Dai Temple, dating back more than 2,000 years, is the largest and best preserved historical site on Taishan. Photos by Wang Dequan
It was while watching the sunrise on Taishan Mountain that Confucius declared "The world is small" and Mao Zedong added his own nugget, "The East is red". In fact, emperors have been visiting the sacred spot for more than 2,000 years to pay homage and offer sacrifices to the gods. Ancient literary figures have also made regular pilgrimages, leaving innumerable poems and inscriptions.
Such is the awe in which it is held that UNESCO declared Taishan a "fine example of harmonious and perfect coexistence between the natural scenery and cultural interests".
Also known as "Dong Yue" (the sacred mountain in the East), Taishan is located in Tai`an, Shandong province, with Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, to the south and Jinan, the provincial capital, to the north. Covering an area of 426 sq km, its summit is 1,545 m above sea level.
The beautiful sunrise over Taishan Mountain.
The famous tourist destination boasts magnificent natural scenery with impressive statistics: 156 peaks, 72 caves, 130 streams, 64 waterfalls and ponds, 128 historical sites, 1,239 stone steles and 1,277 stone inscriptions.
The mountain is also home to 72 famous underground springs, which surge outside and have turned neighboring Jinan into "the City of Springs", and more than 30,000 old trees, including many old pine and cypress trees. It is said that each tree has a story and is a witness to the mountain`s glorious history. The cypress at Dai Temple, more than 2,100 years old, is said to have been planted during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) by Emperor Wu, who went to the mountain to hold a grand ritual of offering sacrifices to the Heaven and the Earth.
The mountain is also a meeting point of different religions, its 58 temples testament to the development of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
Its long history has created many cultural relics, among them 22 ancient architectural complexes that cover an area of 140,000 sq m and are under the State`s protection.
"The ancient architecture combined with the old paintings and stone sculptures witnessed the development of Chinese culture," says Lu Jixiang, a researcher with Taishan`s management committee.
Tang Guiren, a professor at Taishan College, adds: "The cultural heritage on Taishan is unparalleled."
Taishan was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site in 1987 and honored as a "Geopark of the World" in 2006.
There are three ways of climbing the mountain.
Stone sculptures in Lingyan Temple bear witness to the history of Taishan.
The center, Red Gate, route is the main route for everyday folk. It is also the imperial way, since it was the one favored by emperors.
On the route can be found the must-see Dai Temple. Covering an area of 96,000 sq m, Dai Temple spans 405 meters from south to north and 236 meters from east to west.
Dating back more than 2,000 years, it is the largest and best preserved structure on Taishan, ranking with the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Temple of Confucius, the Confucius` Family Mansion and Cemetery in Qufu and the Summer Resort in Chengde as one of the most famous ancient architectural complexes in China.
In front of the Tiankuang Hall, the temple`s main structure, you can not only see a Ming Dynasty iron censer and two Song Dynasty pails but also read the tablets inscribed with the poems of Qianlong, a great Qing Dynasty emperor.
On the walls of the hall are painted a giant Taoist mural that is 3.3 m high, 62 m long and depicts the Taishan Mountain God having a tour of inspection of his site.
The mural features 675 people, stones, forests, palaces, bridges and riding beasts, and is regarded as a masterpiece of Taoist painting.
In the Han Dynasty Cypress Courtyard are five cypresses. It is said that Han Dynasty Emperor Wu (141-86 BC) visited Taishan eight times and planted 1,000 cypresses, which inspired so many poets. Only five still remain.
The Dai Temple, renowned as a "forest of stone tablets", houses many Han Dynasty stone sculptures and stone inscriptions from different eras. The most celebrated is one by Li Si singing the praises of Emperor Shihuang in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Li was his prime minister.
The Red Gate route also has many inscriptions and relics related to the emperors. Wudafu Pine at Yunbu bridge, for example, was so named by Emperor Shihuang after it shielded him from the rain as he made his way to the summit of Taishan. Wudafu was a high-ranking position in the Qin Dynasty
Starting from Dai Temple and climbing up 6,666 steps, one can enjoy most of the natural wonders and cultural relics, including eight ancient temples, more than 200 stone steles or tablets and more than 300 inscribed cliffs.
The second route is along the Huangxi Stream. Starting from the village, it is a 13-km road winding its way up to the summit. The third is from the eastern side of the mountain, running through the Peach Blossom Valley.