"The most important religious site in Beijing, Miaofengshan, or the Mountain of the Wondrous Peak, is located about forty miles west of the city center."
It has been a pilgrimage site since the 17th century. These black and white photos were taken by Sidney D. Gamble between 1924 and 1927.
"One shrine in the temple had an unusual altar."
"It was decorated with dozens of porcelain teapots, varying in sizes and shapes, painted with Daoist and Buddhist deities."
"Its manager was Mrs. Qi. She smoked the same Great Qianmen cigarettes as the men, and she took nonsense from no one."
"Mrs. Qi clasped the bundle in her two hands and planted it on her forehead, the burning ends pointing outward and flaming like a holy fire."
"He was silent most of the time, watching carefully, and then at the right moment, when the people prostrated themselves, bong, bong, bong."
Prostrating before a shrine.
During the temple fair, performers honor the goddess, Our Lady of the Azure Clouds. Here, women flick wooden tridents into the air.
"Others danced or offered absurd skits—cross-dressers, mock smokers of opium, or silly monks swinging enormous prayer beads around their necks like hula hoops."
Staff fighters in 1924 performing a morality play about a just emperor fighting off bandits
And today; the Liulangshan pilgrimage society performing the same play.
The societies performed for Our Lady of the Azure Clouds.
On either side of here were two manifestations of her power. On one side: Vision and Descendants.
On the other: Curing Childhood Diseases and Child Rearing.
"On some reductionist level this could be explained as a fertility cult."
"But these were also universal aspirations for family, for safety, for community, for good health."
"What was immortality? Old Mr. Ni thought of the family's stele."
“But, Dad, after a while steles fall down,” Ms. Chen said. “They break.”
"If your grandson goes to Miaofengshan and carries on the tea association, if he sees that the stele is broken, he’ll fix it."
"This is what’s known as ‘passing down for ten thousand years’ or ‘through the ages of a thousand autumns.’ ”
"And heaven knows what you have done."
Special thanks to my students over the years; your fresh eyes allowed me to see China anew.