|[a] Longevity Cauldron 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 mountains (sometimes called "Daoist") mountains and around the lunar calendar in an exploration of Chinese life and culture. As an introduction to the series, I am including an adaptation of the book proposal (below) that I have just sent to various literary agents, and the sample table of contents ("Introduction-b") that will be posted tomorrow. These will be 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."
Travelers to China today seem to follow a single itinerary, and the trails etched by their repetitive movements have affected everything from press coverage to tour guide training. They land in Beijing or Shanghai. Let’s take Beijing as an example, since they will all eventually cover the same territory, in any case. After getting settled, they will explore the Forbidden City and the Gate of Heavenly Peace, expanding outward to take in several hutong, or alleys, and perhaps other locations, such as the Olympic Village, the Wangfujing tourist complex, and the Temple of Heaven. Another day will be spent traveling to the Great Wall, and the enterprising traveler will spend some time at Chengde, the Manchu summer “resort” not far away.
|[b] Well-worn RL|
|[c] Culture RL|
These mountains are still here, today, etched far more deeply by human culture than geological processes. Over the past five years, I have climbed and descended each one of them—many times, in all seasons of the year—almost 400 days on the trails of early sage kings and modern pilgrims. I have also explored their adjacent cities and rural countryside, speaking with people in an ongoing conversation about China, its history, and the rich culture of the sacred mountain ranges (often described as being like the backs of so many dragons burrowing through the earth).
Each mountain is grounded in regional economies and local religious practices; each has been a significant pilgrimage destination for the better part of three millennia. In China, attention to the individual mountains has arguably never been stronger, with the Chinese government taking a newfound interest in their preservation and promotion. It is baffling beyond understanding that a travel template as rich and full of historical and cultural lore could be almost shut off to Western travelers.
Some, to be sure, make it to Mt. Tai—so famous throughout Chinese history that everyone from emperors to everyday pilgrims were attracted to it. Confucius climbed it 2,500 years ago, and was said to have looked down from its peak and see how small the world appeared from above. Some Western travelers on the way from Beijing to Shanghai make the trip today. Out west, a handful of the thousands of visitors to the terra cotta soldiers exhibit continue on down the road for another hour to visit Mt. Hua, the peak of autumn, and its creamy, stark rock face. I have seen fewer than a dozen Western visitors on the other three mountains in the hundreds of days I have spent on them.
|[d] Few RL|
|[e] Rock-carved RL|
|[f] One-by-one RL|
|[g] Longevity RL|
Longevity Mountain—Table of Contents
Tomorrow's post will take readers through a tour of the book as a whole—Longevity Mountain from long before the base all of the way to the peak...and then down again.