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Scaling new heights: the perseverance and innovation of Tai'an city

By Xian Jiangnan, Morag Hobbs, Liu Ning, Gao Ke (People's Daily Online)    10:07, July 24, 2019

Geng Yukui, a lean 53-year-old man with a permanent tan, slogs up the long path to the mountain peak. Under a shoulder pole laden with eggs and vegetables exceeding 100 pounds, Geng traverses the 6,000 steps, one by one, to deliver goods to the restaurants and hotels which line the summit of Mount Tai, one of China's five most sacred mountains.

Mount Tai, located in Tai'an city, Shandong province, is one of China's five most sacred mountains. The mountain received UNESCO status as both a World Natural Heritage and World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987. (Photo provided to People's Daily Online)

Tai'an, located at the southern foot of Mount Tai, is a famous tourist city having a long history and profound cultural deposits in the heart of the coastal Shandong province in eastern China. "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." Something is added to this charming city by Geng and his colleagues — the porters of Mount Tai.

The job role emerged on Mount Tai nearly 1,000 years ago. From the construction of temples in ancient times to the establishment of hotels and communication station more recently, porters have become an indispensable part of the mountain. With the development of technology in recent years, especially the cable cars built in 2003, the number of porters plummeted, but there are still places where goods must be transported by hand. Geng is among the remaining 19 porters, who may be the last generation of porters on Mount Tai.

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)

The porters have become a source of inspiration due to their persistence and hard work. In 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the spirit of the porters on Mount Tai during his inspection tour in Shandong province, calling on cadres and the public to become the "porters on Mount Tai" in the new era with diligence and perseverance, values that are deeply rooted in the history of Tai'an, finding their way into all walks of life in the city.

Perseverance to preserve tradition

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

At the foot of Mount Tai, Fan Zheng'an interpreted his understanding of perseverance with Mount Tai shadow puppetry, a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in Tai'an with a history of more than six centuries.

Fan, 76, is the sixth-generation inheritor of Mount Tai shadow puppetry. Unlike other shadow puppetry forms that involve an entire troupe, Mount Tai shadow play is a one-person show. The puppeteer plays eight percussion instruments, sings the story, and controls the puppets at the same time. Therefore, this performance is also described as "Shi Bu Xian," literally meaning "doing ten things at once." Master Fan is widely considered the lone master left in Mount Tai shadow puppetry.

It is no mean feat to finish such a demanding performance. Fan does so with ease, thanks to his genuine love for the art, but also, his years of hard work.

"I've been doing shadow play since I was eight years old. It's been 68 years now," Fan said, noting that he spent his first three years learning how to draw and make puppets, and mastered the whole set of skills after nearly 20 years.

"I have spent my whole life doing one thing. I must do it well. And for that, my life hasn't been lived in vain," he noted.

Now, Fan's son, daughter, and grandson are following in his footsteps, and Fan is also teaching as many students as he can, hoping to pass on this traditional culture to future generations.

Mount Tai shadow puppetry is the epitome of cultural heritage in Tai'an city. Tai'an was listed on the first batch of tourist cities opening to the outside world in 1982, and this couldn't have been achieved without the persistence of local people to pass on their cultural traditions.

Mount Tai, declared a UNESCO World Natural and Heritage Site in 1987, turned from a barren mountain with a forest coverage rate of less than 2 percent in the early 20th century into today's forest-clad mountain thanks to years of large-scale afforestation since the 1950s. 

Innovation on technology

Tai'an, located at the southern foot of Mount Tai, is a famous tourist city having a long history and profound cultural deposits in the heart of the coastal Shandong province in eastern China. (Photo provided to People's Daily Online)

Although Tai'an's spirit is engrained in the culture, it's also instilled in local business, and companies have used the symbol of the mountain porters to push themselves into the new era of technology.

In the dyeing workshops of Shandong Companion Group Co., Ltd., a textile products manufacturer, there are hardly any workers. In its central control room with 15 monitor screens, only one member of staff is needed to monitor the whole production process.

Instead of being a traditionally labor-intensive industry, the company has long dedicated itself to R&D and innovation. It now boasts nine national and provincial-level research institutions, with hundreds of patents and technological innovation achievements.

In 2015, the company was awarded first prize in China's top science and technology award for its technology and equipment for digital automatic cone yarn dyeing, saving over 80 percent in labor costs, cutting water consumption by 70 percent and emissions by 68 percent.

"This smart dyeing technology has also managed to achieve the goal of energy conservation and emission reduction at a maximum level. It's a huge contribution to the construction of ecological civilization in our country and this industry," Liu Jiping, Vice General Manager of the company, told People's Daily Online.

The photo shows colorful textile products of Shandong Companion Group Co., Ltd. Instead of being a traditionally labor-intensive industry, the company has long dedicated itself to R&D and innovation. (Xian Jiangnan/People's Daily Online)

Taking high-quality development as a priority of the city's economic growth, local authorities have rolled out policies to speed up the transformation of growth drivers and foster the technological innovation of private enterprises. By the end of June this year, the city had launched 233 major growth driver transformation projects with a total investment amounting to $12 billion.

As the Belt and Road Initiative progresses, countries involved have also benefited from Tai'an's tech development. Born at the foot of Mount Tai, Taikai Group, one of China's leading manufacturers of power equipment, boasting over 900 patents, has exported its products to over 60 countries and regions, especially in Africa, making it a trustworthy supplier of electric power and new energy.

"Not only have we provided our products and participated in the construction of power grids, but we've also familiarized [these countries] with brands and products that are 'Made in China,'" explained Feng Liuchang, Vice General Manager of Taikai Group.

"To align with China's goal of becoming an advanced manufacturing power, we'll carry forward the spirits of the porters on Mount Tai - to be earnest and down to earth while doing our job, one step at a time. We will do our best to solve every specific problem in our manufacturing process and to innovate in newer and better power engineering technology," Feng added.

As porter Geng slows down as he approaches the peak of Mount Tai, culture and business in Tai'an have sped up their pace to scale new heights. Though Geng may be part of the last generation of mountain porters, he has the reason to believe that his perseverance, and the spirit of the porters around him, will live on in Tai'an. 

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

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