The Chinese Character for "Mountain"

Meaning: Mountain
Sound: [shān]  

The Chinese character for "mountain" started as a simple likeness of mountain peaks, like this:

Chinese character shan, mountain, ancient form

The pictograph was later standardized to be like this:

Chinese character shan, mountain, ancient form

and eventually appeared as what we see today:

Chinese character shan, mountain, ancient form

One of the best known mountains in China is 泰山 [tài shān] - "Tài Mountain" or "Mount Tài". Located in the eastern province of Shandong, Tài Shān has been politically and culturally significant to the Chinese. When the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty unified in China in the 3rd century BCE, he went to Mount Tài to connect to Heaven and secure divine sanction for his rule. The mountain also saw the establishment of many Daoist shrines and became a place of religious importance. Among the numerous climbers of the mountain every year are many pilgrims who come here to light their incense and pray.  

A major mountain range in North China is 太行山 [tài háng shān], which extends from the border of Inner Mongolia southward into the heart of China. The province that lies west of this mountain range is called 山西 [shān xī], literally "West of the Mountain." There is also the province of 山东 [shān dōng], which, as you probably guessed, is located "east of the mountain" (actually the Shandong Province, as it exists today, lies some distance away from the Tài Háng Mountains, like 200 miles farther east).

In Beijing, north of the Imperial Forbidden City, there is a small hill called 景山 [jǐng shān] - “Scenic Hill." The hill is so-called because standing on top of it one can get a bird's view of the Imperial Palace that spreads out below. On one side of the hill there is a storied tree - in 1644 the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty hanged himself here as peasant rebels stormed into the Forbidden city. The tree is probably exactly the same tree that stood there centuries, ago, but the event was historical. Gone are the emperors and imperial dynasties, but the hill and the trees, old and new, are still there.

In traditional Chinese culture, mountain stands for stability and principles, immobile and permanent. As Confucius once said, "The intelligent man enjoys water, and the humane man appreciates mountain."