Revered Mountains and Ancient Temples: All Other Mountains Are Below Mount Tai

Edited by Chen Ziling

PureInsight | April 21, 2003

Mount Tai with inscriptions on its cliffs

[] Since ancient times, Mount Tai, found in the center of Shandong Province, was called the Eastern Mountain of the Five Sacred Mountains. Mount Tai measures about 200 kilometers in length from east to west and about 50 kilometers in length from south to north. Its highest peak, Yu Huang Peak (or Jade Emperor Peak), is 1,545 meters tall.

According to Shu Yi Ji (or A Collection of Bizarre Stories) authored by Ren Fang of the Liang Dynasty, citing Chinese folklore, Pang Gu was the first ruler of the universe. Ren tells a story: "Once upon a time when Pang Gu died, his head became the Four Sacred Mountains, his eyes became the sun and the moon, his body fat became the rivers and the seas, his hair became prairies and forests." Legends from the Qin and Han Dynasties inform us that Pang Gu's head became the Eastern Mountain, his chest became the Central Mountain, the left arm became the Southern Mountain, his right arm became the Northern Mountain and his feet became the Western Mountain." Since the existence of this legend, the Eastern Mountain, or Mount Tai, thus became the head of the Five Sacred Mountains.

Statue of the God of Mount Tai at the Dai Temple

The Chinese generally believe the Mount Tai symbolizes a god. It has a most majestic appearance, like a giant tower surging out of the earth, overlooking all directions in the center of China. Ancient Chinese scholars have described Mount Tai as "a land pulled from the earth to heaven," and "the pillar that supports heaven," it has also been described as "the center of the world" and "the joint of heaven and earth." Ancient Chinese legends tell of a mystical mountain, known as the Kun Lun Mountain. Kun Lun Mountain was said to be the abode of the gods and the emperor of the gods. About 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, gods taught humans the necessary skills and knowledge in order to survive on earth, as well as a set of moral values to guide man's lives. Chinese ancestors lived and prospered in the region of Kun Lun Mountain. Approximately 4,700 years ago, the Yellow Emperor established a brilliant and magnificent Chinese civilization in the region of Kun Lun Mountain. According to an ancient literary record, "The Yellow Emperor resides in the misty Kun Lun Mountain." "The peak of Kun Lun Mountain situates the Palace of the Yellow Emperor." Actually, Kun Lun Mountain was "the mountain in the center of the world," today's Eastern Mountain, or Mount Tai.


Misty Mount Tai                        Sunrise at Mount Tai

"Towering pine trees reach into the clouds,
Although appear so tiny from far away.
Flowers on Mount Tai do not seem to come from the human realm.
Even in May the peaks of Mount Tai are covered in snow."

Because the natural ecology on Mount Tai looks so heavenly, the ancient Chinese believed that gods and deities often graced Mount Tai and portrayed their fantasies in artistic forms. A large mural "The God of Mount Tai on an Inspection Tour" in the Hall of Celestial Gifts in the Dai Temple at the foot of Mount Tai is a globally renowned ancient piece of art. The mural measures 3.3 meters in height, and 62 meters in length. Legend has it that it was created in the Song Dynasty. It vividly portrays a fantasy of a grand inspection tour with a total of 691 characters engaging in different activities.

Another palatial structure on Mount Tai reflects such a divine fantasy. "Pond of the Heavenly Queen" is a small, romantic temple that faces a brook. Its red walls and black bricks are a sharp contrast to the surrounding green pine trees. "Fountain of Heavenly Queen" produces clear and sweet spring water and is located in the front yard. "Pond of Heavenly Queen" was called "The Nunnery of Jades" or "Pond of Jades" in the ancient times. [Note: Jade is a common synonym for ladies in Chinese literature.]

Left: The Mural, "The God of Mount Tai on an Inspection Tour" at Dai Temple
Right: Dai Temple at the foot of Mount Tai

The ancient fables tell that Kun Lun Mountain, today'sMount Tai, connects the heavens and the earth, and that an everyday person will reach heaven when he reaches the highest peak of Mount Tai. In other words, Mount Tai was believed to be a ladder to heaven, or a gate to heaven.

South Gate to Heaven on Mount Tai           The Winding Trail to the top of Mount Tai

Because the ancient Chinese revered tall mountains and rich soil, the ancient Chinese emperors liked to hold worshipping rituals on top of tall mountains. Since Mount Tai was believed to connect heaven and earth, many ancient emperors chose Mount Tai for "Fen Chan," also called "the rite of worshipping Heaven and Earth with the emperor officiating." "Fen" refers to the rite of building a round soil platform on top of Mount Tai to worship Heaven, and "Chan" refers to a rite of building a square soil platform at the foot of Mount Tai to worship the Earth. The ancient Chinese believed that Heaven is round and the Earth is square, therefore everything used to worship Heaven and Earth must take corresponding shapes.

In a chapter on Fen Chan in the book Historic Records, the noted Chinese historian Sima Qian from the Western Han Dynasty has documented a total of 72 Fen Chan rites performed at Mount Tai until the Western Han Dynasty. Many well-known Chinese emperors who ruled after the Western Han Dynasty have also performed Fen Chan rites at Mount Tai. Some even made inscriptions on the rocks, documenting the histories of their Fen Chan rites. Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty chose to perform Fen Chan rites six times at Mount Tai. The last emperor who performed a Fen Chan rite at Mount Tai was the Emperor of Truthfulness of the Song Dynasty.

Beginning with the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, the Fen Chan rite evolved into a worshipping ceremony. Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty held eleven worshipping ceremonies at Mount Tai and even visited the Dai Peak six times.

Inscriptions on the cliffs and rocks on Mount Tai

Why has Mount Tai been such a popular choice for Fen Chan rites and worship ceremonies throughout Chinese history? The History of the Western Han Dynasty provides an explanation: "Heaven is so high that it's beyond man's reach. If we perform Fen Chan rites on top of Mount Tai, we will be closer to heaven and have a better chance of delivering our respect to heaven."

Chinese emperors, also known as "Tian Zi" in Chinese, which means "Sons of Heaven," were entitled by Heaven to rule China. A Fen Chan rite was believed to be a communication between Heaven and the "Son of Heaven." It was a royal and divine ceremony that only a Chinese emperor is entitled to.

Chinese emperors throughout the ages favored Mount Tai as a location for Fen Chan rites and have shared a belief in the divine nature of Mount Tai. It is not difficult to understand why Chinese people believe Mount Tai to be heaven.

Translated from:

Add new comment