Stairway to Heaven
A Journey to the Summit of Mount Emei
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: State University of New York Press
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This is a study about a famous mountain in southwest China called “Emei” (pronounced “Uh-may”; sometimes spelled “Omei”). Although few people in America and Europe have ever heard of Mount Emei, its reputation in East Asia is legendary. The landscape on Emei is spectacular and breath-taking, which is one reason that human activity on and around the ...
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Since first conceiving the idea to write a book about Mount Emei, I have been concerned about the context in which to present such a study. There are certainly enough primary and secondary sources available to produce a general history of the mountain organized along chronological or dynastic lines. I also considered adopting a framework that would present...
2. Land of Shu
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Sichuan is China’s second largest province in land area. Comprising 487,000 sq km/301,940 sq mi, it is roughly the size of France. As for population, today it ranks third with 86.5 million people.² The heartland of the province comprises a fertile, low-lying basin. The alluvial farmland in this area, sustained by a warm, moist, central-tropical climate and...
3. A Journey of Ten Thousand Miles
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When Fan Chengda arrived in Chengdu in the summer of 1175 to assume his new official post, the city already had a history of about fifteen hundred years. Since its founding around the fourth century BC, Chengdu has served as the cultural, commercial, and transportation center of southwest China. In Han times, the city hosted about half a million...
4. Within Sight of Mount Emei
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When Fan Chengda stepped off his boat in Jiazhou on July 14, 1177, he had reached the principal government administrative center near Emei. If the weather was favorable that day he probably saw the lofty peaks of Mount Emei rising in the distance, some twenty-five miles away. Jia county has a long and distinguished history. First, it was close to Emei...
5. The Ascent
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Following the customary itinerary of travelers heading to Mount Emei from Jia county, Fan Chengda now departs for Emei town, some 33 km/20 mi to the west. Those accompanying him include his younger brother Chengji and several friends, along with a staff of porters carrying Fan’s bamboo sedan chair and trunks of personal belongings. The first...
6. The Summit
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Although titled “Luminous Light Monastery,” this poem has nothing to do with the famous temple of that name on the summit of Mount Emei. Instead, after reporting on some of the physical oddities he observed on the summit (snow in mid-summer, deformed trees, and so on), Fan Chengda uses the verse as a vehicle to reflect on his life and career. Now perched...
7. How and Why Did Mount Emei Become a “Famous Buddhist Mountain”?
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Based on the sources we considered in the previous chapter, especially information preserved in the Fozu tongji, it is certain that Mount Emei received substantial amounts of imperial patronage in the late tenth century. The most important result of this support was that the mountain became described almost exclusively in Buddhist terms by writers in the...
8. The Ming, Qing, Republican, and Modern Eras
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In 1236, less than sixty years after Fan Chengda climbed Mount Emei, Mongol troops surrounded and attacked Chengdu. This military operation was part of a general campaign to conquer all of China, beginning in Sichuan and then moving eastward into the heartland of the country. By January 1237 “fifty-four counties in Sichuan had been...
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The magistrate of Emei xian, Zhao Mingsong, writing in his preface to Dryden Linsley Phelps’s Omei Illustrated Guide Book, mentions that he visited Mount Emei twice. In preparation for each ascent the magistrate looked over various “writings of the past.” Here is how he describes his reaction to those...
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Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 2 maps, 5 figures
Publication Year: 2006