An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Kunlun Range 崑崙

Sep 5, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

The Kunlun range 崑崙, also simply written 昆侖, was according to Chinese mythology mountain range far in the west.

According to the book Shanhaijing 山海經, it was the terrestrial capital (xiadu 下都) of the Heavenly (Yellow) Emperor 黃帝. It was guarded by Lu Wu 陸吾, a deity with the body of a tiger and nine tails. The local subjects of the emperor were a kind of bird called chunniao 鶉鳥.

The phantastic biography of King Mu of Zhou 周穆王 (10th cent. BCE), Mu Tianzi zhuan 穆天子傳, narrates the King's journey to the Kunlun Range and how he admired the palace of the Yellow Emperor.

The Shanhaijing describes the "capital" in which a giant stalk of grain is growing, nine wells can be seen that are enclosed in jade thresholds, and where the nine city gates are guarded by animals called Kaiming 開明. They have the body of a tiger, but nine heads with human faces, and are accompanied by other animals, like phoenixes or snakes. A hundred deities are living there that live of a lot of plants rendering immortality.

The book Huainanzi 淮南子 says that the Kunlun Range was 11,000 li high (one li being about 500 m), while the history book Shiji 史記 only speaks of 2,500 li.

Another mountain range called Kunlun is mentioned in the Shanhaijing. It is identified with a mountain called Fangzhang 方丈 that is located in the southeast or in the Eastern Sea. This proves that the term kunlun just meant a very high mountain.

Today, the mountain range locking the Tibetan Highland against the Takla Makan Desert in the Tarim Basin in the north is called Kunlun Range

Yuan Ke 袁珂, ed. (1985). Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), 235.