The city of Yueyang, Hunan Province, is situated on the eastern bank of the Yangtze River where the river exits the northeastern edge of Lake Dongting, the bladder lake, if you will, that expands and contracts with the excess level of the Yangtze River, and which lake is thus a natural overspill reservoir, or flood basin, for the river that courses through it (Lake Poyang, about 250 kilometers due east of Lake Dongting serves the same bladder-like function for the Yangtze River, only on an even larger scale). The city of Yueyang has been inhabited as far back as BCE 1000. In CE 210, during the close of the Eastern Han (CE 25-220) Dynasty and just before the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period emerged in the wake of the dissolution of the Han Dynasty, this strategically important city (from a military/ naval viewpoint) was made into a prefecture called Hanchang.
During the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, the city was made into a regular fortress, with high walls that encircled the city. It was at this time that the city became the seat of Yueyang Prefecture, with the city changing its name to match that of the new prefecture. Yueyang played an important role in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64), having been captured and thereafter used as a base from which to advance, via the Yangtze River of course, on the former ancient southern capital (and one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China), Nanjing, which the rebels made their capital. Yueyang became a county bearing the same name, with the city as its seat, in 1911, during the twilight phase between the defeat of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty and the emergence of the Republic of China (1912-49).
The city of Yueyang, alternately known as Yuezhou, Baqiu and Baling, owes its fame almost entirely to Lake Dongting, which was used in the earliest times in China's ancient history to conduct naval exercises, and though Yueyang/ Lake Dongting is not the exact site of the Battle of Red Cliffs, fought during the winter of CE 208-09, it is quite close, and makes a perfect base from which to explore the localities of the famous battle (it is believed – though hotly contested, given the lack of clarity of the historical record and the tourism dollars (make that Yuan!) to be gained from being able to claim the associated fame – that the Battle of Red Cliffs was fought near the city of Chibi/ Puqi (see the map farther below (Figure 1) borrowed from Wikipedia), which lies roughly halfway between the cities of Yueyang and Wuhan, just southeast of the Yangtze River, on the small tributary, the Lushui River).
Fig 1: The Conjectured Battleground of the CE 208-09 Battle of Red Cliffs
But the city of Yueyang has an ancient prehistory as well as an ancient history that predates the Battle of Red Cliffs, as the next section suggests.
The Prehistory and Ancient History of Yueyang
The Yueyang/ Lake Dongting area is also home to both the Pengtoushan and Chengtoushan (Daxi) Cultures, the former of which is believed to have been responsible for the domestication of Asian rice (Oryza sativa), or simply "rice", in English. The Pengtoushan Culture, which is the considerably older of the two, spanned the period BCE ca.7500-ca.6100, while the Chengtoushan/ Daxi Culture, which, besides farming rice, also kept pigs and cattle and made use of the plow, is of much more recent origin, stemming from the period BCE 4500-3300. The area around Lake Dongting, which is marshy, is ideal for growing rice, as this grain requires ample water, especially in its early stages.
The Pengtoushan Culture – like the Chengtoushan/ Daxi Culture that came later, refers not to a specific ethnic group, given its early period, but to the socio-cultural characteristics of the early people who inhabited the area, i.e., their manner of living: what they subsisted on, what kind of dwellings they lived in, what kinds of implements – including cooking vessels and pottery – they used, what kinds of clothing and jewelry they adorned themselves with, what were their burial rites, etc. In the following, we will restrict our examination of the Pengtoushan Culture to its domestication of the grain that we today call rice, for it impinges directly on the Yueyang/ Lake Dongting area, which is the subject of this article.
That the growth of rice was at all possible here at the time in question, which was on the heels of the Neothermal Period, or about BCE 13,000-8000, is owing to the definitive end of the ice age and the gradual "retraction" of glaciers northward, i.e., the gradual and continual melting of the southern extremity of the glaciers, exposing more and more of the southerly land that they had occupied. Indeed, when nature first "planted" the first rice in the area of Lake Dongting, it would have been too cold for rice to have grown farther north, simply because the conditions were not right, i.e., the land was still covered with glacial remnants. The early people who occupied the area had most probably arrived in the area from points farther west, i.e., they travelled down the Yangtze River, even if some of their later relatives, such as those belonging to the Daxi Culture, might eventually travel in the other direction.
The early inhabitants of the Pengtoushan area built a large settlement (village) in the area of Mengping Village, Daping Town, Li County, about 175 kilometers almost due north of the Dongting Lake site of the Chengtoushan/ Daxi Culture on the northwestern extremity of the swollen (when swollen*) lake near the village of Chexixiang, just north of the city of Lixian, also in Li County, itself located about 75 kilometers almost due north of the city of Changde, meaning that the Dongting Lake site of the Pengtoushan Culture lay about 250 kilometers north of the city of Changde, albeit, north of the Yangtze river, but near to the large Yangtze tributary, the Han River. These early inhabitants surely began "harvesting" the wild grasses, including rice, that grew in the marshy terrain near where they lived.
* Note that during the period in question, which was roughly 3000 years earlier than the Chengtoushan/ Daxi Culture period, Lake Dongting was quite likely significantly larger than it was 3000 years later, when the Daxi lived at its northwestern (swollen) extremity. This is because of the enormous quantities of water that were released by the still-melting glaciers surely still sitting atop the mountains immediately west and north of this valley, i.e., the Wudang, Daba and Jingshan Mountains to the west, the Tongbai Mountains to the north and the Dabie Mountains to the northeast. So both the Pengtoushan and Chengtoushan peoples, each in its turn, most likely lived on the northwestern extremity of the then Lake Dongting, just different sized lakes.
Since rice was the most promising of the wild grasses in this area (millet and wheat would be more promising farther north), the Pengtoushan villagers probably eventually opted to keep a certain portion of seed grain from the harvest each year so that they could plant the grain in a location that was more convenient for them, and naturally they would select the best of the best grains for the following year's harvest, and thus, in this "unnatural" (perhaps "unnatural" to Nature, but natural enough to humans!) selection process, thanks to human intervention, the rice that the Pengtoushan villagers grew got better and better, i.e., yielded larger and larger grains.
About 20,000 rice grains from this period, quite probably part of the sow seed for the next year's crop, have been recovered from the Pengtoushan site in question. However, no farming implements were recovered from the site in question that might "prove" that the villagers actually grew rice, but the relevant implements for rice production have been uncovered at other Pengtoushan sites, leading one to assume that the Pengtoushan villagers also planted rice. One clue that does suggest human cultivation at the Pengtoushan site at Daping Town is the fact that the 20,000 rice grains recovered from the site in question are all significantly larger than the grains of wild Asian rice (Oryza sativa) from the period, and the most logical way that this might have happened would have been by "unnatural" selection, such as in the human intervention scenario conjectured above.
The amazing thing about what we have learned about the domestication and cultivation of rice is that it was apparently harvested almost simultaneously, i.e., during the same time frame, in the Three Gorges area, most likely at the western end of the greater Three Gorges area, or close to the present-day city of Chongqing. In a way, this is of course not surprising, since all of the humans of the area for the period in question (and this would apply in general to Neolithic Era homo sapiens anywhere) were gatherer-hunters who were clever enough to provide for a rainy day where possible, i.e., who could see in rice a foodstuff that lent itself to being stored for very long periods of time, thus relieving the pressure on the daily chore of having to provide food for the group every day, rain or shine. And of course, storable foodstuffs made it possible to stay put in one place longer, for the fate of a hunter-gatherer is otherwise to follow the constantly moving harvest of "nature's bounty", be it wild game, fruit, etc.
The Daxi Culture – of the Chengtoushan site at Nanyue Village, Chexi Town, Li County, located at the northwestern corner of the swollen Lake Dongting reflects the cultural development of the period, where dwellings were highly permanent; at this stage in human development, agriculture had made a sedentary, non-nomadic manner of living possible. The Daxi village itself is quite large, and suggests at least a simple attempt at a planned village. In addition, this was a walled village, suggesting that there were perhaps numerous tribes and/or groups in the area, or groups which passed through the area and which posed a security threat, but the extra protection could also have been with wild animals in mind – or both, of course.
There is evidence that the outer walls of the village, on three different occasions, had been extended in certain places, suggesting that the village prospered enough to be able to expand. In addition, there is a moat around the walls, adding an extra layer of protection. While the Pengtoushan Site boasts of the oldest recovered rice grains, the Chengtoushan/ Daxi Culture site boasts of the oldest rice paddies in the world. The site also had sacrificial altars, and in the nearby sacrificial pits were found human remains – indeed, human sacrifice would continue into the Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasty.
As indicated above, the Daxi Culture made use of the plow, primarily for the cultivation of rice. Domesticated animals included the pig and the cow. The creation and use of pottery was extensive, further indication of the sedentary manner of living of this village. Anthropologists conjecture, based on the amount of pottery and its embellishment, that there was some degree of division of labor in the village at Nanyue – that is, already at this early stage, the foundation of the bricklayer, carpenter, doctor, lawyer, artist, etc. division of labor that would later emerge when man had become even more civilized had already been laid.
In 1992, and again in 1997, the Chengtoushan Site, which includes two other cultures besides the Daxi Culture, namely, the Qujialing and Shijiahe Cultures, was included among China's Ten Major New Archaeological Discoveries, and beyond China's borders, the Chengtoushan Site is considered among the Hundred Great Archaeological Discoveries within China. The image below is of a pair of agate pendants – everyday jewelry for a female – found at the Chengtoushan Site and on display at the Hunan Provincial Museum in the city of Changsha (50 Dongfeng Road, Changsha), situated about 125 kilometers, as the crow flies, south-southwest of Yueyang. There is also a museum in the city of Yueyang, whose collection does include a number of local cultural and archeological artifacts – one can always check it out: 50 Yuedong Road, Yueyang.
Fig 2: A Pair of 9-10 cm Semi-Annular Agate Pendants, Dated BCE ca.3000
There are two other Daxi sites in the region, one at at Tangjiagang Village near Wulingyuan/ Zhangjiajie and the other at Zhaoshi Village near Longshan, both due west of Yueyang about 250 and 350 kilometers, respectively. Typical pottery vessels included cauldrons, jars, basins, vases, plates, bowls and cups. Some of the smaller items were of white pottery, a feature that also characterizes the contemporaneous Yangshao Culture, which also brings up an interesting comparison between these Late Neolithic cultures and the Plains Indians of the American west, where each had their separate language yet where there was much cultural transmission, and where advancements might even have reflected a form of cultural competition. At the Zhaoshi Village site near Longshan, painted pottery, representing a clear practical, "technological" and artistic advancement, was discovered.
One final interesting note about the Pengtoushan and Chengtoushan "rice" Cultures of the Lake Dongting area (especially the former), anthropologists conjecture that the origin of a language family should lie somewhere in the middle, distance-wise, of the extremities of the spread of its primary branches, or subfamilies. There are two primary language subfamilies belonging to the Austric language family: the Austronesian language subfamily – usually abbreviated as AN – and the Austroasiatic language subfamily – usually abbreviated as AA.
The "center", or middle distance, for AN is somewhere between Taiwan and the Northern Philippines. Since there exist no other languages in between these two extremities, the AN language subfamily can be considered continuous. In fact, since the distance between the southern extremity of Taiwan and the northern extremity of Luzon Island (the Philippines' most northerly point) – a mere 300 kilometers across open water, if one discounts the islands and tiny atolls in the Luzon Straits farther east – then either end point can, for all practical purposes, be considered the "center" for the spread of the AN language subfamily.
As regards the AA language subfamily, there are many gaps and intervening languages, but it is generally considered that the area around the upper Burma (present-day Myanmar)-Yunnan Province border (the Salween River (Nujiang River) Basin) is the center for the spread of the AA language subfamily.
Putting these two piece of the puzzle together, the homeland for the Austric language family can therefore be plotted to be the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, perhaps somewhere in the region of Lake Dongting, since it lies roughly midway between the Salween River Basin and Taiwan. So, if this is correct – and I, for one, is ready to believe it – then not only is the Lake Dongting area the origin of domesticated rice, it is also the homeland of the Austric language family.
Actually, there is another interesting note about the Pengtoushan and Chengtoushan "rice" Cultures of the Lake Dongting area...
Those who know their Chinese creation mythology (the legend of The Three Sovereigns) will know that of the three siblings, Fuxi, The Heavenly Sovereign; Nüwa, The Earthly Sovereign; and Shennong, The Human Sovereign, Shennong, together with Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) taught the Chinese people agriculture, i.e., how to use the plow and cultivate rice. Another name for Shennong is the Yandi, or the Yan Emperor (di means "emperor"), and since yan also means "flame", Yandi is sometimes rendered as the Flame Emperor. Moreover, since Huang means "Yellow" (as in Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor), and since a flame is usually taken to be of the color red, Yandi is sometimes rendered as the Red Emperor.
The name Shennong is used to grace certain topographical features of this general area, such as the 'Shennongxi Little Three Gorges' on the Shennongxi, or Shennong Stream, which is a left tributary of the Yangtze River extending northward at the city of Badong in the Three Gorges area. Moreover, Shennong Forestry District in Linqu County, or Shennongjia Linqu, a truly vast, mountainous forest area, lies northeast of Shennong Stream. And there are no doubt numerous other topographical features as well as towns and villages in the general area that bear either the name Shennong, Yandi or Huangdi.
Since Hunan Province is proud of its history and its culture, including its mythology, it naturally supports the Yandi-Huangdi Era agriculture myth, where the Pengtoushan Culture is considered the Red Emperor Era while the Chengtoushan Culture represents the Yellow Emperor Era, after which comes the Xia Dynasty... and the rest is history, if not partly prehistory (if you would like to learn more about Chinese creation mythology, read about The Three Sovereigns and The Five Emperors here).
The Ba People – are a mysterious people who were apparently absorbed into the larger, Han Chinese family, as a result of the conquest of their homelands, which is one of the more common reasons for ethno-cultural fusion.
Some scholars have posited the homeland of the Ba people to be precisely the area around Yueyang, though this site is favored only by a minority of scholars (but we mention it anyway, and Hunaners – or Hunan Beings, as they would probably call themselves (I found this funny designation on a Smithsonian Institute (Washington DC, USA) blogsite) – probably wouldn't object to being called the homeland of the Ba people), the majority positing the Ba homeland in the Three Gorges area (Chongqing-Hubei Province), i.e., anywhere from present-day Chongqing in the west to Yichang in the east, though some experts believe that the Ba originated in the area of Wuluo Zhongli Mountain near the city of Changyang (Hubei Province) – located about 250 kilometers, in a straight line, northwest of Yueyang, and about 30 kilometers south-southwest of Yichang – and from there, spread westward.
However, there is an equally ardent school of thought, the one associated with the domestication of rice, that holds that westward expansion in this part of China was utterly impossible, since the terrain on either side of the Yangtze River in the Three Gorges area was too inhospitable to have made travel by land – or expansion of small settlements in small hops westward – possible, leaving therefore the only means of westward travel the Yangtze River itself, and here, the notion that the Ba people (and if not the Ba, who else?!) could have made their way up the raging Yangtze River along this inhospitable stretch is incredulous.
Still, as difficult as the task might have been, the Ba might nonetheless have accomplished it. But if they did, then they could as easily have made the migration all the way from Yueyang, on the northeastern shores of Lake Dongting. To get an idea of just how inhospitable this terrain is, we will show a terrain map (Google Maps) of the most mountainous part of the Three Gorges area, roughly centered at Badong, but first, to get an idea of the relative location of the area we are speaking of, look first at Figure 3 below, which shows a sketch map of the Three Gorges area.
Fig 3: Sketch Map of the Three Gorges area
The most inhospitable part of the Three Gorges terrain is from Wanxian (present-day Wanzhou) in the west to a point about 10 kilometers west of Zigui in the east. On either side of these two points, the terrain slopes down to a more hospitable type. In the Google Maps terrain map below (Figure 4), the stretch between Fenjie (note that Wanzhou is well west of Fenjie) and Zigui is shown (and note that the sketch map of Figure 3 is not drawn to scale – in particular, the spatial relationship between the cities of Badong and Zigui are distorted in Figure 3).
Fig 4: Terrain Map of the Fengjie-Badong-Zigui Three Gorges Area
From the terrain map of Figure 4 above (you can see an enlarged version of Figure 4 by right-clicking on the map and choosing the "open link in a new tab" option) it can be seen how mountainous this terrain really is, though an image of this large of a ratio does not do justice to the truly inhospitable nature of the terrain on either side of this formidable stretch of the Yangtze River, from which the moniker, The Mighty Yangtze River most probably stems. But if the terrain on either side of the river is inhospitable, so is the river itself, which is one of the many reasons for creating the Three Gorges Dam, i.e., to make the water deeper and therefore less dangerous, less "raging" (there were dangerous boulders just beneath the surface of the river prior to the damming that could – did! – split a boat apart in seconds).
It is believed, in fact, that the Ba people may very well be aboriginals of the area just west and north of where the Qingjiang River intersects with (empties into) the Yangtze River, which is the Wuluo Zhongli Mountains area. This area is the beginning of the north-south oriented mountain range just west of the large valley where Lake Dongting lies. If flooding was a common occurrence in ancient, Neothermal Period times, then it would have made good sense for the Ba to live here, as they would be safe from sudden and catastrophic flooding, and could conceivably have profited from periodic – perhaps seasonal – forays into the low-lying terrain below.
The Ba people seem to have distinguished themselves from their more lowland neighbors in many respects, being a very proud, very strong and forceful hunter-gatherer people. Indeed, so fierce was the Ba warrior that he was used by the much larger group of Han Chinese people of the Chu State during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty to battle against the other states, though, in the end, it was Qin State, Chu State's neighbor to the west, that came out on top at the end of the hegemonic Warring States Period (see the map (Figure 5) below).
Fig 5: Sketch Map of the Warring States Period, Anno BCE 260
Chu State does not seem to have conquered the Ba people, whose history stretches back to the Shang Dynasty – and whose state was stronger, in their mountainous region, than was the Han Chinese Zhou (BCE 1027-221) Dynasty down in the valley to the north and east, i.e., in the North China Plain, which is centered on the Yellow River Valley area stretching roughly from Beijing in the north to the Huai River in the south (see the map (Figure 6) below, modified from Wikipedia). Instead, some kind of accord was reached between the two groups. This is in any case the hypothesis of historians, since no traces of the Chu kings can be found among the relics uncovered – just prior to the daming of the Three Gorges area – by the teams of archeologists who unearthed numerous artifacts from the Ba homelands, suggesting that the Chu accepted the Ba as a vassal state of sorts rather than themselves administering over the Ba territories.
Fig 6: Map of China Showing Main Topographic Features
But for some mysterious reason, the Ba people's numbers declined dramatically during the Warring States period, and after the Qin State conquered the Chu State in BCE 223, the remnants of the Ba people were absorbed into the dominant Han Chinese ethnic group, meaning that traces of the blood of these remarkably fierce warriors runs in some Chinese people today (if, or perhaps when, China Travel writes an article on the Ba people, we will link to it on this page). (In a sense, the more successful and/or more amenable lesser tribes were those who were most quickly absorbed into the Han Chinese identity, meaning, in a certain sense at least, that today's Chinese ethnic minorities somehow either didn't adapt well to their more numerous neighbors or they lived in very remote regions where their physical isolation guaranteed their ethno-cultural survival... some tribes, such as the Rong, were not only not amenable to adaptation, but were so hostile to their Han Chinese neighbors that they eventually had to be obliterated!)
Naval Maneuvers on Lake Dongting in Preparation for The Battle of Red Cliffs
As indicated in the introduction, the Battle of Red Cliffs was fought during the winter of CE 208-09. This was near the close of the very weakened Eastern Han Dynasty, when that dynasty was being torn apart by warlords who sensed that the end was near, and who therefore sought hegemony over the territory controlled by the dying Eastern Han Dynasty. These famous – perhaps one should say infamous – warlords, Liu Bei, Sun Quan and Cao Cao, would divide the Han Dynasty into three parts: Shu Han, ruled by Liu Bei; Eastern Wu, ruled by Sun Quan; and Cao Wei, ruled by Cao Cao (see the map (Figure 7) below borrowed from Wikipedia, but annotated by us). This is of course the period known as the Three Kingdoms Era that would be made famous in the 3rd century historical work, Records of Three Kingdoms, by the historian Chen Shou, and made even more famous by the 14th century historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms – considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature – by the author Luo Guanzhong (and made into numerous TV series and video games in modern times).
Fig 7: Three Kingdoms Era China
Lake Dongting served namely as the venue for the Eastern Wu's fleet of training ships which were under the command of Lu Shu, the famous Eastern Wu military advisor who served as an aide to Zhou Yu – the even more famous Eastern Wu military advisor – during the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs on the Yangtze River, whom Lu succeeded after Zhou's death (to read about the Battle of Red Cliffs and its role in the power struggle that was unfolding between the three aforementioned warlords – and note that in the end, it was the Western Jin (CE 265-316) Dynasty, created out of Cao Wei, that came out on top, finally reuniting China again for a period – click here, then scroll to the bottom of the page to the endnote).
Sima Yan usurped power over Cao Wei by forcing Cao Huan, the last ruler of Cao Wei to abdicate, then, when Sima Yan was victorious over the other two kingdoms, he changed the name of Cao Wei to the Jin Dynasty, which historians later designated as the Western Jin Dynasty, since there would be a sequel, as it were.
Present-Day Yueyang and the Lake Dongting Area
Yueyang is a relatively ancient city (it stems from roughly BCE 1000) that is steeped in ancient history – and prehistory – as seen in the above, as well as culture. The city is renowned as "the gate of North Hunan Province" and "a land flowing with milk and honey". It is also known for its fertile soil that supports a variety of agricultural products, and for its beautiful scenery, its pleasant climate and its "Dongting water and Yueyang Tower". To the east lies Mufu Mountain while to the west lies the lake that can more than double its size if need be, namely, Lake Dongting.
Besides the prehistoric sites in the region of Yueyang, and besides the historic sites of the Battle of Red Cliffs skirmishes between the various warlords during the Three Kingdoms Era, the city of Yueyang offers the tourist a number of slightly lesser known sites of interest to the visitor, where the tourist traffic is likely to be less hectic, as well as the main tourist sites that many tourists come here specifically to see, namely, Lake Dongting, Yueyang Pavilion and Junshan Hill, the latter an island hillock in the center of Lake Dongting.
Yueyang Pavilion – is perhaps the central attraction here, given its cultural history and its fame as one of the three famous towers of Southern China, the other two being Yellow Crane Tower in Wuchang, Hubei Province and Prince Teng Pavillion in Nanching, Jiangxi Province. The tower, built by the Eastern Wu military advisor Lu Shu as a parade stand from which to observe the periodic review of the naval ships conducting maneuvers on Lake Dongting, was originally named Southern Pavilion. During the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, the tower was rebuilt by the then governor of Yueyang, Zhang Shuo, who had held a higher office at the Tang court but was demoted and banished to Yueyang to serve as governor there. It was at this time that the tower was renamed to Yueyang Pavilion.
Later still, during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, the then governor of Yueyang, Teng Zijing, invited a friend and former chancellor (see the double-starred endnote to the Yueyang Tower article to read about the special duties that followed with the position of "chancellor"), Fan Zhongyan to write an essay honoring the tower. The result was the famous "Memorial to Yueyang Pavilion", the most famous line of which was the admonition to those fighting for social justice to "[b]e the first to show concern about the nation's problems, the last to rejoice when those problems are declared resolved" (or the last to declare "mission accomplished", if you will – go here to learn more about Yueyang Pavilion).
Lake Dongting – is China's second largest freshwater lake, at least when it is swollen as the result of floodwater from the Yangtze River. The sheer size of the lake, even when not swollen, is impressive. The lake supports a large fishing industry, including a successful shrimp industry. From the point of view of its admirers, the lake is best viewed in the early evening, at dusk, when the hustle and bustle of the more noisy birds give way to the more infrequent, relaxing sounds of evening birds, joined by the sounds of insects and frogs. If the moon is out, the fishing boats can be seen on the shiny surface of the lake, adding to the beauty of the scene, and if in the mood, the fishermen are known to sing a melodious nocturne (go here to learn more about Lake Dongting).
Junshan Hill – can be seen by day, and on it, numerous small pavilions and ancestral temples, as well as a number of wells. Interspersed among the manmade structures can be seen myriads of bamboo and tea plants, providing a quintessentially Chinese image worthy of being reproduced on a painter's canvas. The best side of Junshan Hill faces Yueyang Pavilion.
Some of the lesser known but noteworthy sites to visit in the area include: the Miluo River, on the lake's east side, where the famous Warring States patriot, Qu Yuan, drowned himself in the river (go here to learn more about Miluo River). His patriotic self-sacrifice is celebrated each year during the Dragon Boat Race, which is held here precisely in honor of Qu Yuan. Indeed, there is a special tomb built in honor of the patriot – named Qu Yuan Tomb, of course, and Quzi Temple atop nearby Yusi Mountain is also built in honor of the patriot. It is a simple wood-and-brick structure with a central hall and a memorial hall with three courtyards and an entrance with three arches.
Both the entrance and the side walls of the temple are adorned with carved reliefs dedicated to Qu Yuan. Nearby the temple is a stele "forest" on which couplets and other works by Qu Yuan are inscribed by later calligraphers.
About 1 kilometer South of Yueyang Pavilion, just off Dongting Nan Lu ("East Pavilion South Road") stands a crumbling tower (actually a pagoda) with tufts of plants, looking like hair sprouting in unwelcome places on the faces of the old, growing out of the fissures that nature's wear and tear have made in the tower's masonry on every storey (see the image (Figure 8) below of the tower standing behind a row of houses). You would not think it but this is an historical pagoda that is being allowed to decay before our very eyes for some inexplicable reason (consider this as a appeal to the tourist to visit Yueyang and to pay a special visit to Cishi Ta, the pagoda in question, then urge the local tourism authorities to do something about it!).
Fig 8: A Sad Fate for Such an Auspicious Tower!
There are conflicting theories for when the pagoda was built: one which posits the time frame to the first half of the 8th century CE (713-741); the other to the middle of the 13th century CE (1242). It is tempting to believe that the pagoda was perhaps originally erected in the earlier period, destroyed or badly damaged, then rebuilt during the later period. I tend to believe that the tower stems from the second period, period. This is because the pagoda was erected by a non-descript private individual, and my hunch tells me that it was only emperors, important ministers and government functionaries, as well as members of the literati who personally financed such projects during the early Tang Dynasty period (the first Mulan Dam, an undertaking by two non-descript private individuals, was built in CE 1064 during the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty).
The patron who financed the Cishi Pagoda was a certain Madame Ci, who, not unlike the patrons who built Mulan Dam – Lady Qian Siniang and Mr. Lin Chongshi (especially the former) – spent her entire fortune on the project (that is reason enough to show respect to Cishi Pagoda!). The purpose of the pagoda was to evict – and thereafter ward off – evil spirits that might put a jinx on the Yangtze River, causing it to burst its banks, aka flood-inducing demons.
Kindness Tower is located southwest of Yueyang City, on the eastern lakefront of Lake Dongting. It was originally built during the Kaiyuan (CE 712-741) period of the reign (CE 712-756) of Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang Dynasty (note the almost exact date for the construction of Kindness Tower and the first construction date given for Cishi Ta, which leads one to suspect that someone might have gotten the dates mixed up, further strengthening my argument above). The present-day seven-storey, octagonal replacement tower of brick and stone stems from the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty. From the second storey upwards of this 39-meter-high structure is a small Buddha figure in a recess on each storey. It is one of the most ancient towers in Hunan Province – along with, of course, Cishi Ta!
Finally, the recently discovered Zhang Guying Fengshui Village, which sits on a 12-acre plot (a little less than 5 hectares), was built some 600 years ago by the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty geomancer (fengshui aficionado), for whom the village is named, during the reign (CE 1572-1620) of the Wanli Emperor (see the image (Figure 9) below).
Fig 9: Zhang Guying Fengshui Village
Zhang Guying Fengshui Village is variously nicknamed the 'Folk Imperial Palace' and the 'First Village under the Sun'. It is supposedly located at the foot of Mount Bijia in the mountainous region of Weidong, Yueyang County, but I have not been able to locate this spot. Another source puts it in the mountains east of Yueyang, and another still puts it near the confluence of the Hsiang (Xiangjiang?) and Wei (Weishui?) Rivers. The buildings do indeed exist, but whether they belong to the Zhang Guying Family Residence or not is debatable (if I find out more, I will update this page). The layout of the buildings do indeed look to be the work of a geomancer.**
** The Zhang Guying Geomancy/ Fengshui Village does indeed exist, and it is probably, as indicated, about 70 kilometers from Yueyang, BUT, it apparently can't be reached directly from Yueyang, since there is not enough of a demand for a bus route from there.
If you would like to see the village, you will have to travel to Changsha, which takes about an hour or so by express bus (as you probably well know if you arrived in Yueyang via Changsha).
The bus that departs for Zhang Guying Geomancy/ Fengshui Village departs at 1:50 PM, but be there in good time in case it leaves early, as busses sometimes do if they are almost full.
There may be an earlier bus that makes this trip because the village operates from 8:00 AM – 18:00 PM. Here is a telephone number that might still be the right one:
Tel: 0086-730-8311676. Good luck!**
Lastly, Lake Nanhu on the southern edge of Lake Dongting has recently been developed for water sports, so if you would like to have fun on a motorboat or a water bicycle, or take a showboat cruise on the lake, this is where you want to go. It is here, on Lake Nanhu in fact, where the annual Dragon Boat Race is held. Around the lake are other attractions such as Sanyan Bridge located at the eastern end of the lake, and Longshan (Dragon Mountain) and Guishan (Tortoise Mountain), both situated on the south side of the lake.