He Ming Mountain (鹤鸣山), where Taoism originated, is about 72 kilometers from downtown Chengdu and 40 kilometers from Qing Cheng Mountain (青城山). Also known as Hu Ming Mountain (鹄鸣山), it is situated in Dai Yi County (大邑县) in Sichuan Province. It joins Qing Cheng Mountain to create a shape like a crane with its wings unfolded. “He” means crane and “Ming” means the call of a bird. Its name came from: (1) the shape of the mountain, (2) a legend that it was a habitat for fairy cranes, and (3) a legend about a hidden stone crane - when it made a call, deities such as Ma Cheng Zi (马成子) of the Zhou Dynasty, Zhang Dao Ling (张道陵) of Han and Zhang San Feng (张三丰) of Ming would be born.
In 1426, to commemorate Master Zhang San Feng, a big ancestral hall was added to the posterior of Ying Xian reception hall, with single eaves and a gable roof.It was named the Deity Zhang Memorial Temple (张神仙祠). In his own writings San Feng Quan Ji (三丰全集), Master Zhang expressed clearly his own thinking about the retreat from vanity. In his life, he would rather hide away from societyto cultivate his own virtues; living as a hermit and practicing introspection would bring him great satisfaction. He avoided the Emperor and other influential people, for a country’s rulers should always focus on their country and their people.
He Ming Mountain is the home of Taoism. In San Guo Zhi《三国志》, it was said that Zhang Dao Ling (张道陵) was the one who practiced Taoism and talismans in He Ming Mountain. Celestial Master Ge Hong (葛洪先师) in his literature also mentioned that Zhang Dao Ling preferred to retreat into farming as the country descended into chaos. As the government became more corrupt, Zhang found that he could do nothing to revert the situation. Consequently, at the age of fifty, he chose to live in seclusion and practiced Taoism for the next ten years. Later, when he heard that Sichuan had a good environment with famous mountains and simple-minded people, he led his followers to settle in He Ming Mountain. There, he met the deity Tai Shang Lao Jun (太上老君), the “Grand Pure One” in Taoism, who bestowed upon him the title of Celestial Master and gave him secret scriptures about Taoism, talismans and other skills. Zhang Dao Ling, then started to practice internal alchemy, fought against demons and founded an orderly structure for Taoism known as the way of the Five Pecks of Rice (五斗米教).
He Ming Mountain Taoist Temple reached its height in historical development during the reign of Emperor Jia Jing (明嘉靖)(1521 AD-1567 AD). According to some old literature, it was recorded that in 1546, the Emperor selected He Ming Mountain as the one of the five temples nationwide (the others were Qi Yun Mountain of An Hui 安徽齐云山, San Mao Shan of Jiang Su 江苏三茅山, Wang Wu Shan of He Nan 河南王屋山, Wu Dang Mountain of Hu Bei 湖北武当山) to uphold grand Taoist ceremonies for longevity blessings (祈天永命大醮). Although He Ming Mountain was located in a remote area, Emperor Jia Jing had selected this Temple five times for holding solemn ceremonies known as Wan Shou Da Jiao (万寿大醮). It was believed that under the blissful blessing of the He Ming Mountain deity, the Temple regained much of its glamour and glory. In 1548, as Empress Shen believed that her wishes came true because of the Temple’s sincere offerings to heaven; she then appointed Master Peng Rui Heng (彭瑞衡大真人) to send off medicines and scriptures as a token of praise and honour to the Temple.
When Emperor Tai Zu of Ming Dynasty (明太祖) started the uprising, he got assistance from some Taoist priests such as Zhang Zhong (铁冠道人张中) and Zhou Dian Xian (宣猷辅化真人周颠仙). Since then, the Emperor was indebted to Taoists and paid high respect to Taoism. In 1384, the Emperor sent orders to summon Zhang San Feng (张三丰) three times to the mperial court, but Zhang refused. He then demanded Shen Wan San (沈万三) and Qiu Xuan Qing (邱玄清), who were two of the most influential pillars of the community, to personally invite Zhang for a meeting. Zhang again refused. In 1391, Tai Zu sent the Taoist high priest, Celestial Master Zhang Yu Chu (张宇初真人), to visit Zhang again. Still he declined. Throughout the years, Zhang San Feng’s whereabouts were unknown, and he gave his visitors a runaround.
In late Ming to early Qing Dynasty, Zheng Yi (正一) School of Taoism that was founded by Master Zhang Dao Ling started to decline and was replaced by Quan Zhen (全真) School. When Master Chen Qing Jue (陈清觉仙师) of Wu Dan Mountain (武当山) came into Sichuan, he brought a lot of reforms; subsequently, most of the Taoist temples converted to the Dan Tai Bi Dong Sect (丹台碧洞) of the Long Men Denomination (龙门派) of Quan Zhen. He Ming Mountain Temple was no exception and it still follows the rules of Quan Zhen till today.
The construction of the He Ming Mountain Taoist Temple was widely attributed to Master Zhang Dao Ling. The exact construction time of this Taoist Temple is unknown. According to some historical records from the Ming Dynasty, it was stated that the temple could be traced back to the Sui Dynasty (581 AD – 618 AD). During the Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD) and Yuan Dynasty (1271 AD – 1368 AD), there were records of imperial orders for repairs and reconstruction of the Temple. On the mountain’s northeastern peak stood the Shang Qing Temple (上清宫). Shang Qing Temple was also named as Lao Jun Temple (老君殿), which took a shape like the crown of a crane. It was built by Master Zhang as a gratitude to Tai Shang Lao Jun for his revelation on the Tian Zhu Peak (天柱峰). During that time, there was also a temple which housed three deities known as San Guan Ci (三官祠) for Tian Guan (天官) (Deity of Heaven), Di Guan (地官) (Deity of Earth) and Shui Guan (水官) (Deity of Water). They represented blessings, absolution and relief from disasters. The belief of San Guan had a long history, and could be traced back to Zhou Qin Period (周秦时代) (770 B.C. – 206 B.C.) In treating patients, Master Zhang would prepare three similar sets of San Guan documents (三官手书), in which would contain the name of the sick as well as the patient’s apologies for offences that were committed. The first set of documents would then be burnt; the second, buried; and the third, sunk into water.
Before the Cultural Revolution and the destruction of many religious structures, the main buildings in He Ming Mountain included the Zi Yang Temple (紫阳殿) for Deity Zhou Yi Shan (周义山真人) from the Han Dynasty (汉代), Tian Shi Temple (天师殿) for Celestial Master Zhang Dao Ling, Wen Chang Temple (文昌宫) for Deity Zhang Ya Zi (张亚子), and also Yan Xiang Guan (延祥观) built on the Peak. The most clearly recorded historical buildings were Ying Xian Ge (迎仙阁) and Zhang Shen Xian Temple (张神仙祠), while other structures built on the mountain slope were unclear.
After the Golden Age of Qing Dynasty, the country started to weaken. This also had an effect on accelerating the decline of Taoism, and He Ming Mountain Taoist Temple ended up becoming more of a summer resort. Before the Cultural Revolution in 1966, He Ming Mountain still had some well-maintained old architectural structures such as pavilions, platforms, altars, roofed and roofless gates. At that time, there were still a number of temples, namely San Guan Temple (三官祠), Wen Chang Temple (文昌宫), Tian Shi Temple, Shang Qing Temple, Yan Xiang Temple, Ying Xian Reception Hall, Shen Xian Temple, Zi Yang Temple and Yu Huang Temple. However, most of these structures were destroyed during the 1966 Revolution. Since 1987, as China has restarted its reform and opening-up of the economic markets, He Ming Mountain Taoist Temple has also resumed its reconstruction. Today, one can find a cluster of buildings which include Ying Xian Reception Hall, Dou Mu Temple (斗姆殿), Ci Hang Temple (慈航殿), Wu Zu Temple (五祖殿), San Sheng Temple (三圣宫), Tian Shi Temple, Yu Huang Temple (玉皇殿), Qing Xin Tea Room (清心茶园), Shuang He Dormitory (双鹤楼), Qian Dao Dormitory (乾道楼), Kun Dao Dormitory (坤道楼), administrative buildings and offices.
During his practice in He Ming Mountain, Master Zhang founded the Zheng Yi Meng Wei Dao (正一盟威道) – an authority of an alliance and organized twenty-four zhi (治), which means parishes. He Ming Mountain was listed in the upper three zhi. A zhi was more than a management unit, it was also a place where people could find internal peace and external harmony in an orderly manner. In a zhi, one could find quiet rooms (静庐), ceremonial altar (法坛) and a place where demons were summoned to follow Tao (戒鬼台).The name zhi slowly evolved to become the word guan (观), which means temple, and was later used in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Members of this order of Taoism practice seclusion and lead an ascetic life with the goal of reaching enlightenment.
When Emperor Cheng Zu of Ming Dynasty (明成祖) came to power, he knew that Master Zhang San Feng was an incomparable talent and wanted to recruit him. He sent out his chief officers in charge of public relations and human resources to search for Zhang in 1406. Despite years of searching, their effort was in vain. Later, an officer named Hu Ying (胡滢) heard that the Master was living in seclusion in Tian Gu Cave (天谷洞) located in He Ming Mountain. So, he went there to try his luck. Unfortunately, as Master Zhang was no longer interested in worldly matters, he continued to hide away from visitors. Hu Ying persisted and stayed on the mountain until he passed away at the age of eighty-nine; his gravestone is still there on He Ming Mountain. Hu’s death further reinforced the Emperor’s wish to see Master Zhang. In the spring of 1417, the Emperor sent Taoist Wu Bai Li (吴伯理) of Long Hu Mountain (龙虎山) an imperial decree ordering him to go visit Tian Gu Cave to seek out Zhang. This time, Taoist Wu organized solemn Taoist ceremonies and prayed to the deity of the mountain, hoping that he would have a chance to meet Master Zhang. In the autumn of 1420, Wu chose a nice place behind Yan Xiang Temple (延祥阁) and constructed a reception hall known as Jie Ge (杰阁) for the Master. According to legend, Wu’s prayers touched the Master, who descended to meet him. However, when Wu begged him to go to Beijing to see the Emperor, Master Zhang refused and vanished into the cave again. The words he left for Wu were that “An emperor needed to be hardworking and love his people, for an emperor of peace would bring blessings to his country”. Later, Taoist Wu passed away in He Ming Mountain and his tomb was located nearby Ying Xian Ge (迎仙阁).