"The Chinese phrase for 'going on pilgrimage,' ch'ao-shan chin-hsiang, actually means 'paying one's respects to the mountain,' as if the mountain were an empress or an ancestor before whom one must kneel. In China, sacred travel and the cult of the mountain were endemic. The recorded history of Taoism began during the second century A.D., and regarded mountains as home to immortals and as places where magic herbs to aid transcendence could be found. Confucians saw mountains as emblems of world order. In the Chou Dynasty beginning in 1027 B.C., imperial altars were build where emperors came to pray for prosperity. Heaven, earth, and man — the three mainstays of Chinese cosmology — were linked by the country's vertiginous peaks.

"The meaning of pilgrimage changed when Taoists set up their mountain altars and Buddhist monks began plying the trails. For them pilgrimage was not only paying homage to a place of power, but also the transformation of the inner and outer environment through the physical act of walking, every step and breath altering the atmosphere, path and goal becoming the same. I thought of Mao's Long March, how step by step, year by year, his humanitarian ideals and visions of Marxist liberation were ground down to ego and tyranny."