If you tell someone you’re from Jiangxi Province （江西省）they’ll most likely say, “Oh Lu Shan is beautiful!” and then sort of stare at you blankly not having anything else to say. Located in Jiu Jiang（九江）, Lu Shan is humble Jiangxi’s undisputed claim to fame. Bordered by the Yangtze River, Lu Shan isn’t just a mountain. It’s a veritable bedrock of cultural and political history perched in a lush green mountain range.
While popular with Chinese tourists, Lu Shan is somewhat off the beaten path for foreigners, which is a shame because there’s really a lot to learn and enjoy at good ol’Lu Shan. Specifically, Lu Shan boasts a history dating back to the Han dynasty, trees that are approaching a millennium, and a seemingly endless stream of 毛主席景点 (a.k.a. places where Chairman Mao ate, slept, sat, swam, yadda, yadda, yadda).
(Disclaimer) So go, but first manage your expectations. Lu Shan’s mountains are just normal mountains. Sure it’s beautiful, but it’s really not very different from other medium sized mountains of similar terrain (reminiscent of a super humid New Hampshire & Vermont + some bamboo). As for the vibe, Lu Shan is extremely built up (there’s a whole city up there in the mountain) and is 100% a tourist attraction, so like always you’ve got to pick your spots to enjoy any tranquil moments. Note that during the summer and Chinese national holidays Lu Shan is best avoided due to the overabundance of flag touting tour groups. But that aside, what makes Lu Shan special (and ultimately worth it) is how you can experience China’s rich history and then go find a cliff to perch yourself on and quietly contemplate what it must have felt like to be purged by the Kuomintang.
As for the so-called rich history, from the origins of Pure View Buddhism, to ancient 2nd century poetry carved into rocks, to a villa owned by Ho Chi Minh, Lu Shan has it all. Combine that with a lush mountainous landscape and an abundance of well maintained hiking trails and you’ve got a unique blend of culture and natural significance.
Pinyin: Lú Shān | Chinese: 庐山
Location: Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province
Getting There: Fly to Nanchang (南昌), then take a bus to Lu Shan (1 hour)
Attractions: Vast mountain landscapes and hiking; political history; religious artifacts; and a classic movie
Lu Shan is really a city (dubbed “Kuling” in the 1930s by westerners) that sits a couple thousand feet up a mountain. Its highest point is Hanyang peak, which stands at over 4,000 feet. Now designated a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lu Shan National Park covers over 75,000 acres.
In terms of finding your way around, you can pickup a map at almost any grocery store or knick-knack shop. From there you can either walk or catch one of the many buses that shuttles people around the major sites. A weekly pass for the bus costs around 80RMB. And you could easily spend 2 or 3 days exploring every nook and cranny of Lu Shan. Here’s what the map looks like if you want to plan some routes ahead of time.
Some of the main spots to hit are 五老峰 (Five Old Men Peak), 三叠泉 (Three Step Waterfall), 卢林湖 (Lulin Lake), 如琴湖 (Ruqin Lake), 花径 (Flower Path), and 东林寺 (Donglin Temple).
Lu Shan’s earliest inhabitants allegedly date back to Neolithic times. But the area didn’t really become developed until the Han dynasty. Thereafter, Lu Shan became home to a unique blend of Buddhist, Confucius, and Taoist schools and temples. For example, Hui Yuan founder of the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism built Donglin Temple in 386 CE. Various other temples can be found on many of Lu Shan’s different trails.
Jump forward a few hundred years and Lu Shan became home to many Kuomintang meeting halls and the training ground for the military. Chiang Kai-Shek also had a vacation home there. But that all changed by 1949.
After the Communist Revolution, the Communist Party overtook Lu Shan as a favorite place for summer retreats and meetings. Like Chiang Kai-Shek, Chairman Mao enjoyed Lu Shan as both a political and recreational venue. Lu Shan was basically a large scale Chinese Camp David. Today, enterprising locals will try to sell you pictures of yourself standing where Mao sneezed and relieved himself (not really).
Lu Shan is also home to over 500 villas that were home to Chinese and foreign diplomats, such as Ho Chi Minh. The western influence, primarily from the British, is also undeniable as many of the buildings look European. There’s even a Christian Church.
If you want the full history, you can watch a 15-part mini series (in English) made by CNTV that tells you basically everything there is to know about Lu Shan. Suffice it to say, there’s probably no other place in China that combines natural beauty and religious and modern political significance as much as Lu Shan.
Landscapes and Hiking
Lu Shan is a great place to hike/walk. Most of the trails are paved and have stone stairs, which many of the local women impressively navigate in 3-inch heels. For those intrepid hikers there’s certainly more than enough terrain and steep climbs to make you feel like you’re getting a workout, especially if you forgo using the shuttle buses. However, if you’re with some less outdoorsy people, Lu Shan is still an accessible place because buses can get you to many of the interesting spots (though all the best views require at least a little walking).
On a foggy day Lu Shan’s mountains really do feel mystical.
Lu Shan is also home to fantastically old forests filled with a healthy population of both gingko and cryptomeria trees. Many of the trees are hundreds of years old, while a select few gingko and cryptomerias have reached over 800 years old. Nestled next to these ancient giants are the ever new and multiplying bamboo, which creates a stunning juxtaposition.
Note that if you hike around a place called “the third peak” (Sānfēng, 三峰), you may pass a guy selling a bunch of fungus called língzhī （靈芝）, which basically looks like a big brown mushroom. He’ll have a rope tied around his waist as if he is about to repel down the mountainside. He’ll explain that he harvests the fungus from the cliff ledges where they grow, and he may even actually repel down. His lingzhi costs 10RMB each.
Lingzhi is supposed to have medicinal healing qualities, which have been documented in Chinese medicine for about 2,000 years.
Of course, the guy’s lingzhi were fake, as any taxi driver in Lu Shan will tell you. Apparently vendors all over Lu Shan run this scam. The guys on the mountain bring the fungus up with them and put them into little caves that they can repel down to. They then climb down, go to their cave, and then come back up and sell the lingzhi to gullible tourists. So beware, like in all tourist areas of China, never buy anything when your physical at the tourist site, because it’s almost always fake.
As for hiking, one of the best trails is the hike from the bottom to the main access road. It’s a steep hike that takes about 2.5 hours and will have you sweating bullets at times. If you want, you can take a bus up the mountain and just hike the trail down, which is of course much easier. These are some of the views when you’re going up and down the mountain.
Romance in Lu Shan
If you grow tired of trying to appear interested in Lu Shan’s history, you can go watch a movie. “Romance in Lu Shan” （庐山恋）is something that absolutely should not be missed. Located in the city center, the movie theatre has been showing the same film for the last 30 years and holds the Guinness World record for longest operating movie theatre that only runs 1 movie.
Romance in Lu Shan is a straight up Mystery Science Theatre 3000 type movie. But if you can look beyond the horrible acting and corny camera work, the movie actually touches on a number of divisive topics that made the movie controversial at its launch. The love story is simple, but woven into it are Romeo and Juliet type divisions based on the KMT and Communist party affiliations of the lovers. There’s also a heavy foreign influence to film, as the female lead embodies what China viewed at the time as a modern worldly woman (who had just returned from studying abroad).
The film is also known for having the first kiss ever in a Chinese movie. And while the actual kiss looks more like how a daughter would kiss her dad on the cheek, back in the day this peck combined with the female lead’s appearance in a boy-shorts bathing suit made for an almost pornographic impression.
So if you have time, definitely check out this film. The theatre itself is an old auditorium (unchanged since its first opening). And there is something nostalgic about watching a movie behind the cigarette smoke of the audience in front of you. Romance in Lu Shan shows twice every evening (note that there are no English subtitles, but the story is so simple even rudimentary Chinese is enough to understand).
Ever wanted to see the world’s tallest Buddhist packed with 48 kilos of gold? Look no further than Jiujiang’s massive Amitabha Buddha. This Buddha was finished in March 2013, and as of this post the site is still under the finishing touches.
A ten year project in the making, this Buddha and the surrounding temples apparently cost 1 billion RMB. At 48 meters high, Chinese media claims it’s the tallest Buddha in the world. [5/27 correction: this actually is the tallest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_Temple_Buddha]
You can walk the paved road on the left side to the top or you can take the main stairway, but only if you’re willing to bow on your knees after every 3 steps, which is a common act of prayer for Buddhists.
Also located near Jiujiang is Póyáng Hú （鄱阳湖）, which is one of the largest freshwater lakes in China. Poyang lake is a stopping point for half a million migratory birds during the late autumn and is also a protected habitat for fish and other freshwater wildlife.
In recent years the local government has gone to great lengths to protect the lake and improve its accessibility as a tourist attraction. And the lake is indeed a beautiful spot, even on a foggy rainy day. However, sand dredging operations (pictured below) support much of the local economy and continue to be the main cause of the declining wildlife population in and around the lake. Another by-product of the sand dredging is a muddy brownish tinge to the water. Needless to say, the current conservation efforts are insufficient.
Locals refer to the lake as the Chinese Bermuda Triangle because of the large number of ships that have gone missing within the lake.