Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Taishan (Glossary)

Taishan (泰山) was considered supreme among the five sacred mountains located within the Chinese empire.

It is the easternmost of these mountains located in what is now a national park in Shandong province south of the provincial capital Jinan. The coordinates of the mountain's peak are 36° 16′N and 117° 6′E standing 1,545 metres above sea level at its highest point.

Fu Hsi, the first legendary king, began the Fengshan Sacrifice (封禪) on Taishan, with the first archaeological evidence appearing from the Shang dynasty. Since then, rituals have been performed at the mountain for some 3,000 years.

Feng altar mound

The imperial feng sacrifice as practiced at least starting in the Han dynasty began at the southern foot with an offering to the mountain itself.

After the ascent to the peak, an altar mound (feng) covered with soil of five colors was erected. According to Master Ding of Qi, the word feng itself was a symbol of immortality.

The emperor facing the North placed inscribed jade tablets with his own messages to Heaven under the mound.

By facing the North, the emperor payed homage to Heaven, which in this case symbolically faces the South. Normally it is the emperor, along with his throne and palace that face the South.

After descending the mountain, the emperor made an offering to the Earth in the shan sacrifice.

Penglai and Taishan

In the Shiji of Sima Qian, the Fengshan sacrifice is mentioned repeatedly together with Penglai in the emperor's quest for immortality.

Indeed, the Fengshan sacrifice is even said to enable communication with the immortals of Penglai:

He [the emperor] had been told by Gongsun Qing and the other magicians, however, that when the Yellow Emperor and the rulers before him had performed the Feng and Shan, they had all succeeded in summoning forth supernatural beings and communing with the spirits. He therefore wished to imitate the example of these rulers by getting into touch with the spirits and the immortals of Penglai and achieving fame in the world so that his viture might be compared to that of the Nine Bright Ones of antiquity.

It was Li Shaojun who encouraged the Han emperor to make the Fengshan sacrifices in person so that he could make contact with the immortals of Penglai and thus gain immortality for himself. Li Shaojun claimed to have met one Master Anqui from Penglai himself, who he said had fed him 'jujubes as big as melons.'

The association of Taishan with Penglai may also be found in the emperor's facing north during the Feng sacrifice and in the location of the offering at the southern foot of Taishan. The mountain in this sense may face south toward Mount Penglai, the land of immortality.

Taishan and Penglai were culturally important first to the Dongyi peoples of Shandong, and it was from that region that the fangshi wizards, especially from the state of Qi, propagated such beliefs.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Ch'ien Ssu-Ma and Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, Columbia University Press, 1996, p. 41.

Loewe, Michael, Faith, Myth, and Reason in Han China: Faith, Myth, and Reason in the Han Period (202 BC-Ad 220), Hackett Publishing, 2005, pp. 139-140.

McDermott, Joseph P., State and Court Ritual in China, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 50.