A Man-made Lake
In China, the East Lake of Shaoxing is as famous as the West Lake of Hangzhou. It is said that it took 45 generations of stonecutters removing rock in order to create the bed for the lake. set up tablets to honor ancestral sprits. If we accept this line of argument, Longyou Grottos were created more than 2500 years ago.
These large Xu grottoes were extremely stable, did not require expenses for maintenance, kept wild animals at bay and you did not have to fear fires. The grottos got bigger and bigger, reaching the size we can see today. The entrances, however, look disproportionally small to the imposing sizes of the grottoes themselves. Two reasons for that occurred to me: first, a small entrance prevents flooding of the cave; second, it reduces oxidation. Our guide told us: “Inside the cave the rock is pliable, cutting it is so easy, it is like cutting tofu. Take it out of the cave and because of oxidation it hardens very quickly.” So, the smaller the entrance to the grotto, the better it is to keep the rock inside supple and easy to extract.
Shaoxing : Shells of Mountains
Ancient stonecutters blessed Zhejiang with amazing heritage — giant caves, honeycomb island, underwater grottoes. The province, however, has yet another unique legacy of the stonecutters’ tools, which is also a sight like no other. It is located in Shaoxing.
Shaoxing is traditionally known as a “water town” for its lakes, canals and rivers, but it is also in equal measure a “stone town”. Extraction of stone goes back to Spring and Autumn Period, and the mountains, worked on by one generation of stonecutters after the next, have been eaten up by the people’s appetite for stone. Hollowed out, even the thin outer shell of the mountain was harvested — crushed into gravel for later use. This left an eerie landscape of hacked out stone pillars which used to support the ceilings of the caves, and rock walls which resisted and survived the assaults of people and their tools. Underground quarrying was also well developed here in Shaoxing, the grottoes that it created have since filled up with water, becoming ponds, lagoons and lakes of various sizes.
Donghu, East Lake, has the area of just under six hectares and is one of the lakes created by quarrying. Lying six kilometers to the East from Shaoxing, at
the foot of Ruokui Mountain, it is one of the three famous lakes of Zhejiang, together with West Lake in Hangzhou and Jiaxing’s South Lake.
The surface of East Lake is like a mirror. We are on a wupengchuan (the famous black row boats of Shaoxing) lake cruise and both the stone pillars and the bushes and the grass and bushes growing on their pinnacles are reflected in minute detail in the waters of the lake. The crew of the boat happily tell us that it took 45 generations of stonecutters removing the rock in order to create the bed for the lake.
We slowly floated up to Taogong Cave. This cave looks like a giant chimney, rising straight up towards the sky. In fact, it is a vertical shaft that had been excavated from the top downwards. The marks from tools the rock bears are identical to those we had seen in Longyou Grottoes. I wondered how tall might this cave be, and the boat driver told me that the above water part was 47 meters and the underwater part, 18 meters. Seeing my surprise, the captain added that where we were, was not even considered deep, that there were parts of the lake where the depth reached 40 or 50 meters. In other words, Shaoxing stonecutters, centuries upon centuries ago, scaled a 47-meter-high hill and, using nothing but hammers and chisels, erased it, one piece of stone at a time. After having arrived at base of the hill, they pressed on, dozens of meters into the ground.
Qipan Rock, which means “Chessboard Rock” in Chinese, stands on the top of a 20-meter hill in Yuecheng District of the city of Shaoxing. It is a giant stone pillar with several blocks of stone, resembling chessboard, on the top. The local legend says that two celestial immortals, one from the North Star and one from the South Star, played a game of chess here once, hence the origin of the name.
Another amazing ancient quarry sight is Shifo Rock, or Stone Buddha Rock — a solitary pillar, located 15 kilometers from the city of Shaoxing, in Qixian Village. The rock resembles an icebreaker ship, moored in the expanse of the 2,000 square meters Yangshan Lake. This remarkably-shaped peak is almost 30 meters high. During the Tang, a remarkable feat of ingenuity was done — inside the grotto, a 15-meter tall statue of Maitreya Buddha (the future
reincarnation of the Bodhisattva) was carved. And the locals have a saying: “Stone holds the Buddha, water holds the stone, and mountain holds the water.” The Buddha, even after centuries of vicissitudes and calamities that had gone on around him, remains unperturbed, lording over the surrounding beauty of the rock and water.
Twelve kilometers to the west of the city of Shaoxing is the Keyan Scenic Area, and as soon you arrive you come face to face with a giant cliff. This is none other than the famous Great Buddha of Keshan. A statue of Buddha was carved inside a cliff, his features are serene, expression benevolent. Continue on from the Buddha and you reach the famous Cloud Bone Rock. Thirty meters high, it has a thin base and tapers out at the top, shaped like a wine glass, with the thinnest part of the base not even one meter wide. A small Buddha, which predates the stonecutting that erased the mountain around him, sits at the top. The Cloud Bone Rock is a unique sight, a true wonder, but, even by the standards of Zhejiang, the local stonecutters did a remarkable job cutting down an entire mountain, leaving behind a barren rock “skeleton”.
The dramatic landscapes that the ancient stonecutters created are, of course, man-made, but their beauty is such that it surpasses what we might expect to be made by the hands of man, and so they become as natural, and as worthy of admiration, as what the nature herself has given us.
The Sea Walls of Zhejiang Stones Ever since ancient times, the Qiantang River in Zhejiang, with its spectacular tides, has attracted numerous poets, literati and other tourists. Famous as it is, the tide has also brought disaster to coastal residents and their properties. To resist the surging anger of the Qiantang, people built long sea walls with stone materials from quarries in Zhejiang. This construction was dubbed the “Great Wall”by the sea. Photo/ Dong Yu