Mount Putuo is a narrow strip of an isle in the Zhoushan Archipelago. It is located 5 km east of the Zhoushan Island of the Zhejiang Province, opposite to the Shenjiameng Harbour. "Putuo" means "beautiful little white flower". It has been known as the "Mount Putuo of the South Sea" since the Yuan Dynasty.

The isle is 8.6 km long north and south and 3.5 km wide east and west, 12.5 square km in area and 30 km in circumference. The Foding Mountain, the peak of the isle, is 291.3 meters above sea level and can be accessed by a stone staircase with 1060 steps. The island is full of mystic caves, tranquil vales, overhanging cliffs and golden beaches.

The 12 scenic attractions of Mount Putuo are as follows:

  1. Scenic Spot at Duangu
  2. Famous Mountain in the shape of the Buddha's Finger
  3. Sound of Surging Waves Pounding the Twin Caves
  4. Thousand Step Golden Beach
  5. Sea of Clouds over the Mountain Crest
  6. Celestial Well at Meicen
  7. Sunrise at Daybreak
  8. Mount Putuo Bathed in Sunset Glory
  9. Divine Cave at Fahua
  10. Bright Sunrays after a Snowfall
  11. Bell Tolling at the Precious Pagoda
  12. Lotus Pool Bathed in Moonlight.

Mount Putuo's fascinating beauty can be summed up in these words: of the "fascination of the sea, the mystery of the mountains and the auspiciousness of the Buddha". The Five Wonders of Mount Putuo are the golden beach, exotic rocks, sound of the pounding waves, and the mirage. Mount Putuo is often compared to the West Lake of Hangzhou : "No place is better than the West Lake in terms of the combined beauty of mountains and lakes; by the same token, no place is better than Mount Putuo in terms of the combined beauty of mountains and the sea." Mount Putuo is said to be the Remotest Part of Heaven, the Farthest Corner of the Sea, the Shangri-La, the Penglai Wonderland and the Buddhist Kingdom on the Sea.

Mount Putuo became a Buddhist Sanctuary during the Tang Dynasty. An Indian Monk arrived there to cultivate his morals during the 847-860 Dazhong reign of Emperor Xuanxong of the Tang Dynasty. It was said that he personally attended lectures given by the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who bestowed a seven-hued precious stone on him. Thus Mount Putuo became the holy place where Avalokitesvara made his female presence felt. In 916, the second year of the Zhenming reign of the Late Liang Dynasty, the eminent Japanese monk Huie was stranded at Mount Putuo while shipping a statue of the Goddess of Mercy from Mount Wutai to Japan. He entreated the Goddess for help and his call was answered. In gratitude he had a temple built at Mount Putuo to enshrine the statue of the Goddess he was carrying. This is the so-called Bukenqu (Reluctant to Go) Guanyin Temple in Mount Putuo. Since then, Mount Putuo has become the spiritual bodhimandala of Guanyin.

Mount Putuo's cultural heritage includes an edict bestowed by Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty on the Zhenhai Monastery (the Fayu Temple), Kasayas from emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, a horizontal board inscribed with the wording "ever-bright Sea and Moon" written by Emperor Kangxi, a jade zeal bestowed by Emperor Guangxu, and a painting of peonies by Empress Dowager Cixi. After more than a thousand years of development, Mount Putuo has emerged as a Buddhist Kingdom on the Sea, where, as the saying goes, "Every nook and corner of the mountain contains a temple, and a monk appears whenever someone has lost his way."

Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, or Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, is the most endearing of all the celestial beings in the Buddhist Pantheon. Guanyin has a profound influence on traditional Chinese culture. Guanyin means "hear all the calls for help everywhere". According to a Buddhist sutra, whenever those in distress murmur Guanyin's name, the Goddess will never fail to come to their rescue. That's why Guanyin is known as the Goddess of Great Mercy.

According to the Garland Sutra, "The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara lives in the Putuo Mountain." It is said that Sudhana, another Bodhisattva has gone all the way to Putuo Mountain to pay homage to Avalokitesvara. Hsuan Tsang, the celebrated monk of the Tang Dynasty also paid visit to Putuo Mountain on his pilgrimage to India. Because the Putuo Mountain in India looked similar to China's Mount Putuo, Mount Putuo of Zhejiang Province eventually became the domain of Avalokitesvara.

Avalokitesvara's original image was that of a man, and later became that of both a man and a woman. Since the Yuan Dynasty, the image has gradually been converted into that of a young woman, a stunning beauty holding a holy vase in her hand, pouring out holy water to save the multitude. Legend has it that Avalokitesvara was born on February 19th of the lunar calendar, achieved enlightenment on June 19th and achieved nirvana on September 19th. On such dates, pilgrims from all over the country and foreign countries congregate at Mount Putuo to pay homage to the Goddess.

Among the temples built on Mount Putuo over the years, some twenty of them survive to this day, with 143,000 square meters and more than 4,700 buildings. The three major temples, Puji, Fayu and Huiji, are great in scale and elaborate in architecture, and stand as models among religious buildings in China.

First built in 1080, the third year of the Yuanfeng reign of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Puji Temple covers a space of 14,000 square meters and boasts nine halls, twelve pavilions, and sixteen chambers, with immense sizes and imposing designs. The four Heavenly Kings of the Tianwang Hall, and the 6.5-meter-high statue of the Goddess of Mercy and those of her thirty-two incarnations in the Great Yuantong Hall have all been resculpted with graceful images, impeccable carvings, impressive poses, and rich facial expressions.

The Bracket with Nine Coiling Dragons in the Yuantong Hall of the Fayu Temple is renowned for its resplendent appearance and ingenious interior structure, and a large ball hanging from the ceiling of its dome which is surrounded by nine vertical rafters each carved with a dragon that rears its head in a scramble for the ball. The Huiji Temple, situated on the crest of Mount Putuo, provides a broad view of the vast stretch of the sea.

The Duobao (Many-treasure) Pagoda of the Puji Temple was built in 1334 of the Yuan Dynasty and rebuilt in 1592. Among all the Yuan Dynasty stone pagodas discovered so far, this is the most finely made one.

The Yangzhi Guanyin Stele is preserved in the nunnery of the same name as a cherished cultural artefact. The nunnery, situated at the foot of the Western Xiangwang Peak of the Xuelang Mountain, was built in 1608. The stele, 2.5 meters in height and 1.2 meters in width, is carved with a pearl-and-jade necklace and the portrait of Guanyin with a poplar tree twig and a bottle of holy water in her hands. The picture was created by Yan Liben, a famed Tang painter. This carving, done by Sun Liang, was rather faithful to the original of Yan Liben, and became one of the three treasures of Mount Putuo. The Yangzhi Guanyin Stele, which is in perfect condition today, is one of the five steles to have been carved with works by the famous Tang painter Yan Liben.

Mount Putuo is also the site of some famed stone caves, such as the Chaoyin, Chaoyang and Fanyin caves. Among them, the Chaoyin cave is the most breathbreaking. When the sea surges, water tumbles into the cave and bumps into the rocks inside with a thunderous roar, and looks like a madly gyrating dragon from a bird's-eye view.

The Nantianmen, or South Heaven Gate, is separated from the Putuo isle by a mere strip of the sea, and access to it is by a stone bridge. The place is a cluster of boulders, with two of them forming what looks like a gate, with the three Chinese characters, Nan Tian Men, carved in the centre of the flying eaves of the gate. There are a lot of carvings in Nantianmen, such as the Hai Shan Da Guan (Grand Spectacles of the Sea and Mountain), carved on it in the calligraphic style of Lan Li. Two monoliths are seen lying one on top of the other on the Meiling Peak. The rock above stands 2.7 meters in height and more than 40 cubic meters in volume, with a narrow bottom and wide, flat top that is large enough to accommodate thirty people. The rock below, with a circumference of twenty meters, serves to hold the rock above in position. The joint between them is only one meter wide, so that the rock above looks precarious but actually rather safe. Three Chinese characters written by Hou Jigao are carved on the rock, extolling it as "Number One Stone under Heaven".

Below the Huiji Temple and up the Xicha Mountain, stands a trio - the Stones of Buddhist Kingdom on the Sea, in the handwriting of Han Jigao, an anti-Japanese general of the Ming Dynasty. The stone above is inscribed with three Chinese characters which mean Cloud-Supported Stone. This trio is lauded as a wonder of Mount Putuo.

Mount Putuo is covered all over with evergreen trees. Among them are about 1170 huge camphor trees. One of them is found in Puhui nunnery, whose trunk is six meters in circumference, and the tree is over 800 years old. There are also gingkoes, cypresses and pines. To the west of the Huiji Temple on the Foding Mountain is a E'er manger, a rare tree under second-class state protection. Ancient camphor trees in exotic shapes are also found at the Fayu and Puju temples, the Guanyin Cave and the Wall of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and by Miaozhuangyan Road. Mount Putuo, cocooned in verdant trees, looks really like a place of great wilderness and is truly a Buddhist Kingdom on the sea.