Mount Tai (Chinese: 泰山; pinyin: Tài Shān) is a mountain of historical and cultural significance located north of the city of Tai'an, in Shandong province, People's Republic of China. The tallest peak is the Jade Emperor Peak (simplified Chinese: 玉皇顶; traditional Chinese: 玉皇頂; pinyin: Yùhuáng Dīng), which is commonly reported as 1,545 metres (5,069 ft) tall, but is described by the PRC government as 1,532.7 metres (5,029 ft).
Mount Tai is one of the "Five Sacred Mountains". 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 just north of the city of Tai'an and to the south of the provincial capital Jinan. It extends from 150 to 1,545 metres (490 to 5,069 ft) above sea level and covers an area of 426 square kilometres (164 sq mi) at its base. The Jade Emperor Peak is 1,532.7 metres (5,029 ft) above sea level and located at 36° 16′N and 117° 6′E.
Traces of human presence at Mount Tai date back to the Paleolithic period. 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. In the Spring and Autumn Period, the mountain lay on the boundary between the competing States of Qi (north of the mountain) and Lu (south). In the ensuing Warring States Period, the State of Qi erected a 500 km-long wall to protect itself against an invasion. Ruins of this wall are still present today. The name Tai'an of neighboring city is attributed to the saying "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country" (both characters of Tai'an, "泰" and "安", have the independent meaning of "peace").
Religious worship of Mount Tai has a tradition of 3,000 years, it has been practiced from the time of the Shang to that of the Qing Dynasty. Over time, this worship evolved into an official imperial rite and Mount Tai became one of the principal places where the emperor would pay homage to heaven (on the summit) and earth (at the foot of the mountain) in the Feng (Chinese: 封; pinyin: Fēng) and Shan (Chinese: 禪; pinyin: Shàn) sacrifices respectively. The two sacrifices are often referred to together as the Fengshan sacrifices (Chinese: 封禪; pinyin: Fēngshàn). Carving of an inscription as part of the sacrifices marked the attainment of the "great 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 famous inscription. During the Han Dynasty, the Feng and Shan sacrifices were considered the highest of all sacrifices.
Mount Tai has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In 2003, it attracted around 6 million visitors. A renovation project was completed by late October 2005, which aimed at restoring cultural relics and the renovation of damaged buildings of cultural significance.
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.
Gods venerated on Mount Tai
Emperor Lord of Mount Tai
The Emperor Lord of Mount Tai (Chinese: 东岳大帝; pinyin: Dōngyuè Dàdì) is the supreme god of Mount Tai. According to one tradition, he is a descendant of Pangu.
Bixia Yuanjun (Chinese: 碧霞元君; pinyin: Bìxiá Yuánjūn) also known as the "Heavenly Jade Maiden" (Chinese: 天仙玉女; pinyin: Tiānxian Yùnǚ) or the "Empress of Mount Tai" (Chinese: 泰山娘娘; pinyin: Tàishān Niangniang). According to one of the legends, she is the daughter of the Emperor Lord of Mount Tai. Statues of Bixia Yuanjun often depict her holding a tablet with the Big Dipper as a symbol of her authority.
Yanguang Nainai (Chinese: 眼光奶奶; pinyin: Yǎnguāng Nǎinǎi) is the Goddess of Eyesight and often portrayed as an attendant to Bixia Yuanjun.
Songzi Niangniang (Chinese: 送子娘娘; pinyin: Sòngzi Niangniang) is the Goddess of Fertility, like Yanguang Nainai, she is often portrayed as an attendant to Bixia Yuanjun.
Shi Gandang (Chinese: 石敢当; pinyin: Shígǎndāng) is a spirit sent down from Mount Tai by Bixia Yuanjun to protect ordinary people from evil spirits.
The Temple of the God of Mount Tai, known as the Dai Temple (Chinese: 岱庙; pinyin: Dàimiào), 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 metres high and 62 metres 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 the 2,100 year-old Han Dynasty cypresses. Oldest surviving stair may be 6000 granite steps to the top of the sacred Tai Shan mountain in China
The site contains a number of well-preserved steles from the Huizong reign, some of which are mounted on bixi tortoises. There is a much later, Qianlong-era bixi-mounted stele as well.
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 4 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 the Jade Emperor Temple (Chinese: 玉皇庙; pinyin: Yùhuáng Miào), the Bixia Temple or Azure Clouds Temple (Chinese: 碧霞祠; pinyin: Bìxiá Cí), the Qingdi Palace (Chinese: 青帝宫; pinyin: Qīngdì Gōng), a Confucius Temple (Chinese: 孔子庙; pinyin: Kǒngzi Miào), the Dou Mu Hall (Chinese: 斗母宫; pinyin: Dòumǔ Gōng) and the Puzhao Temple (Chinese: 普照寺; pinyin: Pǔzhào Sì).
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: 五岳独尊; traditional Chinese: 五嶽獨尊; pinyin: Wǔyuè Dúzūn) on the "Sun Viewing Peak" (Chinese: 日观峰; pinyin: Rìguān Fēng) is particularly renown. It was written by a member of the Aisin Gioro clan (Chinese: 爱新觉罗玉构; pinyin: Àixīn Juéluō Yùgòu) in 1907 and is featured on the reverse side of the 5 yuan bill of the 5th series renminbi banknotes. Another inscription marks the "Lu-Viewing Platform" (Chinese: 瞻鲁台; pinyin: Zhānlǔ tái) from which Confucius took in the view over his home state of Lu and then pronounced "The world is small".
The Wordless Stela (Chinese: 无字碑; pinyin: Wúzì Bēi) 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.
Other significant places
- Abandoning-Oneself Cliff (Chinese: 舍身崖; pinyin: Shěshēn Yá), renamed Treasure Life Cliff (Chinese: 爱身崖; pinyin: Àishēn Yá) in the Ming Dynasty
- Sun Viewing Peak (Chinese: 日观峰; pinyin: Rìguān Fēng)
- Moon Viewing Peak (Chinese: 月观峰; pinyin: Yuèguān Fēng)
- Lu-Viewing Platform (Chinese: 瞻鲁台; pinyin: Zhānlǔ Tái)
- Explore the Sea of Clouds Rock (Chinese: 探海石; pinyin: Tànhǎi Shí)
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.
- The Chinese idiom "Mount Tai & Big Dipper" (Chinese: 泰山北斗; pinyin: Tàishān Bĕidŏu) is an epithet for a person of great distinction.
- According to a famous ancient quotation from Sima Qian, he said "Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather." Mao Zedong referred to this passage in the 20th century: "To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather." Rage Against the Machine also referred to the passage in the song "Year of the Boomerang": "So I'm goin' out heavy sorta like Mount Tai."
- Mount Tai is shown on the reverse side of the 5 yuan bill of the 5th series renminbi banknotes.
- The 1987 album Hold Your Fire by Canadian progressive rock band Rush contained the song "Tai Shan", referencing drummer/lyricist Neil Peart's journey to Mount Tai.
- The Dai Miao is featured in Sid Meier's Civilization IV as a religious complex that can be built by a Great Prophet, thus establishing a holy shrine dedicated to Taoism in the Taoist holy city.