Traditional pilgrimage practices, having all but ceased to exist during the Cultural Revolution, re-emerged in the 1980s. In addition, new forms of pilgrimage to sites associated with CCP history and the revolution that appeared following the Communist victory on the mainland in 1949 continue to be popular. Sacred mountains associated with Buddhism and Daoism are the primary focus of traditional pilgrimage. Pilgrimage to cities or city temples, common in West Asia, or to rivers and water sites as in India, are relatively rare in China. There are numerous Buddhist and Daoist pilgrimage mountains throughout China. The ‘Five Marchmounts’ (Wuyue), five peaks prominent as sacred sites for over two millennia, are the best-known pilgrimage destinations in China, replete with Buddhist, Daoist, Confucian and, previously, imperial sites of practice. The ‘Four Great Mountains’ (Sida mingshan) are primary destinations for Buddhists. However, few pilgrimage mountains are exclusively Buddhist or Daoist, and most pilgrimage practices are common regardless of religious association.
There is no single term for traditional pilgrimage, and the practice is generally described as ‘paying respect to the mountain and presenting incense’ (qiaoshan jinxiang). Incense plays a central role in pilgrimage. Incense sticks are burnt not only in the temples, but also along trails, beside rocks, springs and trees, on peaks and in caves. A pilgrim is an ‘incense guest’ (xiangke), and a significant source of income for temples at pilgrimage sites is the sale of incense. Many identify themselves as pilgrims by wearing yellow ‘incense bags’ around their necks. Motives are not easy to ascertain, but a frequently heard expression of purpose is ‘to invite fortune and ensure good health’. Another motive is to accumulate merit in preparation for a post-mortem existence or on behalf of deceased relatives.
‘Flesh bodies’, the preserved corpses of monks believed to have self-mummified, are enshrined on many Buddhist mountains. Many pilgrims regard a wake in proximity to such relics on festival days as conducive to good fortune. Much pilgrimage is also an occasion for light-hearted tourism, the purchase of trinkets, taking pictures, and eating together, generally as part of large pilgrimage groups. This aspect of pilgrimage has generated a flourishing and somewhat aggressive tourist industry: hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and charter bus companies. Begging, often noted with resentment in pre-modern travel narratives, and outlawed for several decades during the Cultural Revolution, has made a vigorous recovery at most pilgrimage sites.
As in many modern states, pilgrimage as an exercise in nationalism has also emerged in China. Monuments (see monuments and public sculpture) and sometimes museums mark sites of famous battles with the Japanese or with the Nationalists along the course of the Long March. These in several instances are conveniently located near traditional pilgrimage sites, either supplanting them or benefiting from a shared flow of pilgrims. Tourist agencies have emerged to offer packaged tours to these sites. In Beijing, thousands visit Tiananmen Square, the Mao mausoleum and the Imperial Palace every day. In a creative use of history, the reconstructed Hangzhou tomb of Yue Fei, the great Song dynasty general, revered for his adamant loyalty, receives more visitors than almost any other site in this tourist town. Though no incense is burned and few if any can be seen bowing, the structures and use of space in such sites generally reproduce those of traditional Buddhist and Daoist sacred sites. The distinction between pilgrimage and tourism is, and has long been, a fuzzy one.
Naquin, Susan and Yu, Chun-fang (eds) (1992). Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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  • Pilgrimage — Pil grim*age, n. [OE. pilgrimage, pelgrinage; cf. F. p[ e]lerinage.] 1. The journey of a pilgrim; a long journey; especially, a journey to a shrine or other sacred place. Fig., the journey of human life. Shak. [1913 Webster] The days of the years …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pilgrimage — (n.) mid 13c., pelrimage; see PILGRIM (Cf. pilgrim) + AGE (Cf. age) …   Etymology dictionary

  • pilgrimage — *journey, voyage, tour, trip, jaunt, excursion, cruise, expedition …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • pilgrimage — [n] long journey crusade, excursion, expedition, mission, tour, travel, trip, wayfaring; concept 224 Ant. jaunt …   New thesaurus

  • pilgrimage — ► NOUN ▪ a pilgrim s journey …   English terms dictionary

  • pilgrimage — [pil′grə mij] n. [ME pilgrymage < OFr pelegrinage < pelegrin,PILGRIM] 1. a journey made by a pilgrim, esp. to a shrine or holy place 2. any long journey, as to a place of historical interest …   English World dictionary

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  • Pilgrimage — In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person s beliefs and faith. Members of many major religions participate… …   Wikipedia

  • PILGRIMAGE — In Hebrew the term aliyah (lit. going up ) has been used since ancient times for pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the three festivals known as shalosh regalim). The Torah prescribes that all males must go up to Jerusalem three timesa year on the three …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • pilgrimage — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ annual ▪ religious, spiritual VERB + PILGRIMAGE ▪ go on, make ▪ She made a pilgrimage to visit the place where h …   Collocations dictionary

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