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Published: September 30th 2012
From the top of Tai Shan, one has a view of the world.
Tai Shan (Tai Mountain) is China's most sacred Daoist mountain. Popular Chinese religion treats mountains as living beings.
**I wish all of my students, my collegues, the staff and my friends at Taizhou Teachers College and around China a very happy Mid-Autumn Festival time with family and friends; and to all of my Chinese friends, a very great National Holiday. Please, enjoy these special days with the ones you love and continue to honor and remember these traditons and customs, so unique to your country.**
The 2012 MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL, the 2nd most important holiday in the Chinese Lunar calendar, falls on September 30th this year. Most Chinese will enjoy one day off on that day, which is usually connected with the National Day Holiday (October 1-7). It is often referred to as the "Golden Week", and peak travel time for Chinese, all trying to make their way home and share time with family, relatives and friends. Trains, busses, and planes are packed, and hotels make a killing with room-rates drastically more expensive.
My students are now on their way home for this year's 8 day school-holiday, eager to eat their mother's home cooking and enjoy the traditional "Moon Cakes".
Of course, this year's new Freshmen will also share their first exciting experiences at Taizhou Teachers College
Shape and decoration of baked Moon Cake
***PART I of this TravelBlog #140 shares some of the history and stories of China's 2nd most important festival, THE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL, celebrated in 2012 on September 30th.
with their families. They have just graduated from their exhaustive and mandatory two week military training. (I will post some of this year's military-training photos in the next TravelBlog).
Upon their return to TTC on October 8th, 2012, the Freshmen will begin their first academic classes.
**PART 1: THE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL, CHINA'S SECOND MOST IMPORTANT FESTIVAL:
Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival after the Spring Festival in China. It takes its name from the fact, that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest. On this day, family members gather to appreciate the bright full moon, eat moon cakes at night, express strong yearnings toward their homes and think of family members who live far away.
When did this festival first begin?? No exact date can be found in historical documents, but scholars assume that it is related to 2 customs in China:
The first custom concerns farmers. China is an agricultural country,
and farming is closely related to the seasons. In ancient times, farmers worshipped the Earth God to pray for a good harvest, when they sowed the seeds in spring. During autumn, farmers also worshipped the Earth God to thank him for giving them a good harvest. Since the 15th day of the 8th month is the time when rice paddies are harvested, some people believe that the Mid-Autumn Festival came from the autumn reward rituals.
The second custom concerns worship of the moon. According to astronomy, the Mid-Autumn Festival occurs at the autumn equinox. At this time, the sunlight shines vertically on the equator, equally dividing the day and the night in both the southern and northern hemisphere. The moon appears in the evening wth gentle winds and light clouds. This is the best time to watch the moon. People later made this day, the day to worship the moon.
As the moon is at its brightest on this night, little children on earth can see a lady on the moon. On this magical occasion, children who make wishes to the lady will find their dreams come true. In fact, many ancient Autumn Moon folktales are about a
6,293 stone steps lead to the top of Tai Shan.
***PART II of this TravelBlog #140 will explore my adventure reaching the top of China's most sacred mountain, TAI SHAN (Tai Mountain), located in Shandong Province, PRC.
moon maiden, Chang E.
The story of Chang E is the most widely accepted tale regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said, that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people's lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir (medicine in a sweetened solution) which, if drunk, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become an immortal.
Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presentedd it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the
Stelae near top of Tai Shan (Tai Mountain)
Let me translate this stone stelae for you: "Tai Shan is the king of China's 5 holy mountains. Never having visited Tai Shan, one will not be able to speak about these 5 holy mountains. The top of Tai Shan offers a view of the world."
potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir.
Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E's great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest heavenly body to the earth.
On realising what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grief stricken that he shouted Chang E's name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appear in the Moon. He took the food, liked by Chang E, to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. Hou Yi's neighbors also burned incense and prepared food to express their good wishes to the kind Chang E. This became a custom later every year.
Different customs have evolved in different areas regarding the Mid-Autumn Festival. The most significant customs are to appreciate and offer sacrifices to the round bright moon and eat moon cakes. Other activities
like dragon dancing and doing obeisance to the moon are also considered highly important.
Since ancient times, Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the sun in the spring and the moon in the autumn. Especially in the Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC - 221 BC), the big incense burn table was arranged and all kinds of food were offered in sacrifice that day. However, appreciating the moon became more popular in the Tang- (618 AD - 907 AD) and Song Dynasties (960 AD - 1279 AD). Many famous poems for praising the moon on the night of the festival were created during those periods. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), the Moon Altar was built for the purpose of sacrifice to the moon on the Mid-Autumn Festival.
TODAY, sacrifice has been replaced by a simple appreciation of the moon. Members of a family usually sit around a table eating and talking to their heart content and at the same time admiring the bright full-moon. While looking up the moon, people will think of their relatives afar and good wishes are expressed in their mind.
As with every Chinese holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival has its own
A view of Tai Shan (Tai Mountain), Shandong Province, China
Tai Shan is the "most sacred" Daoist Mountain in China, and China's most climbed mountain, having played a part in China's earliest creation myths. (Five mountains are considered holy in Daoism.)
special food. People eat MOON-CAKES at the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Moon Cake is a kind of cookie with various fillings and on the surface are printed different artistic patterns depicting the story of Chang E flying to the moon.
People treated this kind of food as one of the sacrificial offerings to the moon in the old days. Today, it has become an indispensable food while appreciating the bright moon for every family.
Moon Cakes come in various flavors which change according to the region; but common fillings are sweet fillings of nuts, melon seeds, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste, Chinese dates or minced meats, sugar, and sesame, wrapped in a pastry.
Sometimes a golden yolk is placed at the center of a cake, to represent the shape and color of the moon.
As the moon cake is round in shape, it symbolizes the reunion of a family, so it is easy to understand how the eating of Moon Cakes under the round moon can inspire the missing of distant relatives. Nowadays, people present the moon cakes to relatives and friends to demonstrate that they wish them a long and happy life.
There are hundreds
The track and steps leading toward to top of Tai Mountain.
This track toward the top, leading to the "Realm of the Immortals" has been travelled by emperors, kings, pilgrims and travelers from around the world for four millennia. I can now be counted among one of millions, having conquered the 6,293 stone steps to the top in about 8 hours.
of varieties of moon cakes for sale a month before the arrival of the Moon Festival. Traditionally, thirteen Moon Cakes were piled in a pyramid to symbolize the thirteen moons of a "complete year", that is twelve months plus one intercalary month, that completes the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
There is this story about the Moon Cake: During the Yuan Dynasty (1280 AD - 1368 AD) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceeding Sung Dynasty (960 AD - 1280 AD) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and they prepared how to co-ordinate the rebellion without being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Baked into each Moon Cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. Today, many also eat Moon Cakes to commemorate this legend.
**PART 2: TAI SHAN (TAI MOUNTAIN), A VISIT TO CHINA'S HOLIEST MOUNTAIN IN SHANDONG PROVINCE:
TAI SHAN, (Tai Mountain), translates as "Peaceful Mountain", and is well known by all Chinese as the Mountain of Emperors.
For Millennia it has been ascended year-round by legions of pilgrims and travelers, making it China's most climbed mountain. As the most exalted of China's five Daoist maintains, Tai Shan has been an essential climb since the time of the Qin Shi Huangdi,(221B.C.-209 B.C.) the first emperor of China.
Mount Tai is famous not only for its beautiful natural scenery, but also for its reputation as the ONLY mountain on which ancient emperors carried out the Fengshan ceremony.
A total 72 kings and emperors have come to Mount Tai to meet their subjects, consolidate their rule over the country, and leave stone inscriptions (stelae). UNESCO listed it as a World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.
Emperors ascended Tai Shan to gain assurance, that their heavenly mandate would be maintained. Aborting this ascent could signal Heaven's favor was in serious question.
Despite the crowds, a supernatural presence envelopes Tai Shan, and is best experienced via a punishing and slow ascent, (6,293 Stone-steps), with plenty of pit stops at wayside shrines and monuments.
Many tourists and pilgrims stay overnight at hotels on the mountain and watch the sunrise from the cloud-wreathed peak, surrounding the mountain-tips
like a halo. It is here, where Tai Shan's most significant temples can be found, attracting droves of devout worshipers.
On my climb to the top, my guide pointed out several sights, that have imperial associations. A most interesting story was told to me at Huima Ling (Horse Turns Back Ridge), the spot where emperor's Zhenzong's horse refused to go any farther, and the ruler had to continue by sedan chair.
Confucius and Mao Zedong also completed the exhausting 5,070ft to reach the top, climbing the 6,293 ancient steps. The climb took ME more than 8 punishing hours, and it seems, my hip-bones are still recovering from this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, one I will never attempt to repeat again. A cable-car brought us back to the car-park very late that evening.
Tai Shan, China's most sacred Daoist mountain, lies 190 miles west of Qingdao, Shandong Province and 50 miles south of Shangdong's capital city, Jinan.
Popular Chinese religions (Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism) treat mountains as living beings. The stabilising power of mountains perpetuates the cosmic order, and mountains create the clouds and rain. In ancient mythology, Tai Shan rose from the head of Pangu, the creator of the
world, and for four millennia, Shamans and emperors have performed sacred rituals.
At the foot of the mountain, in the center of the quiet tourist town of Tai'an, stands the magnificent Dai Miao, honoring the god of Tai Shan. In this temple complex of more than 600 buildings, elaborate sacrifices were performed, and it provided the quarters for the emperor before he ascended Tai Shan on his horse or in a sedan-chair, a little more comfortably than my 8 hour climb.
A few hundred meters north of the temple, Daizong Fang (Gate of the God) marks the starting point of a stone stairway to the 5,070ft. summit. In earlier years, emperors and royalty were carried up the 6,293 steps in litters. It took my guide and me a whole day for the round trip journey. Along the way I encountered a truly open-air museum of temples, pavilions, shrines, stone stelae, inscriptions and waterfalls.
A little way off the main path, the text of a Sutra has been engraved in a huge block of stone. The 1,050 characters, each 20 inches high, are considered a masterpiece of calligraphy.
Mao Zedong added his inscription to the mountain's calligraphic
works in 1969 with these words: "The most creative people are the people now".
Once past the Zhongtianmen (Middle Gate of Heaven), the ascent becomes truly steeper and most exhausting, leading to the entrance of "The Realm of the Immortals" toward the summit, but one must first negotiate the earthly delights of Tian Jie (Heaven Street), a Qing-dynasty parade of shops and restaurants. It is possible to stay overnight here and join others in catching the famous Tai Shan sunrise.
This climb to the top of Tai Mountain has been on my list of to-do things ever since I have researched the history of China. I was warned sufficiently about this exhaustive adventure, but I was determined to make it one of my goals and success-stories. There are other ways to reach the top, with several cable cars providing a more comfortable route; but I was determined to negotiate each of the 6,293 steps toward the peak of Tai Mountain.
I would recommend to anyone who wishes to punish their body with this ascend to the peaks of Tai Mountain to prepare their body for painful memories and try to get in shape days, if not weeks
before the climb.
BY CLICKING ON EACH OF THE 70 PHOTOS, YOU CAN ENLARGE THE IMAGES FOR GREATER APPRECIATION, AND I HOPE YOU ENJOY MY EFFORTS IN THIS TRAVELBLOG #140. I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS AND THOUGHTS AND ANY SUGGESTIONS.
WISH ALL OF MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS A VERY WONDERFUL "MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL" AND A HAPPY "NATIONAL HOLIDAY" TO ALL OF MY CHINESE FRIENDS.
(** Don't forget the click on the next pages of photos below, and enjoy each of the 70 photos)
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