Fazal Ahmad, London, UK
In many faiths, there is a period where a prophet or spiritual leader climbs a mountain to be isolated and get closer to their Creator. The same is true in China, where traditions related to spirituality and mountains go back thousands of years, and indeed their term for pilgrimage literally means ‘paying one’s respect to a mountain’.
The Chinese built hard-to-reach and isolated monasteries in the mountains, and sages and those seeking spiritual enlightenment found solace in the quiet and peace of the mountain environment.
Tai Shan stands at 1,545 metres in eastern China and is one of nine sacred mountains in the country and is southwest of the capital Beijing. It has five main peaks, and the name means the mountain of five peaks or terraces. Across the peaks are 300 temples. Human fascination with the mountain range goes back to the Stone Age period.
Over 4,000 years ago, Emperor Shun would climb Tai Shan every five years, which is known locally as the ‘Son of the Emperor of Heaven’. This would have been around the time that Emperor Yu the Great founded the Xia Dynasty around 2,200 BCE. At the peak, sacrifices were made to heaven and at the foot of the mountain, sacrifices were made to earth. So the mountain helped the people to understand the connection between heaven and earth, and in a sense, the Creator and His creations.
This tradition continued as Emperor Shih-Huang also climbed the mountain in approximately 219 BCE. Some traditions also claim that Confucius (as) would also have climbed Tai Shan to contemplate philosophy and his Creator. One quote associated to Confucius (as) relates to the sense of perspective that he got near the summit, as he said ‘I feel the world is much smaller’.
Emperors would visit to pay homage to heaven and earth, and through the magnificence of the mountain range, they recognised the hand of the Creator. It is thought that 72 Emperors visited Tai Shan.
For thousands of years, Tai Shan became spiritually significant for the Chinese, Mongolians and Tibetans, and in that period, religious leaders from Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism would visit and establish their own shrines and temples. As the mountain became a place of pilgrimage, there were traditions of sacred pools from which pilgrims would take healing water back with them.
Even today, visitors throng to visit the shrines and temples that line the 6,660 steps up to the top of Tai Shan. At the peak are the Temple of the Jade Emperor, and the Temple of the Princess which draws Chinese women.
Tai Shan Mountain is a World Heritage Site and revered as a sacred mountain by many Chinese people.
 Paul Devereux, Secrets of Ancient and Sacred Places – The World’s Mysterious Heritage (London, UK: Brockhampton Press, 1992), 170.
 Ibid, p. 171.
Phillip Carr-Gomm, Sacred Places, (UK: Quercus Books, 2008).
“Confucius and the Qufu and Taishan Area of Shandong Province,” https://factsanddetails.com/china/cat15/sub97/item466.html. Accessed: June 11, 2022.