Wade–Giles romanization Wu-t'ai Shan , Pinyin Wutai Shan mountain and mountain chain in northeast Shansi Province, China. The mountain chain is a massif with a southwest–northeast axis, separated from the Heng Shan (mountains) to the northwest by the valley of the Hu-t'o Ho (river), which curves around its southern flank to flow into the North China Plain in Hopeh Province. Mt. Wu-t'ai is actually a cluster of flat-topped peaks from which the mountain takes its name (Five Terraces). The highest peak is 10,033 ft (3,058 m) above sea level.
Mt. Wu-t'ai is particularly famous as one of the great holy places of Chinese Buddhism. Great numbers of temples, including some of the oldest wooden buildings surviving in China, are scattered over the mountain; the largest temples—such as the Hsien-t'ung, the Ta-ta-yüan, and the Pu-sa-ting-shen-jung-yüan—are grouped around the town of T'ai-huai-chen.
Mt. Wu-t'ai appears first to have become a holy mountain to the Taoist adepts of the later Han dynasty (AD 25–220) but came into prominence in the 5th century under the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534/35) when, as Ch'ing-liang Shan, it became identified as the dwelling place of Mãnjuśrī bodhisattva (a heavenly being who voluntarily postpones his Buddhahood in order to work for worldly welfare and understanding). The cult of Mãnjuśrī was intensified under the T'ang dynasty (618–907). In early T'ang times Mount Wu-t'ai was closely associated with the patriarchs of the Hua-yen Buddhist school, becoming the principal centre of their teaching. During this period it attracted scholars and pilgrims not only from all parts of China but also from Japan, who continued to visit and study there until the 12th century.
Many of the other monasteries in the region were attached to Ch'an Buddhism, which in the 9th century found patronage in the region from the provincial governors of the neighbouring areas of Hopeh, who were able to protect Mount Wu-t'ai from the worst ravages of the great religious persecution that occurred from 843 to 845. Under Mongol rule in the late 13th century, Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism) was first introduced to Mount Wu-t'ai. During the Ch'ing dynasty (1644–1911/12), when the Tibetan Buddhist religion was an important element in relations between the Chinese court and their Mongol and Tibetan vassals and when the state gave lavish support to monasteries inhabited by lamas (monks), Mount Wu-t'ai was one of the principal monastic centres.
Few of the present buildings are very old, but the main hall of the Hua-kuang Ssu, dating from 857, is the oldest surviving wooden building in China.