Mount Tai (泰山) 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 which is commonly reported as 1,545 metres.
The word tai in Chinese means stability and peace and the name Tai’an is attributed to the saying: “If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country” (both characters of Tai’an have an independent meaning of stability and peace).
The sacred Mount Tai (‘shan’ means ‘mountain’) was the object of an imperial cult for nearly 2,000 years, and the artistic masterpieces found there are in perfect harmony with the natural landscape. It has always been a source of inspiration for Chinese artists and scholars and symbolizes ancient Chinese civilizations and beliefs.
Among the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism (the other four are Heng Mountain of Hunan Province, Hua Mountain of Shaanxi Province, Song Mountain of Henan Province and Heng Mountain of Shanxi Province), Mount Tai is only the third highest.
Mount Taishan is the most famous sacred mountain of China, with exceptional historic, cultural, aesthetic and scientific value. Settled by humans as early as the Neolithic (a Dawenkou site is nearby), the mountain has been worshipped continuously throughout the last three millennia. A large and impressive rock mass covering 25,000 ha and rising to 1,545 m above the surrounding plateau, Mount Taishan is considered one of the most beautiful scenic spots in China and was an important cradle of oriental East Asian culture since the earliest times. The mountain was an important object of the cult worship of mountains even before 219 BCE, when the Qin Emperor, Huang Di, paid tribute to the mountain in the Fengshan sacrifices to inform the gods of his success in unifying all of China. On the mountain there are 12 historically recorded imperial ceremonies in homage to Heaven and Earth, about 1,800 stone tablets and inscriptions, and 22 temples, which together make Mount Taishan the most important monument in China, a world-renowned treasure house of history and culture.
The key monument, the Temple to the God of Taishan, contains the Taoist masterpiece painting of 1,009 CE “The God of Taishan Making a Journey”. Inscriptions include the Han Dynasty stelae of Zhang Qian, Heng Fang and Madam Jin Sun; the Valley of Inscribed Buddhist Scriptures inscribed in the Northern Qi Dynasty; the Eulogium on Taishan by Tang Xuanzong, and the Parallel Stelae of the Tang Dynasty. There is also a number of ancient and significant trees, including six cypresses of the Han Dynasty planted 2,100 years ago; Sophora japonica of the Tang Dynasty planted 1,300 years ago, and the Guest-Greeting Pine and the Five-Bureaucrat Pine, both of which were planted some 500 years ago. All the architectural elements, paintings, in situ sculptures, stone inscriptions and ancient trees are integrated into the landscape of Mount Taishan.
The landscape of Mount Taishan as one of the five sacred mountains in traditional China is a unique artistic achievement. The eleven gates, the fourteen archways, the fourteen kiosks and the four pavilions, which are scattered along the flight of 6,660 steps that rise between heaven and earth are not just simple architectural achievements, but are the final touches by human hands to the elements of a splendid natural site. Its very size places this scenic landscape, which has evolved over a period of 2,000 years, among the most grandiose human achievements of all time.
Mount Taishan, the most venerated of mountains in China, exerted for 2,000 years multiple and wide-ranging influence on the development of art. The Temple to the God of Taishan and the Azure Cloud Temple, dedicated to his daughter, the Goddess Laomu, were prototypes built on Mount Taishan and subsequently used as models during the imperial period, throughout all of China. The conceptual model of a mountain bearing the traces of man, where graceful structures – bridges, gateways or pavilions – contrast with sombre pine forests or frightening rocky cliffs, could only have originated by referring to Mount Taishan.
Mount Taishan bears unique testimony to the lost civilizations of imperial China, most particularly in relation to their religions, arts and letters. For 2,000 years it was one of the principal places of worship where the emperor paid homage to Heaven and Earth in the Fengshan sacrifices, conducted by the Son of Heaven himself. Since the time of the Han Dynasty, it has been one of the five mountains symbolizing the Celestial Kingdom, in accordance with the Doctrine of the Five Elements, a fundamental premise in Chinese thought.
Mount Taishan is an outstanding example of a sacred mountain. The Palace of Heavenly Blessings (1,008 CE), located inside the Temple to the God of Taishan, is one of the three oldest palaces in China. The Azure Cloud Temple, also constructed under the Song Dynasty, is typical of a mountain architectural complex in the arrangement of its courtyards and buildings, and the Divine Rock Temple with its Thousand Buddhas Hall are outstanding and complete examples of great temples. Together they illustrate the cultural and religious aspects of the Tang and Song periods.
Due to its long-standing status as a sacred place, Mount Taishan has been preserved with little alteration. The ensemble of elements enables Mount Taishan to entirely and accurately represent its harmonious combination as a natural landscape modified and enhanced by human agency to become the embodiment of ancient Chinese belief and culture.
Cultural and Historic Relics
The majesty of Mount Tai has profoundly moved many visitors at all periods of history: the emperors who claimed they were the sons of heaven, the proud high-ranking officials, brilliant poets, Buddhists, Taoists and ordinary people too. They left numerous cultural and historic relics. There are in total 2000 historical relics. There are 58 ancient building complexes, which are mainly in Ming and Qing Dynasty style, and 29 are well-preserved. They built at the foot of Mount Tai and along its slopes; among which Dai Temple, Bixia Temple, Hong Mountain Gate, Nantian Gate and Daizhong Arch Gate are masterpieces among ancient Chinese buildings and the representation of China’s culture of thousands of years. Interestingly, from Dai Temple, (the place for offering sacrifice to the Emperor of Earth) located at the foot of Mount Tai, to Jade Emperor Summit, the temples built along the slopes are said to compose a ten-kilometer road from the nether world to heaven.
Besides, there are countless inscriptions on the cliffs and steles from historic celebrities, using such laudatory descriptions of Mount Tai as “towering majesty in the east”, “supporting the sky and holding up the sun” and “as lofty as heaven”.
Jade Emperor Peak
Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in the heaven) is the summit of Mount Tai. The city of Tai’an, at the foot of Mount Tai, is 153 meters above sea level, while the Jade Emperor is 1545 meters above sea level, with the sharp altitude difference of 1392 meters offering tourists a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the entire area. It is also called Taiping Peak (Peace Peak) and Celestial Pillar Peak, and has long been known as the First Peak under Heaven.
It is located to the north of Bixia Temple and there lies Jade Emperor Temple, which was built in honor of the Jade Emperor of Taoism. There is a big stone in the middle of the yard in front of the temple, with the engraving: “The Summit of Mount Tai 1545 meters”. The height could not be checked when it was first erected. The height of Jade Emperor Peak is now reported as 1532.7 meters. Rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty, it consists of Jade Emperor Hall, housing the bronze figure of the Jade Emperor; Sun View Pavilion, lying to the east where tourists can enjoy the sunrise; River Enjoyment Pavilion, to the west, which is a perfect place for tourists to appreciate sunset clouds and the golden belt of the Yellow River.
Bixia Temple (Azure Cloud Temple) is located south of the summit of Mount Tai, Jade Emperor Peak, east of Heavenly Street, and 6.5 kilometers away from Dai Temple. It was firstly built at the year of 1008 during the Song Dynasty and was originally called Zhaozhen Temple. It gained the present name Bixia Temple at the year of 1770 during the Qing Dynasty after a restoration.
It is a grand building complex set among high mountains which consists of twelve pieces of distinctive architecture. Bixia Temple has a compact overall arrangement and the buildings are arranged along the medial axis symmetrically. When looking up at it from Heavenly Street, the temple is surrounded by clouds. If looking down on from the summit, its palaces and halls hide between the peaks. It is the one of the masterpieces among Taoist buildings and represents the high constructing level of ancient Chinese architecture.
As one of the Chinese mythologies goes, Bixia Temple was the heavenly residence of the Goddess, Yuanjun (Supreme Monarch). Goddess Yuanjun is also called the Mother of Mount Tai who might bring good luck to people especially to women and children according to Chinese mythology. She is said to be the daughter of the God of Mountain.
The temple consists of two courtyards. A gilded bronze sculpture of Goddess Yuanjun is housed in the main hall of Bixia Temple. Because of the fog and rain on the high mountain, wood is vulnerable to decay, and the tiles can be easily wrecked by the strong wind, therefore the tiles and other parts of the temple were made of iron. In the early period of Qing Dynasty, the iron tiles were replaced with bronze tiles. In terms of scale and materials, the Bixia temple stands out from all structures at the top of Mount Tai.
Dai Temple, located at the south foot of Mount Tai, is the largest and best-preserved ancient building complex in the scenic area of Mount Tai. It was firstly built during Han Dynasty and greatly expanded during Tang, Song Dynasties. It is a Taoist temple where emperors during the past dynasties offered sacrifice to the God of Earth to pray and say thanks for peace and prosperity. Dai Temple is in the palace style of ancient Chinese emperors, to compose over 150 ancient buildings in many kinds. It together with the Forbidden City in Beijing, “Three Kong” (Confucius Temple, the Cemetery of Confucius and Kong Family’s Mansion) in Qufu of Shangdong province and Chengde Summer Palace of Hebei province are considered as the Four Representative Ancient Chinese Buildings.
Covering a totally area of 96500 square meters, Dai Temple has gates at its four sides. The main building of Dai Temple is Tiankuang Hall (Hall of Heavenly Blessing) which was during the year 1009 in the North Song Dynasty enshrines the God of Mount Tai. It is 48.7 meters from east to west, 19.8 meters in width and 22.3 meters high. It is a double-roofed palace-like wooden structure with carved beams, painted pillars, and upturned eaves, covered by yellow glazed-tiles. On its east, west and north walls of the interior is a 3.3-meter-tall and 62-meter-long mural called God of Mount Tai Returning to the Palace. The mural portrays the scenes of the returning tour of the God of Mount Tai from a hunting excursion. There are totally over 630 figures appearing in the mural, together with various kinds of rare birds and beasts, flora, mountains and palaces. Every figure has distinctive postures and facial expressions.
There are totally 151 steles and stone inscriptions from the past dynasties in the Dai Temple, which wins Dai Temple a title of Stele Forest. Among them the rescript inscription of the second emperor of Qin Dynasty was engraved during 209 BC by Li Si, the renowned official and calligrapher of Qin Dynasty. It is one of the oldest inscriptions preserved in China. Besides, the famous steles include Hengfang Stele (168AD) and Zhangqian Stele (186 AD) of East Han Dynasty and Madam Shun Stele (272AD) of West Jin Dynasty.
Mount Tai International Climbing Festival
Mount Tai international Mountaineering Festival is held in September every year since 1987. The festival and climbing competition attracts athletes and tourists from around the world, providing a development platform for strong economic and cultural construction of Tai’an, helping to build the city into an international travel destination.
Transport to Tai’an and to Mount Tai
Currently, there is no airport in Tai’an. The nearest large airport is Yaoqiang Airport at Jinan (the capital city of Shandong province). There is no direct bus from Tai’an to Yaoqiang Airport; visitors should change trains or buses in Jinan. A 60-minute bus journey is needed from Jinan Yaoqiang Airport to the railway station of Jinan.
There are more than 47 trains running though the Taishan Railway Station of Tai’an city every day, linking Tai’an with main cities of China, including Jinan (the capital city of Shandong province, a journey of about 50 minutes), Beijing (a journey of four and a half hours), Shanghai (a journey of about six and a half hours), Qingdao (a journey of about six hours) and Yantai (a journey of about eight and a half hours).
Taishan Railway Station is the transportation junction of Tai’an. It is advisable that tourists get to the Taishan Railway Station first, and then take buses to the different mountain gates of Mount Tai (there are four mountain gates at Mount Tai and every mountain starts a different mountain ascending route to the summit of Mount Tai).
Long Distance Buses to/from Tai’an
The highway transportation of Tai’an is highly developed, which links Tai’an with not only the cities of Shandong province such as Jinan (the capital city of Shandong province), Qingdao, Yantai, Weihai, Rizhao, Zipo and Qufu, but also many other main cities of China including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Kaifeng and Ningbo.