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The Great Mountain

The significance of Tai Shan to the Chinese can be traced to their creation myth in which Pan Gu, after creating the sky and earth, died from exhaustion, his head and limbs falling to earth as five sacred mountains. Tai Shan, formed from the head and situated in the east (an auspicious direction signifying birth), became the most revered of the sacred mountains. The other four mountains are Song Shan in Henan (center), Heng Shan Bei in Shanxi (north), Heng Shan Nan in Hunan (south), and Hua Shan in Shaanxi (west). Although Tai Shan is not particularly high, the ancient Chinese came to regard it as the symbol of heaven. Historically, the Chinese emperor was considered to be the son of heaven, and many emperors, starting from China's first, the Qin Shi Huangdi emperor, climbed the mountain to perform sacrificial ceremonies to express their gratitude for being chosen to lead all below them, and to report to heaven on their progress. This also served to legitimize the emperors' power, as only those able to scale the mountain successfully were considered legitimate rulers. Today, hundreds, if not thousands of historical relics, carved inscriptions, temples, and sacrificial altars provide a fascinating record of the imperial presence on the mountain. Countless ordinary Chinese have also made the pilgrimage to this holiest of holy mountains. They believed that the god of Tai Shan ruled the heavens and the earth and governed life and death. Although he has continued to be greatly revered through the years, his daughter Bixia (Princess of the Azure Clouds) has for many years now surpassed him in popularity. Today's pilgrims, many of them elderly, female, and peasant, scramble up the mountain paths, stopping at every altar to light incense and pray to the goddess for blessings and protection.

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