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Let's explore Tai'an: the home of China's most revered mountain

By Morag Hobbs, Liu Ning, Xian Jiangnan, Gao Ke (People's Daily Online)    14:05, July 16, 2019

Tai'an is a city centered around the famous Tai Shan, or Mount Tai, one of China's five most sacred mountains.

The word "Tai" means stability and peace in Chinese, and the city's name is attributed to the saying: "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country."

The city itself is only about 50 kilometers away from Shandong's capital of Jinan, so it's the perfect place to escape hectic city life and enjoy a little bit of nature.

The first place to explore is, of course, Mount Tai. The mountain received UNESCO status as both a World Natural Heritage and World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.

Over 6,000 steps lead up the mountain, which takes about three hours to climb. This is tough enough in itself, but if you're a mountain porter, it's even tougher! These strongmen carry goods to hard to reach restaurants perched on top of the mountain. They are a dying breed, with only 19 men still scaling the mountain every day, down from the previous 300.

53-year-old Geng Yukui is one of the remaining strongmen, carrying around 50kg on a pole, which he sits on either shoulder. He makes the long journey up the mountain 2-3 times a day, depending on demand.

53-year-old Geng Yukui has been working as a porter on Mount Tai for over 30 years. (Photo: Gao Ke/People's Daily Online)

Luckily, the mountain also has a cable car, for those in search of a more relaxing journey to the summit. Not to mention that it only takes a fraction of the time.

For thousands of years, emperors held ceremonies and offered sacrifices on Mount Tai to pray for peace and prosperity, and legend has it that a total of 72 emperors graced the mountain with their presence. It isn't difficult to see why the mountain has been a spiritual place for thousands of years.

After making your way back down the mountain and into the city, it's worth checking out Dai Temple in the north of Tai'an city.

Also called the East Dai Temple, it is one of the four most famous ancient architectural complexes in China. The complex is based on the Imperial Palace, with 150 separate buildings to explore, linked by beautiful gardens and alleyways.

After a long morning of exploring, it's time to take in a show, and there's nowhere better than Mount Tai Shadow Puppet Theatre to learn about Shandong shadow puppetry from Fan Zheng' an, an expert performer.

Mount Tai shadow puppetry, a national intangible cultural heritage in Shandong province, has a history of more than 600 years. The gongs, drums, cymbals and wooden knocker are part of a single musical machine that can be operated by one person.

"I've been doing shadow play since I was eight years old. It's been 68 years now," explains Fan.

Fan Zheng' an, 76 years old, has been performingTaishan Shadow Play for 68 years. (Photo: Liu Ning/People's Daily Online)

He emphasizes that now, while he's fit and able, he will perform as much as possible and pass on this beautiful piece of traditional culture to the next generation. "And for that, my life hasn't been lived in vain," he said with a smile.

The puppets are exquisitely crafted by hand, and it's difficult to imagine they are all that sturdy, but as Fan bashes them against one another in a particularly funny fight scene, they remain unscathed.

The half an hour show is a perfect end to a day in Tai'an city. The relaxed pace of life here means that it's the ideal place to come and relax from any of the larger, more frenetic cities for a weekend to enjoy some traditional Chinese culture, fresh air and beautiful mountainous scenery.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Liu Ning, Bianji)

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