A Man-made Lake

China Scenic - - Feature Explore -

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

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