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Taishan -- First of the Five Sacred Mountains
Rising abruptly above the North China Plain in central Shandong Province, Mount Taishan is one of the five sacred mountains of China. The other four are Hengshan in Hunan Province, Songshan in Henan Province, Huashan in Shaanxi Province, and Hengshan in Shanxi Province. (These are not to be confused with the four Chinese mountains that are sacred to Buddhists: Mounts Wutai, Emei, Jiuhua, and Putuo.) At 1,500 meters, Taishan is not the highest of the five, but it is regarded as the "First of the Five Sacred Mountains."

The magnificent Temple to the God of Taishan (Daimiao) at the foot of the mountain houses a forest of stelae, commemorative tablets, and monuments and is one of the best-preserved palaces in China. Generations of emperors held ceremonies here to worship the god of Taishan. The temple was enlarged during the Tang Dynasty and repeatedly renovated and redecorated in the subsequent Song, Kin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

Heavenly Blessings Hall (Tiankuangdian), the major structure of the temple, was built in 1009 during the Northern Song Dynasty and is embellished with a colorful mural, "The Mountain God's Inspection Tour." Measuring 3.3 meters high and 62 meters long, the mural is a masterpiece of Song Dynasty art portraying lifelike characters with individual expressions and attitudes.

The climb up the mountain starts from Taishan Arch. On the way up the 7,200 stone steps, the climber first passes Hundred Immortals Tower (Baixianlou), Arhat Cliff (Luohanya), and Palace to Goddess Dou Mu (Doumugong). To the northeast of the Palace to Goddess Dou Mu is Sutra Rock Valley in which the Buddhist Diamond Sutra was cut n characters measuring fifty centimeters across. This giant inscription, said to have been written by a Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577) calligrapher, was the first of its kind. Only 1,043 characters are still readable.

A winding stone path passes Cypress Tunnel (Baidong) -- so called because the branches and foliage of great centuries-old cypresses intertwine to blot out the sunlight, creating a tunnel-like passage, Sky-in-the-Ewer Tower (Hutiange), and the steep Turning the Horse Around Hill (Huimaling); eventually the path leads to Halfway Gate to Heaven (Zhongtianmen). Halfway up the mountain, Halfway Gate to Heaven is an old temple now serving as a hotel where mountaineers can stay the night.

Starting from the Halfway Gate to Heaven and passing Cloud Bridge (Yunqiao) Waterfall and the Fifth Rank Pine Pavilion (Wusongting), the climber comes to the Eighteen Mountain Bends (Shibapan), the most difficult section on the journey to the summit. The Eighteen Mountain Bends ends at the South Gate to Heaven (Nantianmen), and from there a smooth climb lies ahead to the summit.

Inside the South Gate to Heaven, built during the Yuan Dynasty some 700 years ago, is a pavilion named Not End Yet Pavilion (Weiliaoxuan), which encourages visitors to continue their climb to the summit. Lying on the last section of the trek are Suspending Cliff (Yixuanya), Heavenly Street (Tianjie) and Azure Clouds Temple (Bixiasi). The Azure Clouds Temple, built during the Song Dynasty, is a sacred place for pilgrims. Inside the resplendent temple stand a big bronze tripod and a tower called Ten-Thousand-Year Tower (Wansuilou).

The Grand View Cliff (Daguanfeng) north of the temple is inscribed with an essay by Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang Dynasty on his first ascent of Taishan. The 8.8 meter-high cliff is surrounded by monuments inscribed with eulogies of the mountain by emperors of various dynasties.

Topping the cliff is the Jade Emperor Summit (Yuhuangding). From the east wing of Jade Emperor Hall (Yuhuangdian), people can watch the sun as it rises beyond the East China Sea, the most exciting moment of the whole journey. From the west wing, they can watch the setting sun as it sinks into the Yellow River.

On the north slope, Sky Hill (Tiankongshan), Yellow Flower Cave (Huanghuadong), Lotus Flower Cave (Lianhuadong), and Heavenly Candle Peak (Tianzhufeng) are the major scenic spots.

To descend the mountain, visitors can go down westwards from Halfway Gate to Heaven to see Phoenix Hill (Fenghuangling), a quiet and secluded place where fish abounds in the springs and ponds. Major historical sites include Moon Cave (Yueliangdong), Lion Peak (Shizifeng), Elephant Trunk Peak (Xiangbifeng), Pot Screen Cliff (Huapingya), and White Dragon Pool (Bailongchi). Near White Dragon Pool is the tomb of Feng Yuxiang (1882-1948), a famous general of the War of Resistance Against Japan.

Tourists come to Mount Taishan in a steady stream all the year round either by tour bus or by rail (the Beijing- Shanghai Railway has a stop here). The recently completed aerial tramway takes non-climbing visitors up and down the mountain, providing them with much pleasure.


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