|[a] In-between RL|
There is a good deal of “religiosity” (most of it, in fact) between these two extremes, and that is the bulk of what I wish to consider here. Nonetheless, the extreme cases help us to delineate some of the key features of what I call, in slightly combative terms—at least in the realm of the humanities—divinatory economics. Three key elements must be considered, for every one of them plays a significant role in the calculations of pilgrims. Of importance, though lesser consideration, are the costs of travel to and from the mountain, staying near the mountain, food and drink, as well as costs of going to sites in the area (such as Mao’s birthplace). These are hardly inconsequential, but they pale in comparison to the key religious calculations we shall consider here.
· Supplication at both the base temple and peak temple
|[b] Peak RL|
These are the invariables, as it were, in the divinatory equation. Everyone participates in religious activity at the base and the peak. Everyone “goes up” the mountain in some way (and this is dizzyingly variable). Everyone, consciously or not, makes choices about the amount to be paid for incense and other items. The range of financial, social, and even “cultural” choice in just these three items is considerable, and I maintain that all other factors pale in comparison to these three “market” (and marketing) choices.
From these three key elements—shared even by the “extremes” we have encountered thus far—we can add the choices that guide and vary the situation for individuals and small groups. I cannot stress enough that divination on the Southern Mountain makes no sense without a pilgrimage from base to peak. The foundational sacrifice (in ancient times called the feng) and the peak sacrifice (called the shan) were the poles of an out-and-back journey that was completed by the performance of another ceremony at the base to complete the experience. In-between, imperial journeys varied between uneventful flights up the mountains (pausing for tea and contemplation along the way) and terrifying ascents and descents under the strain of frightful weather and overly eager carriers.
|[c] Choice RL|
Yes, carriers. Every significant “climber” before 1800 (I am being overly careful here) was carried up the mountains by attendants. There were (basically) two options until 1950. Be carried or walk on your own. Even these simple variables were somewhat more complicated in earlier eras. For example, “carrying” for wealthy patrons meant being carried by men in a palanquin of sorts (these varied over the ages). It could also mean horses and donkeys, not unlike experiences today for many people exploring the Grand Canyon. Mt. Tai, in particular, has several sections that are so steep that horses cannot manage the ascent. There is a famous arch on Mt. Tai dedicated to precisely the ridge (it is about forty percent of the way up the mountain) where “the horses turn back” (迴馬嶺). Donkeys are far more adept at, say, fifteen percent grades, but even donkeys cannot manage the final stairway to heaven that comprises the last five hundred or so meters up China’s most famous mountain. Truly, up the “eighteen bends,” it was a matter of walk or be carried. Emperors were carried. Peasants walked. Even in, say, 1100, there was some room for variation.
Today that variation is enormous. On the southern sacred mountain (the focus of our study), the range is greater than ever. Even in early times, donkeys could manage the entire route on the southern mountain. This is different in kind from all four of the other sacred mountains, where certain parts of the ascent and descent make only human movement (in one form or another) possible. On Longevity Mountain today, though, the twenty-first century variables are difficult to choose from, much less analyze. Here is a gradation from emphasis on walking to carriage of one kind or another.
· Walking from base to peak (and even this cannot ever by “complete”).
Of course, it is possible to conjure plausible variations even within these parameters, but none significantly change the key “equations.” One might expect an entire mountaintop taxicab/cycle economy, with cars and motorcycles waiting for the throngs who get off buses at South Heaven Gate, an hour from the Zhurong Temple at the peak. This is not the case, and the few cabs or motorcycles I have seen (I always make it a point to talk to the drivers about why they are waiting there) have been “abandoned” by their patrons, who chose to take another way down the mountain.
|[d] Carriage RL|
There is one further variable—a small one in an economic sense, but an enormous one in terms of culture and power dynamic. At no other point on the mountain today does one see what appears right after a ten-minute hike down a small valley and steeply up to a small rest area on the hike to the topmost temple. With about thirty- to fifty-minutes of walking left for most pilgrims, the chairs appear. For a fee, one can be carried up the rest of the climb by two men hoisting a palanquin held by sturdy bamboo handles. It is a vestige of earlier times, when hierarchy, demand for labor, and pilgrimage made this the most common form of transportation for any pilgrim “of means,” and is a distinct reminder about the historical and, indeed, structural nature of all economic transactions.
Aside from being carried to the Zhurong Temple, everyone—even those who ride motorcycles or drive cars—must walk the last half-kilometer of slowly ascending steps to the temple proper. It is possible (unlike the matter on a sacred mountain such as Mt. Tai, where a good deal of hiking and steep climbing is required even of bus and cable car riders) to avoid walking almost from the time she finishes burning incense at the base temple until this last half-kilometer.
|[e] Homestretch view RL|