Friday, June 2, 2017

穿過重慶和三峽 Chugging through Chongqing and the Three Gorges

Chongqing, once called Chungking, is one of the Five National Central Cities in China. It is traditionally associated with the State of Ba and the Ba who arrived in the area in about 316 BC. As with Beijing, it underwent the same sort of wars and name changes from the late 200s BC through the Ming Dynasty. The area was eventually conquered by the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty with immigration to Chongqing and Sichuan in support of Qing emperor.  Foreigners were first allowed into the area in 1890 when the British Consulate General was opened. The Japanese, French, German, and US consulates were opened in Chongqing between 1896 and 1904. The big excitement came during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek made Chongqing his provisional capital. The mountainous environment was protection from bombs leading factories and universities to relocate here. Coming into this area made me realize why so many Chinese pieces of art show mountains shrouded in clouds. Chongqing has over 100 days of fog per year with 68 of those days occurring during the spring and autumn. Of course it’s not all fog. Chongqing is among one of the ten most air-polluted cities in the world; the list includes Beijing, Jinan, Lanzhou, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, and Urumqi.

One of the prettiest places on the Yangtze is Shibaozhai, the ‘Precious Stone Fortress’. We arrived during a drizzle that washed the air, at least. The town seemed to be just waking up,
Top L to R: City gate, Wobbly bridge and island
Bottom L to R: Vidrachaka and Dhritazastra, Red pavilion
but it looked like vendors would be ready for us on our way back to the boat. Once we entered the gate, the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac greeted us; these bronze heads all look like they are smiling. The pavilion sits on a rather steep hill that you get to by crossing a wobbling bridge. There’s nothing wrong with the bridge, it is hinged so that it flexes as you walk across. I had a good time, but other folks weren’t quite as happy with the passage. The red pavilion leans against the side of the hill providing a series of levels leading to the large wooden Buddhist temple at the top. As you climb the stairs, you get some great views of the area and meet many historical figures. Guan Yu actually was a warrior fighting in several of the many battles that plagued this area. He was deified and is worshiped even today as the god who blesses people who observe the warrior’s code of brotherhood and righteousness. On the next level are Vidrachaka who gave order to all creatures, grew the root of human kindness and safeguarded Buddha Dharma; and Dhritazastra who shows mercy and protects all creatures. They live in the Sumeru Mountains. The cloud deities are on the next level; they protect the people who are on the earth below. Within the temple are more deities and information about the bridge to hell as well as the two that go to heaven. At the bottom of the pavilion is a white wall that shows the history of the area as it winds up to the entry level of the area; it’s quite a lovely place. For a while there was a fear that the construction of the Three Gorges Dam would put this place under water; thankfully that didn’t happen.

Sailing a bit further brought us to the spectacular scenery of the Three Gorges (two before the dam). The first, shortest and perhaps prettiest is the Qutang Gorge. Lined with 4,000 ft. high mountains and only 500 ft. wide at its widest point, it is the location of the Hanging Coffins. Placed in caves or on jutting pieces of rocks the Ba people used this method to
Top L to R: Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge
Bottom L to R: Goddess Peak, Goddess Stream
preserve their dead. The Wu Gorge has been known since at least the Three Kingdoms Period; on both sides of the Yangtze are, of course, the Wu Mountains. Topping one of the mountains is the Goddess Peak. It is named for Yao Ji, the youngest daughter of the Heavenly Mother. This young goddess and her eleven sisters visited the earth because she felt lonely in heaven. When they arrived at the Wu Gorge, they met Yu the Great who was in the process of controlling the flood. Touched by his spirit, Yao Ji wanted to help by sending him a sealed book that told about the control of water. But before she could decode the book, she and her sisters were captured by the soldiers from heaven and were to be taken back. To help Yu the Great, the girls broke the chain that bound them and returned to the earth. With the help of Yao Ji and her eleven sisters, Yu the Great overcame the flood. Yao Ji was worshiped as a protector of the people who guided sailing boats through the gorge and controlled the Yangtze's infamous floods. She stands near the top of Goddess Peak looking down on the river. Beneath this mountain is the point at which Goddess Stream flows into the Yangtze. This is a narrow little waterway that runs about 20 miles into the mountains. The primal natural landscape is home to a number of folks displaced by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Many of the people moved up the mountains and continued to farm while others work with the tourist industry, and still others have been relocated in the cities and towns that are around the Dam. We took small boats into this stream and had a look at environment while our guide told us about the customs of the people who live in the area. This was one of my favorite side trips.

Sun Yat-sen originally envisioned a large dam across the Yangtze River in 1919. This dam was to generate electricity and to control the floods on the river. In 1944 American engineer John L. Savage surveyed the area and drew up a dam proposal that included moving ships
Top L to R: Lock, Block turned into fountain
Bottom L to R: Book with workers' names, Three gorges Dam
along using locks. With all the survey work done and the Chinese engineers in place, work was disrupted by the Chinese Civil War and then the Communist takeover, then was disrupted again by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The project was back on line by 1994 and fully operational by 2012 with a ‘ship lift’ completed in 2015. The Three Gorges Dam reduces coal consumption by 31 million tons per year, avoiding 100 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, millions of tons of dust, one million tons of sulfur dioxide, 370,000 tons of nitric oxide, 10,000 tons of carbon monoxide, and a substantial amount of mercury. Unfortunately there are some side effects: the dam sits on a seismic fault and 80% of the land in the area is experiencing erosion, depositing about 40 million tons of sediment into the Yangtze annually. Since this silt is staying upstream rather than being washed down sediment buildup causes biological damage and reduces aquatic biodiversity, downstream riverbanks are more vulnerable to flooding, and Shanghai is more vulnerable inundation. There has also been an effect on people living in the area. Relocation of residents has displaced about 1.24 million people, flooding or partially flooding 13 cities, 140 towns and 1350 villages. There are rumors that Chongqing Municipality will urge another four million more people to leave the dam area moving to the main urban area of Chongqing by 2020.

We went through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam in the middle of the night. I woke up to some scraping noises and a view of a concrete wall; I went back to bed. Up next is Jingzhou and Wuhan, Shanghai, and lastly food, places to stay and cultural programs both on and off the ship.
Chinese Zodiac Characters
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