Stairway to Heaven

A Journey to the Summit of Mount Emei

By James M. Hargett

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791466827, 312 pages, January 2007
Hardcover : 9780791466810, 312 pages, February 2006

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Table of contents


1. Introduction


Text and Context
On Studying Mountains
Crashing Continents and Salty Seas
Source of Life, Abode of Gods
An Extraordinary Place
Flora and Fauna
A Great Globe of Light


2. Land of Shu


The Road to Shu Is Hard
Tang and Song Visions


3. A Journey of Ten Thousand Miles


Brocade City
The Journey Begins


4. Within Sight of Mount Emei


Administration and Immigration
Way of the Celestial Master
Adepts and Abbeys
Sakyamuni’s Teachings Come to Sichuan
A Colossal Buddha


5. The Ascent


On to Emei Town
Patrons in the Capital, Supporters in the Provinces
The Ascent


6. The Summit


The Immortal Sage Appears


7. How and Why Did Mount Emei Become a "Famous Buddhist Mountain"?


Background and Beginnings
Founding Myth
Scriptural Authentication
Pilgrims, Diaries, and Gazetteers
Four Great Famous Mountains
The Big Picture


8. The Ming, Qing, Republican, and Modern Eras


A Bloody Interlude
Florescence in the Ming
The Qing (1644–1911) and Republican (1912– ) Era to 1949
Recent Developments
The Tourist Era Emerges


Closing Thoughts
Selected Bibliography

A consideration of China’s Mount Emei, long important in Chinese culture and history and of particular significance to Buddhists.


Located in a remote area of modern Sichuan province, Mount Emei is one of China's most famous mountains and has long been important to Buddhists. Stairway to Heaven looks at Emei's significance in Chinese history and literature while also addressing the issue of "sense of place" in Chinese culture.

Mount Emei's exquisite scenery and unique geographical features have inspired countless poets, writers, and artists. Since the early years of the Song dynasty (960–1279), Emei has been best known as a site of Buddhist pilgrimage and worship. Today, several Buddhist temples still function on Emei, but the mountain also has become a scenic tourist destination, attracting more than a million visitors annually.

Author James M. Hargett takes readers on a journey to the mountain through the travel writings of the twelfth-century writer and official Fan Chengda (1126–1193). Fan's diary and verse accounts of his climb to the summit of Mount Emei in 1177 are still among the most informative accounts of the mountain ever written. Through Fan's eyes, words, and footsteps—and with background information and commentary from Hargett—the reader will experience some of the ways Emei has been "constructed" by diverse human experience over the centuries.

James M. Hargett is Professor of Chinese at the University at Albany, State University of New York.


"James M. Hargett's work adds rich layers to our understanding of one of China's most important sacred sites." — Journal of Asian Studies

"I am impressed by the extensive use, contextualization, and painstaking translation of primary materials as a means of rendering a multilayered, intimate, insider perspective on Emei. The intellectual contribution of this work is that it makes clear as no other study has the significant role Emei and, by extension, mountains in general have played in Chinese culture." — William Powell, University of California at Santa Barbara