweet Dew TerraceSweet Dew Terrace (gān lù tái 甘露台) is close to the west wall of Shaolin Temple. According to legend, sweet dew fell upon the terrace when the Venerable Abbot Batuo (Buddhabhadra) translated sutras here, hence the name. The terrace is about 9 meters high and of irregular orbicular shape, 35 meters in diameter. It was destroyed at the late Qing Dynasty, left only the foundation and 12 columns carved with exquisite designs.

Guanghui Temple

Guanghui Temple (guǎng huì sì 广惠寺), a sub-temple of Shaolin Temple, is 3.5 kilometers north to the Permanent Residence Complex. "Guanghui" means benefiting the masses. The temple was built by eminent monks Yuntang and his disciple Qingbao in the fifth year of Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (AD 1666), used to provide passers-by water. In the 8th year of Kangxi, Wang youdan, the chief magistrate of Dengfeng City at the time, donated his salary to build a Gong-ji-chi (Pool of Donation Collections). He also allocated the nearby land to the temple and exempted its taxes. By the later period of Kangxi, it had turned to be a complete temple with Mountain Gate, Main Hall, Chan Hall, Tea House, etc.

The temple has renovated many times through the history, but there are only the loft-styled Three-Buddha Pavilion, Pu-ji-chi (Pool of Universal Benefit), Gong-ji-chi, and the relics of other halls left now.

Ancestral Hall

Shaolin Temple's Ancestral HallShaolin Temple's Ancestral Hall (yù gōng cí táng 裕公祠堂) was built during the late Yuan Dynasty or the early Ming Dynasty, 30 meters west to Shaolin Temple. After falling down in the war time of the late Ming Dynasty, it was rebuilt in the 45th year of the reign of Qianlong of (AD 1780) and renamed as Yugong Ancestral Hall. Later it became the Ancestral Hall of Shaolin Temple for the eminent monks.

In the center of the Hall is the memorial tablet of Yugong (Master Fuyu, leader of Caodong Sect) erected in the late Yuan Dynasty with tablets of other monks on its sides.

South Garden

South Garden (nán yuán 南园), or "Zhoufu Temple", was built in the Ming Dynasty, located on the south of Shaolin Temple. It is the retreat for senior monks, and thus has another name "South Retreat Residence". South Garden was originally a big temple, making a landscape opposite to the temple, but was destroyed by war fire. After being renovated in the Qing Dynasty, it was again ruined by fire, left only one section of brick wall being the symbol of the South Garden. At the present time, the only construction left in the garden is the Avalokitesvara Hall, in which the statue of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was formerly enshrined but later moved to the Avalokitesvara Hall of the Permanent Residence Complex.

Location: Near Dengfeng City in Henan Province in the central part of China. The area is about two hours from the Zhengzhou Train Station by bus.
Tel: 0371-62749305
Transportation: The Dengfeng bus station is on Zhongyue Dajie. Buses go between Zhengzhou (CNY20, 1.5 hours) and Luoyang (CNY15, 2 hours) run every 20 to 30 minutes. Four buses a day run to Gongyi (CNY8, 1 hour). Hotels in Zhengzhou and Luoyang often arrange day tours (CNY40, excluding entrance fees) that include sites along the way.
Opening Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Admission Fee: CNY 110 (including CNY10 for electric bus)

Attractions around

The Songyang Academy

The Songyang Academy (sōng yáng shū yuàn 嵩阳书院) at the foot of Song Mountain, Henan Province, is one of "Four Well-known Academies in Song Dynasty" and is a famous scenic area. It has a history of about 1, 000 years. Many emperors came here in a tour of inspection.

The Songyang AcademyThe Songyang Academy, known as one of four well-known academies. Many famous scholars and figures came here and made lectures, including Si Maguang, Fan Zhongyian, Chen Yi and Chen Hao. The number of students at Songyang Academy reaches hundreds of people.

However, throughout the course of history many buildings were destroyed and ruined. Two ancient huge trees are very valuable since Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 25), whose names are Senior General and Junior General.

The Pagoda at the backyard of Songyang Academy was built in AD 520, Northern Wei Dynasty with 15 floors, 40m high. It is the existent oldest pagoda with 12 sides. The Junji Mountain, the main hill of Song Mountain, is the main scenic spot at Song Mountain 1492m high.

Emperor Qianlong (AD 1736-1796), Ching Dynasty came here in a tour of inspection and wrote: " Every fantastic scenic spot presents when I stand on the peak!" There is also the poem related to Junji Mountion by a most poet Fan Zhongyian: "You couldn't know so large the world unless you tour the Junji Mountain!"

Nowadays, you could enjoy the scenic spots on the way, to Songyang Academy and Junji Mountain, much easier than before. It takes you 4 hours mounting Junji Mountain.

Location: Songshan Mountain, Dengfeng City
Tel: 0371-62870409
Transportation: Bus No.2, 6 directly go to the final stop, then walk about 10 minutes.
Opening Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. (Spring and Summer);
                         8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. (Autumn and Winter)
Admission Fee: CNY80

Zhongyue Temple

Zhongyue Temple  Zhongyue Temple (zhōng yuè miào 中岳庙) at the foot of Huanggai hill, Song Mountain, Henan Province is presently the best kept and the largest ancient buildings among the five major mountains in China.

Zhongyue Temple at Song Mountain covers an area of 100, 000 square meters, which was set up in Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 25). The existent Zhongyue Temple owns 4,00 halls, which is magnificent and solemn.

The temple was rebuilt during Emperor Qianlong (AD 1736-1796), Qing Dynasty, followed same design and architect style of Forbidden City in Beijing. Three hundred meters away from Zhongyue Temple, there is the Taishi Que, symbolized the main gate of the temple. Built in Han Dynasty, Taishi Que is made up of stones and could separates into the west and east parts, which is very valuable.

There are 11 main buildings, of which the most famous and splendid one is Junji Hall (the Grand Hall of Zhongyue Temple). Junji Hall covers an area of 920 square meters and the height of 20 metres, which is like Hall of Supreme Harmony at Forbidden City, Beijing. More than 100 stone tablets are located along 600 meters, of which the most well known is the stele by famous Taoist monk, Kou qian in Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).

Junji HallZhongyue Temple is not only scenic spot. Shaolin Temple, Songyang Academy, and the Pagoda of Songyue Temple are all word famous places of interests. Planets Viewing Station is the observatory in Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271-1368), the oldest in China and ranks high position in the world's astronomical history.

Song Mountain is one of 5 famous mountains in China. The Zhongyue Temple stands on Song Mountain for 2,000 years. Its long history and ancient 300 trees from Han Dynasty to Song Dynasty attract more tourists.

Location: Songshan Mountain, Dengfeng City (Zhongyue Temple is located at the foot of Taishi Mountain which is at the southern foot of Songshan Mountain. It is 4 kilometers east of the central city of Dengfeng.)
Tel: 0371-62862577
Transportation: At the Zhengzhou Long-distance Bus Station just next to the railway station, take a bus that goes to Zhongyue Temple. The fare is about RMB12 and the trip lasts about 2 hours. Walkers can make the 4-km trip to the temple from Dengfeng Town.
Opening Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Admission Fee: CNY30


1. In Shaolin Temple, there are martial arts performances and also a cafeteria to go for lunch, and you can have a vegetarian meal.
2. Recommended tour hour: 2 hours
3. Information: Banks, Foreign Exchange and ATMs — The Bank of China (Tel: 0371-62875633; Monday - Friday 9:00 a.m. - noon and 1:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.) is at 186 Shaolin Dadao. There's an ATM on the premises. Post Office — The main post office (Tel: 0371-62872969; 8:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.) is at 86 Song Shan Lu (corner of Aimin Lu).