– The Last Refuge of the Song Dy­nasty

China Scenic - - Special Report - By Ye Zi Pho­to­graphs by Zhu Qingfu

Af­ter the Song Dy­nasty was de­stroyed by Mon­gols, its im­pe­rial fam­ily—the Zhao Clan found them­selves a last refuge at South­east China, and built the Zhao Fortress, hop­ing they can avoid the po­lit­i­cal storm for good.

In 1279 the Mon­gols were on the verge of fi­nally de­feat­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty. Lu Xi­ufu ( 1236– 1279), the last Prime Min­is­ter of the Song, to­gether with Gen­eral Zhang Shi­jie (?–1279) took the eight-year old child em­peror Zhao Bing, and re­treated with 1,000 bat­tle ships to Yashan (now Ya­men in Guang­dong Prov­ince). The Mon­gols, who con­trolled the exit into the sea, promptly cut off the fresh water sup­ply routes to the Song force. In the en­su­ing fierce bat­tle that went on for sev­eral days, un­til, in February 1279, the Mon­gols fi­nally broke through Song bat­tle lines. See­ing the sit­u­a­tion as hope­less, Lu Xi­ufu, with the child em­peror strapped to his back, threw him­self into the sea, thus break­ing the lin­eage of the Song Dy­nasty. Zhang Shi­jie buried the Em­press Dowa­ger Yang, who had also thrown her­self into the sea, on the sea­coast, gath­ered his bro­ken army and car­ried on fight­ing. But then a sud­den typhoon to­tally an­ni­hi­lated his fleet.

The Song was even­tu­ally de­feated, but the vic­to­ri­ous Mon­gols have never sus­pected that, to­tally cut off, th­ese in­domitable sol­diers, how­ever, man­aged to keep the royal blood alive.

A Lost Em­pire

This is how Z hang pu county anna ls tells this story: Zhao Yun (the ac­tual name of South­ern Song Em­peror Li­zong, 1205– 1264) was child­less, and so he placed Zhao Ruohe, descen­dant of the Prince Wei, Zhao Guang­mei (947–984, the fourth youngest brother of Zhao Kuangyin, the founder of the North­ern Song), in the royal palace at early age, as his fu­ture suc­ces­sor to the throne. Be­fore the bat­tle of Yashan was over, the Em­press Dowa­ger Yang, be­fore she com­mit­ted sui­cide, is­sued a spe­cial order to the courtier Huang Cai to pre­serve the royal lin­eage, Zhao Ruohe. Huang Cai was to take six­teen war­ships, break out of the har­bor and head north to seek refuge in Fuzhou, Fu­jian Prov­ince, and pre­serve the Zhao court to rule again one day. This last force was hit by a typhoon on the way, and only four ships out of the six­teen sur­vived. Zhao Ruohe and his men con­tin­ued their es­cape on th­ese sur­viv­ing ships, but again en­coun­tered a typhoon, this time near the city of Long­hai in Fu­jian. With pro­vi­sions run­ning out, and short of water, they had no choice but to

dis­em­bark at Puxi (in mod­ern-day Fu­jian’s Zhangpu County), with the in­ten­tion to con­tinue their es­cape north by land to Fuzhou. How­ever, fear­ing their true iden­tity to be dis­cov­ered on this long jour­ney, the Zhao Clan set­tled in­stead in this small vil­lage on the seashore, and, as a pre­cau­tion, changed their sur­names from Zhao to Huang.

Zhao Ruohe re­al­ized that the sit­u­a­tion was hope­less and that the Song Dy­nasty was gone, never to re­turn. He even­tu­ally made his way to a vil­lage called Jimei, where he took a wife and had chil­dren, con­tin­u­ing the royal lin­eage, safely hid­den from any threats from the newly es­tab­lished Yuan Dy­nasty.

The Yuan of­fered a gen­er­ous re­ward to any­one who knew the where­abouts of the Zhao Clan, and Zhao Ruohe grew uneasy in his hid­ing place. Hav­ing taken a new name, he hid his true iden­tity and that of his clan from the world, let­ting no out­sider in on the se­cret. The years went by and even­tu­ally the Yuan were de­feated by the fol­low­ing Ming Dy­nasty. The de­scen­dants of the Song roy­alty, who, de­spite hav­ing long aban­doned any hope to re­turn to rule, did not know what the re­ac­tion of the new dy­nasty might be, and so de­cided to keep the se­cret hid­den for as long as it took. They had no idea that one sin­gle in­ci­dent would bring ev­ery­thing to light.

Came the year 1385 and Huang Huiguan, a grand­child of Zhao Ruohe, wanted to marry a woman whose sur­name was also Huang. Mar­ry­ing some­one of the same sur­name was con­sid­ered a crime, pun­ished, ac­cord­ing to Ming laws, by 60 strikes of cane fol­lowed by an en­forced di­vorce. Huang Huiguan was de­nounced to the au­thor­i­ties by the vil­lagers, and, left with no other way out, Huang Ming­guang, the groom’s el­der brother, re­vealed the truth about their orig­i­nal sur­name, pro­vid­ing the pre­vi­ously hid­den fam­ily ge­nea-

log­i­cal records. The of­fi­cial deal­ing with the case was sur­prised be­yond mea­sure, who would have thought that the de­scen­dants of Song roy­alty would be liv­ing in this vil­lage, in the mid­dle of nowhere? The mat­ter was then quickly re­ported to the Im­pe­rial Court of Ming. At that time Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398), the founder of Ming who took the ti­tle of Em­peror Taizu, had over­thrown the Yuan, and the power of the Great Ming was firmly es­tab­lished. The em­peror, there­fore, acted benev­o­lently, grant­ing the per­mis­sion to re­store the orig­i­nal sur­name of Zhao, and re­mov­ing the need to keep the cen­tury-old se­cret.

Liv­ing in hid­ing, strug­gling to make ends meet in the re­mote Jimei Vil­lage must have been ex­tremely hard for the Zhao Clan. We can only imag­ine how heav­ily it weighed down on Zhao Ruohe, as he also felt the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the en­tire clan on his shoul­ders. Hav­ing lost the ancestral lands of the Zhao, Zhao Ruohe was re­duced to sur­viv­ing in a rav­aged part of the coun­try, which be­came home for the de­scen­dants of his once-glo­ri­ous clan for sev­eral hun­dred years.

And so it con­tin­ued un­til the year 1600 when Zhao Fan, a 10th gen­er­a­tion descen­dant of Zhao Ruohe moved the Zhao Clan from Jimei Vil­lage to a lo­ca­tion just be­low Shuo­gao Moun­tains, next to the Huxi Town, ten kilo­me­ters away. It was here that the Zhao started to build a stone fortress, later to be known as Zhao Fortress. This new ancestral home to the Zhao Clan was to be­come an em­bod­i­ment of the Zhao’s hope­less dream of restor­ing their old glory.

The Throne with­out an Em­peror

We were driv­ing to­wards Zhao Fortress to see what the life of the de­scen­dants of the roy­alty is like now, to see if we could find traces of the for­mer im­pe­rial splen­dor. Our ve­hi­cle made its way along the wind­ing moun­tain roads, across un­du­lat­ing hills, and fi­nally far away in the dis­tance, Zhao Fortress ap­peared. Lost in the moun­tain wilder­ness, it was built to be as far out of reach of the au­thor­ity of the Yuan Dy­nasty as pos­si­ble.

A thou­sand years of his­tory, go­ing back all the way to the Song, now sat in front of us, bask­ing in the slant­ing rays of the sun.

I had al­ways thought that Zhao Fortress would

be a sim­ple af­fair, com­pris­ing not more than three or four build­ings, but in fact, it was a whole walled vil­lage. We went into through the East Gate to the sight of neatly lined up houses with tiled roofs. A woman was car­ry­ing a veg­etable bas­ket, on the way back from the mar­ket. Two roost­ers were fol­low­ing her, gob­bling up the bits and leaves that would fall through the mesh of the bas­ket. Sev­eral calves were ties to mul­berry tree, swat­ting lazily with their tails at the flies…an old well with an oc­ta­he­dral mouth, radishes dry­ing on a stone, pome­gran­ate trees grow­ing.

Our guide ex­plained to us that Zhao Fortress is lo­cated at the foot of Shuo­gao Moun­tains. The area of the fortress was over 115 square kilo­me­ters, and its lay­out rec­tan­gu­lar if seen from the air. The walls were two and a half me­ters thick and be­tween three and four me­ters high, made out of stone slabs. A tower was con­structed over each of the four gates. Walk­ing west along a stone-lay­ered road from the East Gate you can see how Zhao Fan laid out his fortress. The cen­ter­piece of the fortress com­plex is a rec­tan­gu­lar build­ing, which now holds the of­fice for the preser­va­tion and man­age­ment of Zhao Clan’s cul­tural relics. There is a blue stone in­lay over the main gate, of three char­ac­ters in cur­sive script: “完璧楼” Wan­bilou (Wanbi Man­sion).

The top right sec­tion of the walled Wan Bi Lou is con­nected with the fortress outer wall. Built as a res­i­den­tial part, it now stands empty, aban­doned. A gate in the outer wall sur­round­ing the build­ing leads you to the Three South Pav­il­ions. This is the ancestral tem­ple of the Zhao Clan, and the main part of it are the three pav­il­ions—run­ning from south to north they are called the Pav­il­ion of Ideal, the Pav­il­ion of Loy­alty, and the Pav­il­ion of Benev­o­lence. Paint­ings and ar­ti­facts of the great men of the Zhao Clan are dis­played here.

In the west­ern part of the Pav­il­ion of Benev­o­lence are large stone stands with a three-char­ac­ter in­scrip­tion “读书处” which reads Dushuchu or “Read­ing Area”. Be­hind it is the Jiqing Court­yard built by Zhao Yi, the son of Zhao Fan. A man of great learn­ing, Zhao Yi, who ex­tended the gar­den in the Zhao Fortress, made sure that there was a small area where he could pur­sue his in­tel­lec­tual en­deav­ors, which is what the court­yards were tra­di­tion­ally used for dur­ing the Song era. The tra­di­tional hall in the court­yard has col­lapsed, and only a stone door­frame re­mains. The four char­ac­ters on the in­lay on the top beam read “辑卿小院” Jiqingx­i­aoyuan ( Jiqing Court­yard), which tells the mod­ern day vis­i­tors that the owner of this place was an in­tel­lec­tual.

Be­sides the court­yard, you can also see, and in far bet­ter con­di­tion, the ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices built by Zhao Fan. Th­ese of­fices con­sist of three lines of three in­ter­con­nected build­ings run­ning north to south. The in­ex­orable pas­sage of time has taken its toll and

"The main build­ing of the Zhao Fortress is the Wan Bi Lou. And there is a metaphor hid­den in its name, car­ry­ing the dream that the Zhao Clan could once again re­vi­tal­ize their glory and em­pire."

now most of it lies in ru­ins, but one of the build­ings has some­how sur­vived well. As luck would have it, it is the cen­ter one of the three lines, and, ac­cord­ing to the guide, it is the ancestral tem­ple of the Zhao.

In the area be­tween the of­fices and the north­ern fortress wall there is a pond where lotus flow­ers grow. The pond is sep­a­rated by a long dyke, and there is a bridge, called Bian­pai Bridge, span­ning the half that is near­est to the of­fices. To the west of the bridge there is a hill that is made to looks re­splen­dently wild by its ver­dant veg­e­ta­tion. Walk­ing on the path lead­ing to the moun­tain I would have missed an in­con­spic­u­ous stone tablet had it not been for the guide point­ing it out to me. Two char­ac­ters were in­scribed on the tablet—“墨池”— Mochi or “Ink Pond”. The in­scrip­tion on the tablet said that dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Wanli (1573–1620) of the Ming Dy­nasty when Zhao Fan was the lo­cal of­fi­cial in charge, he, while restor­ing the lo­cal fa­cil­i­ties, dis­cov­ered, by chance, a stone tablet buried deep un­der­ground. This tablet car­ried an in­scrip­tion of two char­ac­ters “墨池” and was the work of Mi Fu (1051–1107), a great cal- lig­ra­pher of the North­ern Song time. The tablet had been buried deep un­der­ground and it was by sheer chance that it saw the light of day again. Zhao Fan, driven by a blend of ad­mi­ra­tion of Mi Fu’s cal­lig­ra­phy and his cher­ished mem­o­ries of the coun­try, the Song, that was no longer, took rub­bings of the carved cal­lig­ra­phy, which he then care­fully pre­served.

From Roy­als to Or­di­nar­ies

An out­sider look­ing at Zhao Fortress might think it is just a coun­try­side build­ing like any other, but, in fact, a great deal of think­ing and plan­ning was put into its con­struc­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Zhang Xiaon­ing of Nan­jing Architecture In­sti­tute, the Record of­buildin­gafortres­sat­shuo­gao­moun­tain , a work by Zhao Fan, ex­plains the logic be­hind all the names given to dif­fer­ent parts of the fortress, and also shows that Zhao Fan fol­lowed the prin­ci­ples of feng­shui metic­u­lously, dur­ing the se­lec­tion of the lo­ca­tion to build on, as well as dur­ing the build­ing process it­self.

Even though the for­tunes of the Zhao Clan were

in ir­re­versible de­cline, Zhao Fan re­mained faith­ful to the prin­ci­ples of feng­shui deeply re­spected by his an­ces­tors, and for this rea­son he chose the lo­ca­tion which was ex­tremely aus­pi­cious. The best ori­en­ta­tion ac­cord­ing to feng­shui is for a build­ing to have a moun­tain at the back and a body of water at the front. Zhao Fortress is sit­u­ated back to Shuo­gao Moun­tains, fac­ing the Guang­tang Creek, thus per­fectly cor­re­spond­ing to feng­shui prin­ci­ples. The hillocks, thus, ac­cord­ing to feng­shui are the dragon line it­self, pro­tected by the for­est. Also, if you care­fully read the names of the dif­fer­ent struc­tures within the fortress you will re­al­ize that they are highly sym­bolic of the Song Dy­nasty. The bridge in the lotus flower pond is called Bian­pai Bridge, which rep­re­sents the Bian River, which was the life­line of Bian­liang (now Kaifang in He­nan), the one­time cap­i­tal of the North­ern Song. Bian­liang was fa­mous for its arched bridges, which are also the bridges de­picted on Alongth­eriver dur­ingth­e­qing­mingfes­ti­val (a fa­mous paint­ing de­pict­ing the life of the Song cap­i­tal Bian­liang) by Zhang Ze­d­uan.

A wooden Ling­gan Pagoda built in Bian­liang was burnt down af­ter a light­ning strike in 1049, and was re­built again, us­ing glazed bricks to avoid an­other dis­as­ter. The name was also changed, to Kaibao Pagoda. This oc­tag­o­nal, sym­met­ri­cal pagoda is 13 storeys and 59 me­ters high, and it still stands on the out­skirts of the mod­ern-day Kaifeng. Co­in­ci­den­tally, there is a seven storeys pagoda in the hills west of Zhao Fortress, known as Jufo Pagoda. Its height also hap­pens to be ex­actly one tenth of that in Kaifeng. But it might all be just a co­in­ci­dence, of course, al­though it is hard to be­lieve.

Th­ese ob­vi­ous and not so ob­vi­ous sym­bols were born of the Zhao Clan’s nos­tal­gia for the glory of their van­quished home­land. They en­dowed Zhao Fortress with spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance, so much so, that

Zhao Fortress has been called a “minia­ture Bian­liang”. Ac­cord­ing to Prof. Cao Chun­ping of the Xi­a­men Univer­sity, dur­ing the Ming and the Qing the sea­side walled fortresses in Fu­jian Prov­ince could be clas­si­fied into two dis­tinct cat­e­gories—the per­ma­nent for­ti­fied ones and the tem­po­rary ones. The for­mer were com­pact towns sur­rounded on four sides by pro­tec­tive walls, but the lat­ter were small in scale, to be used as a tem­po­rary shel­ter. Their earthen build­ings were not fit for daily habi­ta­tion, but used as a refuge where one could save their life in the chaos of war. This is ex­actly what the Wan Bi Lou , is. It is four storeys high, and the first two com­prise of 16 rooms, while the third is one con­tin­u­ous space. The Zhao would use this space to muster men for de­fense at the time of an en­emy at­tack, tak­ing ad­van­tage of its strate­gic com­mand­ing height. Af­ter the death of Zhao Fan, the ban­dits were a con­stant me­nace, but the pop­u­la­tion was liv­ing scat­tered out­side the walls of Wan Bi Lou , which were not good for mount­ing a de­fense in an emer­gency. It was only in 1619 that the greater outer wall was added, hem­ming in all the struc­tures and cre­at­ing the char­ac­ter­is­tic two-tier fortress struc­ture, this mak­ing the whole fortress eas­ier to de­fend, and also an ex­am­ple of both per­ma­nent and tem­po­rary for­ti­fied fortresses.

Even though Zhao Fortress had the in­ner-outer walls struc­ture, it was dif­fer­ent from the North­ern Song’s cap­i­tal—bian­liang, which had an in­ner­most palace, and then the two con­cen­tric cir­cles of walls. The ar­chi­tec­tural make- up of Zhao Fortress also has un­mis­tak­able signs of lo­cal Min­nan architecture (Min­nan is a re­gion which roughly cor­re­sponds to the mod­ern-day south­ern Fu­jian)—the of­fices at the cen­ter, the three main build­ings with north- south ori­en­ta­tion, with each flanked by two hu­cuo (side houses with east-west ori­en­ta­tion), and a stone laid main square at the front. Such ar­range­ment is very dif­fer­ent from that found in the Cen­tral Plain of China. Zhao Fan, even though a proud descen­dant of the roy­als from the Cen­tral Plain, how­ever, was un­able to pre­vent the lo­cal, Min­nan cus­toms from seep­ing in. More­over, when Zhao Fan and his chil­dren were build­ing Zhao Fortress, the Bian­liang had al­ready been swal­lowed by the mud of the Yel­low River, its glory gone. Alongth­eriver­dur­ingth­e­qing­ming Fes­ti­val , the fa­mous paint­ing de­pict­ing the bustling Bian­liang, was also claimed by the Ming roy­alty and con­fined inside the palace walls, un­able to serve as ar­chi­tec­tural ref­er­ence for Zhao Fan.

In Zhao Fortress you do not find dec­o­ra­tive stones and rock­eries piled up to look like moun­tains, so pop­u­lar in Chi­nese architecture and land­scape de­sign. Lack­ing the re­sources and pre­vented by cau­tion from recre­at­ing the land­scape cus­toms of the Song, the only thing Zhao Fan could do was to blend the

"Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, a county off icial re­al­ized by chance that the lay­out of the Zhao Fortress had spe­cial hid­den feng­shui rep­re­sent­ing “the power of a royal fam­ily.” He then dam­aged the feng­shui by de­stroy­ing the flat land in the front of the fortress’s North Gate and fill­ing up its moat with earth."

fortress into the nat­u­ral land­scape sur­round­ing it, and re­nounce any de­sire to make the land­scape gar­den in a royal style. His son Zhao Yi, a mas­ter gar­dener and land­scaper artist, and a man of great learn­ing, bowed to the na­ture and let it build the gar­den, in­cor­po­rat­ing the ubiq­ui­tous nat­u­ral rock for­ma­tions into his de­sign, al­low­ing him­self to in­ter­fere by no more than adding an oc­ca­sional carv­ing, a slight ad­just­ment here and there.

The land­scape gar­den was the limit of what the mem­o­ries of the royal glory could con­jure. The for­mer rulers, all their might gone, were left un­able to sub­due the na­ture around them, and the skills and tech­niques they once had were also be­longed to the realm of the mem­o­ries of the past. I imag­ine Zhao Ruohe, tak­ing a walk in the gar­den, his steps un­steady, gaze filled with in­ner tor­ment. He looks around, as if still fail­ing to com­pre­hend what had hap­pened. He is over­whelmed with loss, shame and pain, and is touch­ing the walls, as if search­ing for some­thing, some­thing never to be found.

Maybe this is why that, de­spite all the em­bel­lish­ments and dec­o­ra­tions, there is some­thing sad and lone­some about the fortress. It is as if this refuge of the sur­vivors of dy­nas­tic changes has ab­sorbed all the tragedy and the desperation of the peo­ple who built it. Even though some of th­ese peo­ple re­mem­bered that they were, in fact, roy­alty, one must look hard to find any ev­i­dence of that now, like the in-

scrip­tions of a pair of dragon and phoenix on the side beams of the gates.

The old glory is gone for­ever, but the time can heal, smoothen and make van­ish any scar of the past tragedy. Life is bustling at Zhao Fortress nowa­days, with many houses dot­ted side by side, and peo­ple are busy work­ing the land. The de­scen­dants of the Zhao Clan ac­count for over a hun­dred house­holds, and more­over, liv­ing here are also the de­scen­dants of the courtier Huang Cai, the man who broke through the Mon­go­lian block­ade. The Zhao and the Huang his­to­ries re­main closely in­ter­twined even now, and I heard that one Huang Pengy­ing, 23rd gen­er­a­tion from Huang Cai, even be­came the of­fi­cial guide to the Zhao Fortress.

The life in the vil­lage is bor­ingly or­di­nary— smoke rises from the chim­neys amongst patches of sug­ar­cane and ba­nana trees, and the chil­dren, four or five years old, that I came across while wan­der­ing around, had no idea about the fact that there was a di­rect link be­tween them and the Song Dy­nasty, which van­ished seven cen­turies ago. The older gen­er­a­tion does have a vague idea, but they strug­gle to say how many gen­er­a­tions they are from Zhao Ruohe. Zhao Fortress, in other worlds, has be­come an or­di­nary vil­lage, one of count­less such vil­lages and ham­lets, scat­tered across South China.

Zhao Ruohe would not have thought that, in the 21st cen­tury, the north­ern di­alect that the Zhao orig­i­nally spoke would be re­placed by the broad­est Min­nan one, that the one-time north­ern roy­alty would be­come the hum­blest of farm­ers, rooted firmly in the soil of South China, that the royal ori­gins and the royal blood in their veins would be­come noth­ing but a leg­end. The time has erased the mem­o­ries and the pain, and the bur­den and the tor­ment that once haunted the Zhao has been dis­solved in the wa­ters of time river. Times have truly changed—half a dozen youngsters in the vil­lage have gone to univer­sity, but some tra­di­tions re­main. The fes­ti­val of flint­lock shoot­ing has sur­vived. Tar­gets are placed at 50, 100 and 150 me­ters and the first kid to hit the tar­get takes home a 30 pound, tur­tle-shaped rice cake.

We don’t re­ally know when this tra­di­tion started. The schol­ars claim that the demise of the Song Dy­nasty was brought about by their ne­glect of the mil­i­tary af­fairs, as the Song val­ued cul­ture and learn­ing above bel­li­cose prow­ess. Per­haps for this rea­son, the Zhao learnt from that ex­pe­ri­ence and now their de­scen­dants are not only versed in arts, but have to learn how to use arms, even though, as we know now, it is al­ready much too late for that.

"Now, cen­turies later, the Zhao Fortress looks like an old man sit­ting qui­etly in his chair, bathing in the warmth of sun­light."


The cen­tral build­ing of the Zhao Fortress is the Wan Bilou . Its name came from a Chi­nese id­iom Wan

Bigu­izhao, mean­ing “re­turn the Bi (a kind of fine jade ar­ti­fact) in­tact to the Zhao State.” There is a metaphor hid­den in the name of the build­ing—the Zhao Clan hoped that one day they could re­turn to their home in China’s Cen­tral Plain and re­vive their em­pire. The metaphor was ex­tended when peo­ple dis­cov­ered that the Zhao Clan de­lib­er­ately missed a “point” when carv­ing the char­ac­ter "璧" , mak­ing its bot­tom part a "王" (mean­ing king) rather than "玉" (mean­ing jade). Per­haps the fam­ily could not ac­cept that the Zhao Clan, once a royal fam­ily, were hid­ing dis­grace­fully and liv­ing dif­fi­cult lives in the deep moun­tains of Fu­jian.

Wan­bilou was con­structed not only as a res­i­den­tial build­ing, but also as a de­fense fortress. Its three-storey struc­ture has hid­den rooms and se­cret tun­nels lead­ing to hills out­side the Zhao Fortress, in case en­e­mies broke into the fortress. And the shoot­ing win­dows on the walls of Wan­bilou in­di­cate that it was a build­ing with strong de­fen­si­bil­ity.

Even though they hid them­selves in the re­mote moun­tains, peo­ple of the Zhao Clan had a deep at­tach­ment to the Song Dy­nasty, their once pros­per­ous em­pire. Be­sides the metaphors men­tioned above, they also put their at­tach­ment se­cretly into the names of other con­struc­tions, like the Bian­pai Bridge in the photo, a name which im­plies Bian­liang, the for­mer cap­i­tal of the North­ern Song.

We can spec­u­late that at that time, they must have kept re­mind­ing them­selves that they were not a com­mon fam­ily, but the Zhao, once the most pow­er­ful fam­ily in China. We can see traces of this from the round stone pil­lars in the photo—even th­ese com­mon pil­lars were metic­u­lously carved with cou­plets.

Through cen­turies, the Zhao Fortress has wit­nessed the tragedy of a fallen dy­nasty and pro­tected the last of its royal de­scen­dants from po­lit­i­cal storms. It was once a place where the Zhao Clan worked through their grief and sought com­fort in a rus­tic life, but now only a strong build­ing that shel­ters its res­i­dents, who are now no dif­fer­ent from other vil­lagers in South China, from wind and rain. In the fortress, our pho­tog­ra­pher Zhu Qingfu met an el­der. We failed to learn his name due to that he could hardly hear, but oth­ers told us that he is among the 31st to 36th gen­er­a­tion of de­scen­dants of Zhao Guang­mei (947984), the for­mer Prince Wei of the Song Dy­nasty.

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