Dujiangyan Irrigation System of Chengdu

Controlling spring floods from the Himalayas of the Yellow River to the north and Yangtze Rivers in the south of China have been a challenge for thousands of years. First the Great Yu and then much later the efforts to control a portion of the Yangtze described below. In my earlier post I described the Dujiangyan Irrigation System where I was headed after climbing Mt. Qingcheng northwest of Chengdu. The irrigation system was completed in 200 AD during the reign of Emperor Chin. The guy famous for the terra cotta warriors who would protect him in eternity, or as the theory went in immortality. I think he was very disappointed in the end. He had his tomb nearby surrounded with mercury that was supposed to help him in his cause. Today, 2000 years later, the area is so lethal because of the mercury poisoning that no one can go near it… but that’s a different story. (He had a wooden roof put over the terra cotta soldiers, etc., that later burned and fell into the terra cotta, which is why it was broken into thousands of pieces… but that’s a different story for later) , Emperor Chin not only completed the Great Wall, but also is responsible for the Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan, which is next to Tibet in southwest China. It is called the ‘Treasure of Sichuan’ and still plays a crucial role in draining off floodwater, irrigating farms and providing water resources for more than 50 cities in the province.

In China, Chengdu is always praised as the Tian Fu Zhi Guo, which means ‘Nature’s Storehouse’ and its beautiful women. (When I “really retire”, Chengdu will be on my list). It is easy to understand why the fabled Shangri La is considered to be close by. Over 2,200 years ago, the city was threatened by the frequent floods caused by flooding of the Minjiang River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. Li Bing, a local official of Sichuan Province at that time, together with his son, decided to construct an irrigation system on the Minjiang River to prevent flooding. After a lengthy study and a lot of hard work by the local people, the great Dujiangyan Irrigation System was completed.

Since then, the Chengdu Plain has been free of flooding and the people have been living peacefully and affluently. Dujiangyan is the oldest and only surviving no-dam irrigation system in the world; and a wonder in the development of early Chinese science. The project consists of three important parts designed to automatically control the water flow of the rivers from the mountains to the plains throughout the year. There is a magnificent bridge called the Anlan Cable Bridge crossing the Minjiang River above Yuzui, which is the most scenic place of the whole project. The construction of the bridge originally commenced before the Song Dynasty (960-1279). At that time, the body of the bridge was constructed with wooden blocks and the handrails were made of bamboo. Recently the wood and bamboo were replaced with steel and reinforced concrete to ensure the security of visitors. From the bridge, you can clearly see the entire layout of the Dujiangyan system.

• There are also historical sites here. Fulong Temple is said to be the place where Li Bing subjugated the evil dragon during the construction process. The stone statue of Li Bing caved in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) is displayed in the front courtyard of the temple; is the earliest round sculptured stone statue in China. In the back courtyard of the temple, you can see the working principles of Dujiangyan replicated in an electric model of the irrigation system.

• Erwang Temple is located on the mountain by the right side bank of the Minjiang River. It was built to commemorate Li Bing and his son by the ancient people. The temple retains the architectural style of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the whole environment here is quite serene and beautiful. Mountain vistas seem to be a theme I frequently turn to. Many Chinese characters depicting experiences of water control are engraved on the stone walls of the temple. In the Grand Hall, you can see the vivid statues of Li and his son, who are still honored by the local people. For over twenty two hundred years, the people have held memorial ceremonies for Li and his son.