China // The eastern seaboard //

Tai Shan

Tai Shan is not just a mountain, it’s a god. It’s the easternmost and holiest of China’s five major Taoist peaks (the other four being Hua Shan, the two Heng Shans and Song Shan), and has been worshipped by the Chinese throughout recorded history: the ascent is engrossing and beautiful – and very hard work.

Once host to emperors and the devout, Tai Shan is now Shandong’s biggest tourist attraction, a religious theme park whose paths are thronged with a constant procession of tourists – alongside a significant number of genuine pilgrims. There are photo booths, souvenir stalls, soft-drinks vendors and teahouses; halfway up, there’s a bus station and cable car. Yet Tai Shan retains an atmosphere of grandeur; the temples here – and the mountain itself – are magnificent enough to survive their trivialization.