National Geographic : 1945 Jun
Tai Shan, Sacred Mountain of the East BY MARY AUGUSTA MULLIKIN * ATHOUSAND years before Tutankha men was laid in his tomb on the Nile, centuries before Moses sought Jehovah on Sinai, religious pilgrims were toiling up the steeps of Tai Shan,t most revered of the five sacred mountains of China. Tradition is that the Emperor Shun climbed to the peak some 2,200 years before Christ to proclaim himself the "Son of Heaven." Confucius made the pilgrimage, a venerable custom even in his day, and, standing on the summit, remarked that the Celestial Kingdom was small indeed. In the course of four millenniums, untold millions-men and women, young and old, rich and poor, hale and feeble-have struggled up these heights that they might worship "nearest Heaven." Here they have raised their holiest temples, offered their most pre cious sacrifices. The Greatest Stairway in the World Those who came in the earlier periods climbed as best they could over rough terrain. Later, stone steps were built from the base to the top-some 6,700 of them-the most stu pendous stairway in the world (pages 705, 711, 715). Visitors today make the ascent comfortably in chairs carried on the shoulders of bearers, but throngs of worshipers still go on foot. I had been only three days in China when I undertook the first of my nine ascents of Tai Shan. In the many years since, I have learned to know the mountain intimately. Fresh from impressions of the jostling peo ples of Shanghai,$ the mingling and merging of East and West, my fellow artist and I stepped from the up-to-date Blue Express to the platform of Taian Station in Shantung. As if from a specially designed grandstand, we saw the rugged outline of China's foremost sacred mountain covering all the northern heavens and stretching in receding foothills to a far horizon. At first I felt a little frightened and alone, but my spirits rose when, amid the babel of an unknown tongue, I recognized the one Chi nese word of my vocabulary, chi-tzu-r (the son of a hen). Peddlers were selling hard boiled eggs to hungry travelers. In a moment, a rough Shantung giant dis entangled himself from the noisy, roiling crowd and presented us, the only foreigners, with an identifying card from our prospective host. Soon we were being carried toward our destination in chairs. At that time rickshas, good roads, and wars had not disturbed the Walled City of Taian (the great peace). No later experience has dimmed memories of the sunrise awakening of a native town; of our chair bearers crying at the suburban gates, "K'ai-k'ai-men" (Open gates); of shop keepers removing the boarded fronts of their shops, revealing well-stocked shelves of home made products in metal, wood, and cloth; of apprentices dipping their sleepy heads in ba sins of water; of garden produce trundled to market on squeaking wheelbarrows. The orthodox pilgrimage began at the Tai Temple, an enormous structure as strongly walled as Taian itself, the entire compound covering about an eighth of the area of the holy city. At least as early as the eleventh century a temple stood here, and the present structure is 500 years old. After worshiping in it the god Tai Shan, the devotee might pro ceed through the North Gate of the city with some hope of a successful pilgrimage. The mountain rears up like a picture map, with dominant features clearly drawn on its severe surface. It seems to wear its skeleton outside its body. Up its side stretches the broad stone-paved Pan Lu, or Pilgrim Way, mentioned in history as early as the Han Dy nasties (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and unique among mountain roads. Twenty feet broad at the beginning, somewhat narrower farther up, it shows as a white, undulating line on the upper mountain, leading to the South Heavenly Gate. The pilgrim must surmount the 6,000-odd stone steps to reach the celestial portal. Worshipers Swarm Like Insects Passing under the first monument, a stone pailou, or straight-lined ornamental arch (page 713), the road approaches Peach Orchard Glen. Here I was carried from the view of distant grandeurs to immediate and lively details. The Chinese almanac notes a day in spring as "the awakening of excited insects," and * For more than a year Miss Mullikin, an artist, has been interned at Tientsin by the Japanese. In 1920 she went to China and, loving the country, re mained to paint its people and scenery. For the March, 1938, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE she wrote "China's Great Wall of Sculpture" and con tributed paintings to illustrate it. t See Tai, E-14, "China" Map Supplement, with this issue of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, and page 700. $ See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Changing Shanghai," by Amanda Boyden, October 1937; and "Cosmopolitan Shanghai, Key Seaport of China," by W. Robert Moore, September, 1932.