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Tiger Hill, also known as “虎丘山” Milburn, Olivia


Tiger Hill was a major site for popular religion and Buddhist worship. As the supposed site of the tomb of King Helu of Wu 吳王闔廬/闔閭 (r. 514-496 BCE), one of the most powerful political leaders of the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771-475 BCE) this location was preserved as both as a historical monument within easy reach of his former capital city at Suzhou 蘇州, and as a site with significant local superstitions attached to it. These superstitions concerned the appearance of supernatural tigers at this place (hence the name): tigers that were believed to be transmutations of the precious swords buried with the great King Helu. Nothing is known of the history of this place from the time of King Helu to the Eastern Jin dynasty (317- 429). At this time, Tiger Hill was donated by its two owners, the brothers Wang Xun 王珣 (349-400) and Wang Min 王珉 (351-388), to the Buddhist faith, and their residences became the East and West Temples. (All accounts of the founding of these temples, however, incorrectly date this event to 327). During the Tang dynasty, in the period 836-840, these two temples were destroyed, and replaced by a single foundation: the Yunyan si 雲岩寺 (Cloud Cliff Temple) or Yunyan chan si 雲岩禪寺 (Cloud Cliff Chan Buddhist Temple). A pagoda was added during the Sui dynasty and rebuilt in 978 (the present structure). By this time, Tiger Hill was well-established as the most prestigious religious site in the greater Suzhou area, and there was considerable competition among elite lineages and organizations to establish shrines and monuments there. As a result, there was almost constant construction and renovation underway at Tiger Hill, and any sheer rock surface is heavily inscribed with the calligraphy of distinguished visitors. By the Ming dynasty, Tiger Hill was well established as one of the most important destinations for internal tourism in China. Both secular and sacred structures continued to be erected until the Taiping Rebellion in 1860, when the site suffered severe damage. Rebuilt in 1871, worship would continue at this temple until 1945, when all the religious buildings except the Song dynasty pagoda were destroyed. Other parts of the site, however, were undamaged at this time. In 1961, Tiger Hill was declared a National-level Cultural Protection Unit (全國重點文物保護單位). During the Cultural Revolution, Tiger Hill was guarded by the PLA, and damage is thought to have been limited. Following restoration programs beginning in 1980, the site has been returned to something of its former glory, and in 2011, its importance for tourism was recognized by being designated an AAAAA tourist attraction.

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