Click here for the table of contents (second post) to the Round and Square series "Longevity Mountain."
Longevity Mountain 1 Longevity Mountain 2 Longevity Mountain 3 Longevity Mountain 4
Longevity Mountain 5 Longevity Mountain 6 Longevity Mountain 7 Longevity Mountain 8
Longevity Mountain 9 Longevity Mountain 10 Longevity Mountain 11 Longevity Mountain 12
|[a] Temple view RL|
One volume is planned for each mountain, beginning with the southern peak, Mt. Heng, in Hunan province. The reasoning behind this choice of a starting place took me months to develop, but suffice it to say that these books will take the reader up and down each of the five sacred (sometimes called "Daoist") mountains and around the lunar calendar in an exploration of Chinese life and culture. As an introduction to the series, I have included an introduction that is based on a recent book proposal and a full "sample" table of contents. These are followed by nine "scenes" from Longevity Mountain that are meant to give readers a sense of the project as a whole. Photographs used in this series were taken during my travels, unless otherwise indicated. My photos are marked "RL."
Practicality 1 Cosmology 0.
I am determined to follow the path, the Way, of both temple and mountain, so although I buy my ticket "at the back," I walk all of the way around the sizable grounds—through alleys selling incense, firecrackers, and beverages—go to “the other” gate, and give my ticket (now a little moist from the afternoon heat) to the attendant. I begin my trip, in proper and perhaps somewhat pedantic fashion, at the 櫺星門 Lattice Star Gate. I will do it “right,” even if no one seems to care anymore, except a few living historians and Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BCE), rolling in his tomb several hundred kilometers north of here.
The Lattice Star Gate opens onto a quiet transition from the street. Relatively few people enter here and the architectural organization of the temple, in any case, creates a calming effect, as it is meant to do. It is structured to begin slowly, in ways that invite contemplation before the frenzied religiosity to come many steps from here. Facing north, I see ponds, pavilions, cedars marked with special designations for their age, a shrouded glimpse of a large cluster of buildings in the distance, and barely tamed summer vegetation all around me. To my right is a quiet pool of green water surrounded by faux marble railings and willow trees. A small set of steps lead to the thick, green water highlighted by darting lines of goldfish orange. To my left is an identical pool in terms of structure, but my friend Marcel Granet would find it completely different. Few people even look at the other pond, yet this one bustles with social activity, gathering, and movement. There are fish in bowls, birds in cages, turtles in low-brimmed plastic containers and attendants on duty to help you release them—for a fee.
|[c] Pool RL|
Metaphysical catch and release. The sign says:
Yesterday’s release of life today will bring good luck and positive karma.
Walking straight ahead, I encounter a distinctive edifice in the very center of the path—the 奎星閤, the Kui Star Pavilion. The building is raised about seven feet from the ground, and the narrowed temple path reaches an intersection in its center. Here, the paths cross under the building in a perfect directional schema. Due north, south, east, and west. Perfect. People walk about in each direction, rubbing with their bare hands the red, varnished beams just above their heads. They also rub the rough stone on the walls, specifically the objects that have a round and square appearance. I ask several people what they are doing, in my continuing fieldwork style of asking the “same” question over and over to many people. If the question is important—as this one is—I ask it hundreds, maybe thousands, of times.
—Why are you rubbing the beams and stone?
Some answer forthrightly—“It is called “rubbing money” (moqian); it gives me luck.” Others say almost the same thing, but couch it with various levels of embarrassment—“It is old culture” or “It’s a little bit superstitious.” The beam rubbing, called hongyun dangtou, is related to the money rubbing. Rubbing and magic; this theme is persistent. It is a kind of tactile religiosity that never goes away, and is also a great deal more prevalent in the West (think of beads and charms and ritual) than most people realize.
|[e] Sounding RL|
|[f] Pathway RL|
Pilgrims concentrate in the heart of the temple—the burning furnaces where incense sticks, "hell money," and firecrackers go. It is a place of religious intensity, confusion, and a little discussion.