Description of Mount Taishan in 1870
Description of Mount Taishan in 1870
You know I love to read testimonials from the past about travel and culture in China. Some of the authors who were writing at that time didn’t have much opportunity to know more or their goal was simply to share their experience or their vision of China.
I published last year a summary of the most important fragments of Edouard Chavannes’[i] monograph dedicated to this mountain, meanwhile I leave you this testimony of John Markhan[ii] published in 1870
The ascent of the Taishan is made by a winding road 12 miles long, which is one long flight of stone steps. It commences just outside the north gate of the city: at first it leads up a sort of gorge and is by no means steep, but the incline becomes greater and greater as one goes on, until at last it is nearly a vertical ascent for some 3 li. I estimated the altitude from the foot of the hill to the summit to be about 5,000 feet. For the first 1,600 feet the road is lined on either side with cypress trees. Above this, and nearly to the top, these are replaced by fir trees.
Little more than half way is a grove where tradition says the emperor Shun took shelter during a storm. A temple marks, near this spot, the height which Confucius reached, for it appears that he never succeeded in getting to the top. We passed hundreds of pilgrims ascending and descending, natives of all provinces. Numerous beggars lined the road importuning the pilgrims for alms; these wretches live in caves along the road side. Tablets, cut in the rocks and erected by imperial or other visitors of distinction, occur frequently, while the names of emperors, viceroys, governors, &c. cut deeply in the rocks on every hand also denote who honoured the locality or were honoured by making the ascent of the Sacred Mount. Here and there are sacrificial temples, but only one rest or refreshment station occurs throughout the whole line of ascent.
The summit of Taishan
On the summit are several temples. One in the centre, called the Laomo Miao, where barren women sacrifice, is the largest. This is a large court with two smaller temples forming two sides of the court. The main one is tiled with iron tiles, and the two smaller ones with brass tiles, while the entrance porch has the green and yellow tile. In the centre of the court is a handsome pavilion containing an image of the «Holy Mother.»
The large temple was closed, being only opened on the 18th of the 4th month of each year by the viceroy in person, or by someone deputed by him, who takes away the offerings, sycee, cash, old shoes[iii], &c. deposited therein through a trap in the main door way, by the women who have occasion to seek aid from the Holy Mother. In the same court-yard, and fronting the large temple, are two bronze tablets 14 feet in height, erected by the emperor Qianlong, who also rebuilt the temples on this hill.
To the east of the large temple is another called the Dongyue[iv] Miao, and to the west is a hall to Confucius. At the back of the Laomo Miao is a great tablet some 40 feet in height cut in the rock during the Tang dynasty. All the temples on this hill are Taoist. The highest peak is called the Yuhuang Shangdi[v]; here is a tablet also erected during the early part of the Tang dynasty. The view from this peak is magnificent; to the N.E. and N.W. we looked down upon range after range of mountains as far as the eye could reach, while S.E. and S.W. extended the plain in which the city of Tang’an fu—looking like a square in a chess board[vi] down at the foot of the mountain—is situated, with an occasional mountain rising out of the level here and there.
We spent the night on the top of Taishan, also called Taizun (great honourable), with the thermometer down to 14°, and the next morning we commenced to descend at 9.30, reaching the foot at 12.30, the ascent having occupied just double this time. Near the foot is a Taoist nunnery which we visited. It is very well kept and far cleaner than the monasteries or temples presided over by priests, while the nuns themselves were remarkable for their cleanly appearance and neat dress, but I understand that they are not famous for their chastity[vii].
Near this nunnery is a monastery which contains, in a sort of vault, the skeleton, with the skin dried upon it, of a Taoist priest who died in the commencement of Kangxi’s reign, some 200 years ago. He is sitting cross legged in the usual way in which a priest is placed after death, and is dressed in fine yellow silk robes. He was celebrated for his piety, and was the high priest of this temple. I may here mention that amongst the pilgrims we met on our way up, was a man evidently of high rank, who made a point of saluting each one of our party (we were three) as we passed him, in the politest manner possible; on enquiry who this official was, we were told that he holds office of high grade in Yangzhou; this at once accounted for his civility to foreigners, for I am sure that had we met him before our naval forces visited that city[viii], he would have passed us by with the utmost indifference and contempt.
[ii] Markham, John. Notes on the Shantung Province, being a Journey from Chefoo to Tsiuhsien, the City of Mencius. Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1870. P. 14 and ff.
[iii] One of the typical offerings that make mothers praying for the birth of a boy.
[iv] From the first century the god Dongyue (of the East Peak), that is from Mount Taishan, was in charge of judging people after death. He has temples in many cities. There is a description of his temple in Beijing, in Spanish HERE
[v] Peak of the Jade Emperor, also inhabiting this mountain.
[vi] Gridded urbanization typical of ancient Chinese cities.
[vii][vii] In general the fame of the nuns was not very good in dynastic times. It could be because of the rejection of the male dominated society to that independent life of women, although they could always find examples on which to base their discrimination. The fact is that becoming a nun, whether Buddhist or Taoist, was one of the few options for an independent life from men that Chinese women had before the 20th century.
[viii] It should refer to the «Yangzhou Incident» that occurred two years earlier. On August 22 and 23, 1868, when local opposition to the presence of foreign Christian missionaries in the city took an explosive form with the assault by a local mob on the British China Inland Mission facilities, looting, burning and attacking the missionaries. No one was killed, although some were injured. After being informed of the riots, the British Consul in Shanghai, Sir Walter Henry Medhurst, took seventy royal marines on a warship and went up the Yangtze to Nanjing in a controversial show of force.
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