Tales of the Three Gorges

Updated: 2007-04-16 07:42

Tales of the Three Gorges

Tales of the Three GorgesThe terrain of the Three Gorges is difficult to access, so in history war strategists defeated strong armies with few soldiers. And because of the convenient water carriage, large-scale military material provision became possible. Based on these factors, the Three Gorges became a strategic point from the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC) to the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, and many other wars happened there. This was to destroy parts of local culture, as well as bring a new cultural divergence.

Tales of the Three Gorges Baidi Town

Located at the entrance of the Qutang Gorge on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, and only a 20-minute ride from Fengjie, Baidi Town was the birthplace of the ancient Ba and Shu states over 2,000 years ago.

According to a local folk tale, when construction of the town began, a stream of white steam rose up from a well, like a white dragon flying up to heaven. The town was therefore named Baidi, meaning Heavenly White Dragon.

During the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), Emperor Liu Bei of the Shu Kingdom was disastrously defeated by the Wu Kingdom and retreated to Baidi. After a series of bloody defense battles, they stationed there. He fell fatally ill and just before his death he confided his state affairs to his son Liu Chan, the future emperor of the Shu, and to his prime minister, Zhuge Liang. This incident later became known as "confiding to the orphan at Baidi".

Baidi Town is now a group of temple-like courtyard buildings, surrounded by beautiful scenery, which makes it hard for people to connect the place with bloody wars. But the history was real. Look down at Baidi Town, from the rapid river and toughened gorges, people can understand why this became a strategic point and why Liu Bei was stationed there.

To modern military theory the terrain is no longer as important as before. But in the age of cold steel, the Three Gorges served as a defensible barrier which enemies had to take.

Only several kilometers from Zhongxian County is the "Yajiao" site -- one of the most important archeological sites in the Three Gorges area. Exploration work has already finished, and many pits were left after the excavations. This site was identified as a tomb of the Chu Kingdom in the late period of the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC). Weapons were buried with the dead in almost all the tombs. So it can be concluded that they were soldiers' tombs from the Chu. According to historical record, the Chu, Ba, Shu and Qin Kingdoms engaged in warfare in the Warring States Period but at last were to merge and unify. The findings at the Yajiao site give proof to this theory.

Tales of the Three Gorges The Brave Ba People

In historical records, the tales of the Three Gorges, the Ba people, the Ba Kingdom and the Ba culture are important. But nobody has found an actual connection with the Ba people or its kingdom. Archeologist can just about outline the history of the Ba from the written record, oral tales and archeology evidence.

The late Warring States Period, the Shu, Ba, Chu, Qin and other little kingdoms began to struggle and fight for more than 300 years. From 700 BC, the Chu defeated the Ba; the Qin, Ba and Chu joined hands and defeated the Yong, a smaller kingdom; and then the Chu defeated the Ba again; the weak Ba Kingdom cooperated with the Qin and fought with the Chu, but was defeated for the third time. From then on the Ba became weaker and weaker and the Chu occupied the Three Gorges area. Until 316 BC, the Qin ended the Ba and Shu and directly struggled with the Chu in the Three Gorges.

The aim of the wars among the Ba, Chu and Shu was mostly over salt. But when the Qin and Chu confronted each other in the Three Gorges area, the Qin had already put their goal seizing the downriver area of the Yangtze River and the unification of China became an historical trend.

In this 300-year history, the Ba's fate was not good. They were situated between two strong kingdoms -- the Shu from its west and the Chu from the east. The Ba continuously moved around in the Three Gorges area and the capital also moved from east to west -- from Quren to Linjiang, to Pingdu, to Zhiyi and to Jiangzhou at last. Archeologists have two explanations of the changes -- some hold that because of the continuous prosperity of the Ba, its soil expanded to the west; and others hold that because the Ba was defeated by the Chu several times they had to move westward.

No matter which is true, the Ba people wrote their history through their valiancy. According to Huayang Guozhi (The History of Huayang), by the late Shang Dynasty (c.1600 BC-c.1100BC), the Ba Kingdom had become an important political force in the Three Gorges area. It took part in the war of "Wuwang attacking Zhou -- the last ruler of the Shang Dynasty", and played an important role in their bravery in the history of the Zhou Dynasty that took place during the Shang Dynasty. According to Yanghua, a researcher of the Yichang Museum of Hubei Province, the Ba people were pioneers in the army of Wuwang and when they took part in battles they danced a fierce war dance accompanied by songs to frighten enemies that excited morale.

When referring to the Ba, the story of Manzi is necessary to tell. According toHuayang Guozhi(The History of Huayang), -- In the later part of the Warring States Period, internal rebellions occurred throughout China. Manzi was a general of the Ba Kingdom, borrowing troops from the Chu kingdom, and mortgaging them with three Ba cities. After putting down the rebellions, and protecting the mortgaged cities, Man Zi drew his sword and cut his own throat, sacrificing his life in exchange for the Chu king's assistance. The King of Chu sighed: "Why isn't the general from my kingdom?"

There are many tombs and weapons found in the Three Gorges areas which show proof of the bravery of the Ba people. In a 5000-square-meter Yujiaba site, warriors were buried, densely packed, hinting at the cruelty of the battles. The unearthed bronze swords of the Ba were only 20 to 40 centimeters long, much shorter than the swords of the Chu or the Qin. The weapons tell of the ferocity of their owners.

On the Ba people's swords there are many illustrations -- mostly tigers or hearts in a hand. The tiger was the totem of the Ba people, but the heart in a hand might have meant to send a heart to their lovers or hold their enemies' heart in celebration. There's no great certainty, and no matter how romantic or fierce, the history has past and there's no evidence.

The brave Ba people can't ward off the advance of history. In 223 BC, the Qin got stronger having destroyed the Ba and Shu, and prepared for breaking the Three Gorges and uniting the whole of China. Wang Jian, a general of the Qin, led 600,000 military and broke the Three Gorges and defeated the Chu, and Zhao and Yan in the second year, and the Qi in the third year. China was then united.

Tales of the Three Gorges Wars Destroyed Yet Merged Cultures

From the angle of history, war is greatly destructive but in China it did at lest promote the merging of nationalities and cultures and form a united "national" Chinese culture.

In the sites of the Three Gorges, there are a lot of tombs in the Chu kingdom style with wares of the Chu -- ding (an ancient cooking vessel), fu (kettle), basin and painted potteries. In the Yichang museum of Hubei Province, there is bronze ware showing the achievements of the Chu Kingdom's culture.

Yang Hua, a researcher with the museum, says the tombs were all for Chu military officers to fight with the Ba people. They represented the life style of Chu's noblemen and made painted pottery to copy the bronze ware, which were mainly buried in the tombs with the dead. Now the Ba people and Ba kingdom has already disappeared, and clues have been got from other historical kingdoms' records, tales and costumes of local people there.

All the cultures, of the Chu, Ba, Shu and Qin, gathered and mixed together to form Chinese culture.

Tales of the Three Gorges The Zhang Fei Temple

Large-scale wars that happened in the Three Gorges occurred in the Three Kingdoms period. The Zhang Fei Temple was a relic left from that time.

Here's a tale of the temple.

Zhang Fei was noted for his loyalty to friends and for his bravery. He met Liu Bei and Guan Yu and became sworn brothers at the Peach Garden and vowed to combine their strengths and efforts to restore peace and order to the country.

In 221, Guan Yu, Zhang Fei's sworn brother, died in the battle with the Wu State. Zhang Fei, who was called the Tiger General, swore revenge and prepared to attack the state of Wu with his army. He ordered Commanders Zhang Da and Fan Jiang to lead the attack and avenge his brother, under pain of death. The two treacherous officers cut off Zhang Fei's head, intending to surrender to the Wu State. However, they heard of a peace settlement between the states of Wu and Shu, and threw Zhang Fei's head into the river.

Legend has it that Zhang Fei appeared in a fisherman's dream and made a request to rescue his head and bury it in the Shu. The fisherman obeyed, and accidentally found a jar of gold when he rescued the head. Then he buried the head on Flying Phoenix Hill and built a temple using the gold he had found to commemorate the bold general.

The story is moving, but after Zhang Fei's death, Shu got weaker. In AD 223, Liu Bei was defeated by Wu and dead in Baidi town. Liu Chan, Liu Bei's son, occupied the Three Gorges for 40 years and had no ambitions to invade the Wu. Because of the special terrain, the Wu also couldn't break it. Until 263, the Wei Kingdom broke the Shu, then defeated the Wu, and unified China. -- What surprised us was the route Wei took was almost the same as the Qin, when it defeated the Ba and Shu 400 years before.

Nowadays, when the national water project conflicted with the Zhangfei Temple, people decided to relocate the temple. The original Zhang Fei temple would be below the water line after the Three Gorges project, so it had to be relocated.

The new location is more than 30 kilometers upriver from the old one. It was prudently selected -- the mountain, water and other surroundings are very similar to the old one and near to the town. The relocation steps were also very complicated -- all the wood ware, brick, tiles, poles and stoneware were numbered, moved to the new location and restored.

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