My adventures throughout China led me to the Henan province, located in the central region of China. Here, I explored the Ancient Shaolin Temple – located at Shaoshi Mountain in the west of Songshan Mountain ranges in Dengfeng City. It is surrounded with forests and hills that provide a natural defense structure.
Shaolin School & Monastery
The “Shao” in “Shaolinsi” refers to “Shaoshi Mountain”; “lin” means “forest” and “si” means “temple”. The name of Shaolin Temple literally translates to “temple in the woods of Shaoshi Mountain”.
Shaolin monks bowing after a Kung-Fu training demonstration
Built on Song Mountain (the Central Sacred Mountain), the temple was frequented by generals and emperors. Dating back 1,500 years ago, it was founded as the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism. Today, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Until its modern renaissance, the golden age of the monastery has been said to be during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). At the beginning of the seventh century, a tiny army of 13 Shaolin monks were reputed to have saved future Tang Dynasty emperor Li Shimin. When he took power, Li showered favors, land, and wealth on the temple. It thrived as a Kung Fu center, with masters from around the country. In its heyday, it housed more than 3,000 monks!
Shaolin Temple Pagoda Courtyard during the day
We took a bus up to the monastery to venture around the grounds. During the day, we saw how the monks lived, trained, and conducted their daily activities. Many monks began as children and devoted their entire lives to the Buddhist ways and martial arts practices.
At the end of the night, we had the pleasure of witnessing a traditional Shaolin performance. This included dancing, martial arts, singing, and acting. It resembled a play with the monks as actors. The show took part on a stage that was in between two mountain peaks. The stage lights were pointing down from the top peaks of each of the mountains. In the front of the stage was a river and a set of rock where monks were sitting in silence. We were told these monks had been fasting for 7 days and did not speak, eat, or move until their meditation was complete. I was fascinated by their devotion.
You can see the monk meditating on the rock during the entire performance
The beginning of the performance began with monks singing on the bridge over the river
Such a breathtaking experience, this is Chinese culture at its finest
Monks performing Kung Fu under a full moon at the top of a mountain, can’t get better than this!!
So much going on at once. Martial arts, singing, dancing, a side story with actors, and the monk is still meditating!
Shaolin monks posing after the evening performance
By the end of the performance, there were about 300 monks on stage who had all taken part in different stunts & acts.
After the show, on my way back to the bus, I was stopped by a news reporter who interviewed me about Buddhism and my views on Shaolin culture. The interview ended up getting published the next week and I was on the front page of the local newspaper. I guess I am famous in Henan province now!
If you ever have the chance to visit central China, know that visiting this temple and seeing the Shaolin performance is an unforgettable experience. The Shaolin ways go back thousands of years and the devotion these people have to tradition is unmatched anywhere in the world. This is a huge part of Chinese culture and is a must-see for all those who want to experience the true culture of China.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
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