The South Gate to Heaven at Mount Tai
|Elevation||1,532.7 m (5,029 ft)|
|Prominence||1,505 m (4,938 ft) |
|Age of rock||Cambrian|
|Mountain type||metamorphic, sedimentary|
|Criteria||Cultural: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi; Natural: vii|
|Inscription||1987 (11th session)|
"Mount Tai" in Chinese characters
|Literal meaning||"big mountain"|
|Alternative Chinese name|
Mount Tai (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) is a mountain of historical and cultural significance located north of the city of Tai'an, in Shandong province, China. The tallest peak is the Jade Emperor Peak (simplified Chinese: ???; traditional Chinese: ???; pinyin: ), which is commonly reported as being 1,545 meters (5,069 ft) tall, but is officially described by the PRC government as 1,532.7 meters (5,029 ft) tall.
Mount Tai is known as the eastern mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, and is often regarded the foremost of the five. Mount Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of China during large portions of this period.
Mount Tai is located in western Shandong, just north of the city of Tai'an and to the south of the provincial capital Jinan. It extends from 150-1,545 meters (492-5,069 ft) above sea level and covers an area of 426 km2 (164 sq mi) at its base. The Jade Emperor Peak, which rises 1,532.7 meters (5,029 ft)} above sea level, is located at 36° 16?N and 117° 6?E.
Traces of human presence at Mount Tai date back to the Paleolithic period. Evidence of human settlement of the area can be proven from the neolithic period onwards. During this time, two cultures had emerged near the mountain, the Dawenkou culture to the south and the Longshan culture to the north.
Religious worship of Mount Tai has a tradition dating back 3,000 years, from the time of the Shang (c. 1600–1046 BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). Over time, this worship evolved into the Feng and Shan sacrifices. The sacrifices were an official imperial rite and Mount Tai became one of the principal places where the emperor would carry out the sacrifices to pay homage to heaven (on the summit) and earth (at the foot of the mountain) in the Feng (Chinese: ?; pinyin: ) and Shan (Chinese: ?; pinyin: ) sacrifices respectively. The two sacrifices are often referred to together as the Fengshan sacrifices (Chinese: ??; pinyin: ). Carving of an inscription as part of the sacrifices marked the attainment of the "great peace".
By the time of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046–256 BC) sacrifices at Mount Tai had become highly ritualized ceremonies in which a local feudal lord would travel there to make sacrifices of food and jade ritual items. These would then be arranged in a ritually correct pattern before being buried on the mountain. In the Spring and Autumn period (771–476 BC) the vassal states of Qi and Lu bordered Mount Tai to the north and south respectively, from where their feudal lords both made independent sacrifices on Mount Tai. According to Zhou ritual belief, the spirit of Mount Tai would only accept sacrifices offered by a feudal lord, leading Confucius (in his Analects 3.6) to criticize the ministers who offered state sacrifices here after usurping power. In the ensuing Warring States period (475–221 BC), to protect itself against invasion, the State of Qi erected a 500-kilometer (310 mi)-long wall, the ruins of which are still present today. The name Tai'an of the neighboring city is attributed to the saying "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country" (both characters of Tai'an, "?" and "?", have the independent meaning of "peace").
In 219 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, held a ceremony on the summit and proclaimed the unity of his empire in a well-known inscription. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), the Feng and Shan sacrifices were considered the highest of all sacrifices.
Rituals and sacrifices were conducted by the Sui.
Japan, India, the Persian court in exile, Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla, the Turks, Khotan, the Khmer, and the Umayyad Caliphate all had representatives attending the Feng and Shan sacrifices held by Emperor Gaozong of Tang in 666 at Mount Tai.
Mount Tai has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In 2003, it attracted around six million visitors. A renovation project was completed in late October 2005, which aimed at restoring cultural relics and renovating damaged buildings of cultural significance. Widely known for its special ceremonies and sacrifices, Mount Tai has seen visits by many poets and literary scholars who have traveled there to gain inspiration. There are grandiose temples, many stone inscriptions and stone tablets with the mountain playing an important role in the development of both Buddhism and Taoism.
Mount Tai is a tilted fault-block mountain with height increasing from the north to the south. It is the oldest example of a paleo-metamorphic formation from the Cambrian Period in eastern China. Known as the Taishan Complex, this formation contains magnetized, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock as well as intrusions of other origins during the Archean Era. The uplift of the region started in the Proterozoic Era; by the end of the Proterozoic, it had become part of the continent.
Besides the Jade Emperor Peak, other distinctive rock formations are the Heaven Candle Peak, the Fan Cliff, and the Rear Rock Basin.
Mount Tai lies in the zone of oriental deciduous forest; about 80% of its area is covered with vegetation. The flora is known to comprise almost 1,000 species. Some of the trees in the area are very old and have cultural significance, such as the Han Dynasty Cypresses, which were planted by the Emperor Wu Di, the Tang Chinese Scholartree (about 1,300 years old), the Welcoming-Guest Pine (500 years old) and the Fifth-Rank Pine, which was named originally by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, but was replanted about 250 years ago.
Mount Tai rises abruptly from the vast plain of central Shandong, and is naturally endowed with many scenic sites. Geologically, it is a tilted fault-block mountain, higher to the south than north, and is the oldest and most important example of the paleo-metamorphic system representative of the Cambrian Period in eastern China. Referred to as the Taishan Complex, it comprises magnetized, metamorphic, sedimentary rock and an intrusive mass of various origins that were formed in the Archean Era 1700-2000 million years ago. Subsequently, in the Proterozoic Era, the Taishan region began to rise, becoming part of the continent by the end of the era. Uplift continued until the middle of the Cenozoic Era. The gneiss which emerged in the Taishan region is the foundation for all of North China. Cambrian strata, fully emerged in the north, are rich in fossils. Six streams flow from the summit, their water renowned for its extremely low mineral content, slight acidity (pH = 6.3) and relatively high oxygen content (6.4 milligrams per liter (mg/l)).
The area falls within the warm temperate climatic zone. Meteorological data is not available. The regular climate is molly to -2 degrees Celsius.
Vegetation covers 79.9% of the area, which is densely wooded, but information about its composition is lacking. The flora is diverse and known to comprise 989 species, of which 433 species are woody and the rest herbaceous. Medicinal plants total 462 species and include multiflower knotweed, Taishan ginseng, Chinese gromwell and sealwort, which are renowned throughout the country. Some trees are very old and famous, notably the Han Dynasty Cypresses (planted 2,100 years ago by Emperor Wu Di of the Han Dynasty), 'Welcoming Guest Pine' (500 years old) and 'Fifth Rank Pine' (named by Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty).
There are over 200 species of animals in addition to 122 species of birds, but precise details are lacking. Large-scaled fish Varicorhinus macrolepis is found in running water at 300-800 m.
Mount Tai is of key importance in Chinese religion, being the eastern one of the five Sacred Mountains of China. According to historical records, Mount Tai became a sacred place visited by emperors to offer sacrifices and meditate in the Zhou Dynasty before 1000 BC. A total of 72 emperors were recorded as visiting it. Writers also came to acquire inspiration, to compose poems, write essays, paint and take pictures. Hence, a great many cultural relics were left on the mountain.
The Great Deity of Mount Tai (Chinese: ????; pinyin: ) is the supreme god of Mount Tai. According to one mythological tradition, he is a descendant of Pangu. According to other theologies, he is the eastern one of the Five Manifestations of the Highest Deity (Wufang Shangdi).
Bixia Yuanjun (Chinese: ????; pinyin: ), literally the "Goddess of the Blue Dawn", also known as the "Heavenly Immortal Lady of Jade" (Chinese: ????; pinyin: ) or the "Lady of Mount Tai" (Chinese: ????; pinyin: ). According to some mythological accounts, she is the daughter or the consort of the Great Deity of Mount Tai. Statues of Bixia Yuanjun often depict her holding a tablet with the Big Dipper as a symbol of her authority.
Shi Gandang (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ) is a spirit sent down from Mount Tai by Bixia Yuanjun to protect ordinary people from evil spirits. As part of cultural tradition, there will also often be Taishan Shi Gandang stones set up near buildings and other places, in order to protect those place from evil spirits. These are not to be confused with spirit tablets.
The Temple of the God of Mount Tai, known as the Dai Temple (Chinese: ??; pinyin: ), is the largest and most complete ancient building complex in the area. It is located at the foot of Mount Tai in the city of Tai'an and covers an area of 96,000 square meters. The temple was first built during the Qin Dynasty. Since the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), its design has been a replica of the imperial palace, which makes it one out of three extant structures in China with the features of an imperial palace (the other two are the Forbidden City and the Confucius Temple in Qufu). The temple has five major halls and many small buildings. The centerpiece is the Palace of Heavenly Blessings (Tian Kuang), built in 1008, during the reign of the last Northern Song Emperor Huizong. The hall houses the mural painting "The God of Mount Tai Making a Journey", dated to the year 1009. The mural extends around the eastern, western and northern walls of the hall and is 3.3 meters (11 ft) high and 62 meters (203 ft) long. The theme of the painting is an inspection tour by the god. Next to the Palace of Heavenly Blessings stand the Yaocan Pavilion and the entrance archway as well as the Bronze Pavilion in the northeast corner. The Dai Temple is surrounded by 2,100-year-old cypresses that date back to the Han Dynasty. The oldest surviving stair may be the 6,000 granite steps to the top of the mountain.
The Shrine of the Blue Dawn (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ), near the top of the mountain is another grand building complex, a special combination of metal components, wood, and bricks and stone structures. It is dedicated to the goddess Bixia (Blue Dawn). From the Taishan Temple to the Blue Dawn Temple there are numerous stone tablets and inscriptions and ancient buildings on the way. Visitors derive much pleasure from climbing Mount Taishan. From the red gate at the foot of the mountain to the South Heaven Gate at the top are some 6,660 stone steps, which wind their way up the mountain slopes, each step offering a different view.
The "Shibapan" () means 18 levels stairs, which is the most advantageous part of stairs in Mount Tai. A total of 1,827 stone steps, is one of the main signs Mount Tai. People always say: "Mount Tai of the majestic, all in Shibapan, Mount Tai of the sublime, all in the climb in!" Shibapan has three parts, the "Slow Eighteens"(), the "Hard Eighteens"(), and the "No slow no hard Eighteens" (?). The "Slow Eighteens" means this period is easier to climb, and the "Hard Eighteens" means it is harder to climb, which is interesting.
A flight of 7,200 total steps (including inner temple steps), with 6,293 Official Mountain Walkway Steps, lead up the East Peak of Mount Tai, along its course, there are 11 gates, 14 archways, 14 kiosks, and four pavilions.
In total, there are 22 temples, 97 ruins, 819 stone tablets, and 1,018 cliff-side and stone inscriptions located on Mount Tai. These include a Temple of the Jade King (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ), a Temple of the Blue Deity (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ), a Temple of Confucius (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ), a Temple of Doumu (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ) and the Puzhao Buddhist Temple (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ).
Among the tablets and inscriptions on the top of Mount Tai, the inscription that declares Mount Tai the "Most Revered of the Five Sacred Mountains" (simplified Chinese: ????; traditional Chinese: ????; pinyin: ) on the "Sun Viewing Peak" (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ) is particularly renown. It was written by a member of the Aisin Gioro clan (Chinese: ??????; pinyin: ) in 1907 and is featured on the reverse side of the five yuan bill of the 5th series renminbi banknotes. Another inscription marks the "Lu-Viewing Platform" (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ) from which Confucius took in the view over his home state of Lu and then pronounced "The world is small".
The Wordless Stela (Chinese: ???; pinyin: ) stands in front of the Jade Emperor Temple. Legend has it that the emperor who commissioned the stela was dissatisfied with the planned inscription and decided to leave it blank instead.
Visitors can reach the peak of Mount Tai via a bus which terminates at the Midway Gate to Heaven, from there a cable car connects to the summit. Covering the same distance on foot takes from two and a half to six hours. The supplies for the many vendors along the road to the summit are carried up by porters either from the Midway Gate to Heaven or all the way up from the foot of the mountain.
To climb up the mountain, one can take one of two routes. The more popular east route starts from Taishan Arch. On the way up the 7,200 stone steps, the climber first passes the Ten Thousand Immortals Tower (Wanxianlou), Arhat Cliff (Luohanya), and Palace to Goddess Dou Mu (Doumugong). The climbing from the First Gate to Heaven (yi1 tian1 men2), the main entrance bordering on Tai'an town, up the entire mountain can take two and a half hours for the sprinting hiker to six hours for the leisure pace. Reaching the Midway Gate to Heaven from First Gate to Heaven is one hour at a sprint up to two and a half hours leisurely. To the northeast of the Palace to Goddess Dou Mu is Sutra Rock Valley in which the Buddhist Diamond Sutra was cut in characters measuring fifty centimeters across believed to be inscribed in the Northern Wei Dynasty. The west route, taken by fewer tourists, is more scenic, but has less cultural heritage.