The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre – Wind-spinning Wonder in China’s Songshan Mountain
Nestled in the beautiful hillside of rural China’s Songshan Mountain is the UNESCO World Heritage Shaolin Monastery, long considered the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Kung-Fu martial arts. This peaceful paradise boasts more than just Zen teachings and picturesque scenery. At the top of the monastery’s Cypress Hill is the Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre – a magical work of architecture dedicated to mastering the art of soaring.
Let Your Spirits Soar
The Shaolin Flying Monks Theatre is a platform for any kind of scenic arts, in particular flying performances. As its name suggests, the theater literally elevates monks to new heights by enabling them to take flight in a spectacle of whirlwind wonder. The vertical wind tunnel at the center of the futuristic 230-seat colosseum acts as a levitation machine, powered by mighty air-flow engines. The monks are blasted towards the sky, then float peacefully above the glass wind tunnel, while the stage’s perforated surface ingeniously absorbs any engine noise. You can witness this unique levitation sensation for yourself at shows held inside the modern steel-structure amphitheater, every week. The more daring theater-goer can also try flying for themselves, and explore the intricacies of the inner levitation chamber, which is sometimes open to the public.
"It serves as a metaphor for mountain and trees and was inspired by Songshan mountain – the natural environment for monks to develop their skills.”
Paying homage to the natural beauty and the historical heritage of the area, the Riga-based Mailitis Architects combined ancient and modern technologies when constructing the innovative structure.
Shaolin translates as “mountain in the wood”, and the architects intentionally designed the wind tunnel as a forest, while the building represents a mountain. Conceptually, it’s a reflection of Zen and Kung-Fu expressed via artistic performance and architecture. Developed in the shape of two symbols – a mountain and tree – the elevated wind tunnel features a branch-like structure that spreads outwards at the top.
When commenting on the design in publication and visual art platform Colossal, Mailitis revealed: „It serves as a metaphor for mountain and trees and was inspired by Songshan mountain – the natural environment for monks to develop their skills.”
This one-of-a-kind design is truly something to behold. Created in 2016, the shape of the building perfectly finishes the peak of Cypress hill, forming a magnificent staircase leading up and around the auditorium in the center. A metal banister lines the side of the staircase around the rim of the structure. The mountain-side theater also includes a three-storey interior space for performers and visitors, featuring stone steps that form seats facing the stage.
Where Heaven and Earth Meet
Framed by waterfalls and mountainous paths, the route to the Shaolin Monastery is idyllic, hidden in thickets of Cypress trees. It’s here, in this Buddhist spiritual „Center of Heaven and Earth”, that Zen, Taoism and Chinese martial arts were born – and levitation was explored. It seems fitting that, centuries later, Shaolin Monks take to the sky to recount the story of Zen.
Top Tips for Taking Flight
With its striking scenery and exceptional architecture, a trip to the Songshan Mountain and Shaolin Flying Monk Theatre in China is a must for any progressive explorer.
How do you feel about this mountain-side marvel? A revolutionary way to explore Buddhism and martial arts? Or is it all Kung phooey? Want to experience it for yourself? Let us know.