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5— Li Tao-Yüan (d. 527)
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Three Gorges  image

The Three Gorges (San-hsia) of the Long River extend more than 120 miles to form one of China's most scenic travel routes. Ch'ü-t'ang Gorge (Ch'ü-t'ang-hsia), in modern Feng-chieh, Szu-ch'uan, is five miles long; Shaman Gorge (Wu-hsia) extends about twenty-five miles from modern Wu-shan, Szu-ch'uan, to Pa-tung, Hu-pei; and West Mount Gorge (Hsi-ling-hsia) extends some seventy-five miles from Pa-tung to I-ch'ang, Hu-pei. Each forms a distinct landscape and contains many unusual rock formations as well as historical and literary sites. In his description of Shaman Gorge, Li Tao-yüan was heavily indebted to Sheng Hung-chih's A Record of Ching Region (Ching-chou chi ), which he expanded by about two hundred characters. Nevertheless, it was Li's enhanced version that became widely read, and he was regarded as the first writer to describe these now-famous scenes in detail based on his personal observations.

The Long River flows eastward past Broad Stream Gorge[1] —this is the first of the Three Gorges. Along the ten miles of this section are tottering cliffs and slanting trees, whose forms appear about to collide. Up the mountains on the northern bank is the Divine Chasm. North of the chasm is White Salt Crag. It is more than a thousand chang high and overlooks the Divine Chasm. The local people noticed its height and whiteness and thus gave it this name. When there is a drought, trees are burned on top. The ashes are then pushed over, soiling the Divine


Chasm below; before long, rain falls. Ch'ang Ch'ü said that in this district there is a god of water in the marshes by the mountains.[2] In times of drought, drums are beaten to ask for rain, and he always responds with a beneficent rainfall. This is what is meant by "He responded to the sounding drums and sent rain" in the "Rhapsody on the Capital of Shu."[3]

In this gorge are two rapids—Ch'ü-t'ang and Yellow Shrine. Their currents swirl around and back in summer. They are disliked by those navigating up and down stream. There is a temple at Ch'ü-t'ang Rapids that is noted for its spiritual power. When regional inspectors and court officials with salaries of two thousand tan passed by, no horns or drums were permitted. When traveling merchants journeyed against the current, they feared making noise when scraping up against the rocks, so the boatmen covered the ends of their poles with cloth. Now such poles are no longer used; instead, offerings of' food are made without a break. There are many gibbons in this gorge. They do not naturally live anywhere along the northern banks. They may have been captured and placed in the northern mountains, for originally, no sounds of them were heard. Perhaps, like the badger, they crossed the Min River,[4] for the badger, too, does not naturally live here. This gorge was dug by Yü in antiquity as a passageway for the Long River, for Kuo Ching-ch'un says, "The gorges of Eastern Pa were cut by the Hsia Emperor."[5]

The Long River farther flows eastward past Shaman Gorge, which Tu Yü cut as a passage for it.[6] Kuo Chung-ch'an said, "According to the 'Treatise on Geography': 'Shaman Mountain is located in the southwest of the district,' but now it is east of the district town, perhaps because the district government has not remained in the same location."[7]

The Long River proceeds through the gorge, passing eastward by Newly Collapsed Rapids. This mountain collapsed in the twelfth year of the Yung-yüan era of Emperor Ho of the Han [100] and collapsed further in the second year of the T'ai-yüan era of the Chin [377]. When it did, the water reversed course for more than thirty miles and rose several hundred feet high. Nowadays, there are rocks in the rapids; some are cylindrical like rolled-up bamboo mats, some are square like houses. There are many like this, all of which fell from the collapsing mountain, and the water becomes ferocious here, flowing by swiftly.


Fig. 14.
The Three Gorges . From  Hai-nei ch'i-kuan  (1610), Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin.


Thus it is called "Newly Collapsed Rapids." What remain of the toppled cliffs are still taller and more majestic than the other hills around.

More than three miles downstream is Great Shaman Mountain. Not only is it without peer among the Three Gorges, it could contest the height of Min and Eyebrows mountains and is a match for Transverse Mountain and Nine Similar Peaks.[8] Its wings connect with numerous other mountains, and it encompasses the azure clouds; moreover, along with the empyrean, it passes judgment on the height of everything else. It is where the god Meng T'u dwells. The Guideways Through Mountains and Seas states: "Meng T'u, an official of the Hsia emperor Ch'i, was appointed as a god in Pa. Some people of Pa brought a criminal accusation before him, but among them was one who had bloodstains on his clothes, so Meng T'u arrested him. Meng T'u was then asked to take up residence on this mountain, which is west of Cinnabar Mountain."[9] Kuo Ching-ch'un said, "Cinnabar Mountain is in Tan-yang which was part of Pa. 'West of Cinnabar Mountain' refers to 'Shaman Mountain.'"[10] In addition, the Celestial Princess dwells here. Sung Yü referred to her as the youngest daughter of the Celestial Emperor, named Yao-chi, who died before she was married. She was enfeoffed with the southern slope of Shaman Mountain, where the essence of her soul became the plants and the fruit became divine fungi.[11] Thus she stated, "'I, the maiden of Shaman Mountain, become clouds in the morning and rain in the evening by Kao-t'ang Belvedere, morning after morning, evening after evening, below the Southern Terrace.' When the king of Ch'u arose early to view it, he found it was just as she said. Thus he built a temple there and called it 'Morning Clouds.'"[12] From beginning to end, for fifty-five miles, this place is known as Shaman Gorge, taking its name from the mountain.

For the two hundred forty miles of the Three Gorges, mountains stretch along both banks without break. Layers of peaks, ridges upon ridges, hide the sky and block out the sun. Midday and midnight are the only times the sun and moon become visible. When summer arrives, the level of the water rises up the hillside so that the boats are prevented from traveling upstream and downstream. Sometimes, when the Emperor issues an urgent decree, it is possible to set out from the White Emperor's Citadel[13] in the morning and arrive in Chiang-ling by evening.[14] For the four-hundred-mile journey, riding a swift horse or flying on the wind cannot match the speed of a boat!

When winter turns to spring, there are white torrents and emerald depths; reflections appear upside down in the swirling eddies. Many oddly shaped junipers grow forth from jagged mountain peaks from


which waterfalls plummet clamorously. Pure, verdant, lofty, flourishing—such qualities provide innumerable kinds of fascination. After a storm has cleared, or on frosty mornings, among forests chilled and streams desolate, the loud cry of a gibbon is often heard, prolonged and mournful. As it echoes through the empty valleys, its despairing wail lingers before disappearing. So the fishermen sing,

Of the Three Gorges in Eastern Pa[15]
   Shaman Gorge is the longest.
Three cries of the gibbon
   and one's clothes become drenched with tears.[16]

The Long River flows farther eastward, past Wolf's Tail Rapids and by Men Rapids. Yüan Shan-sung said, "These two rapids are almost a mile apart. The water at Men Rapids is formidable and treacherous. The south bank contains granite rocks that are submerged in summer but emerge in winter. These rocks tower above. For several tens of paces, they form the shape of men's faces, some large, some small. And some are so clearly defined that even whiskers and hair arc distinguishable. Thus it is called 'Men Rapids.'"[17]

The Long River flows farther eastward, past the foot of Ox Mountain, where there is a rapids named "Ox Rapids." On the southern bank, layers of ridges rise up with tall cliffs interspersed by the riverbank. There is a rock whose colored surface resembles a man carrying a sword on his back as he leads an ox. The man is in black, and the ox in yellow, clearly defined. Since there is no way to reach it, one cannot investigate it closely. This cliff is quite high, and in addition, the current is swift and winding; one can continue to view this phenomenon while traveling for two days along this route. Therefore, travelers sing a song which goes,

Mornings, we set out from the Ox;
Evenings, we spend by the Ox.
For three mornings and three evenings,
The Ox stays the same.

It means that the route twists around as it progresses, so the view seems to remain unchanged.


The Long River flows farther eastward past West Mount Gorge. A Record of I-tu says,

As one enters from Ox Rapids eastward into the area of West Mount Gorge, it is more than thirty miles to the mouth of the gorge. Both the mountains and the water twist and turn, while along both banks are tall mountains forming layers of screens. Only at noon and at midnight can one see the sun and the moon. The sheer cliffs may be more than a thousand chang high. The color of the rocks and their shapes, for the most part, resemble various kinds of things. The trees are tall and flourishing and generally endure the winter. The cries of gibbons are quite clear and echo through the valleys, vividly and without cease. This is one of what is known as the "Three Gorges."[18]

Yüan Shan-sung stated that he had often heard of the perilous water throughout the gorges. All the written records and oral accounts cautioned travelers and warned them—none ever praised the beauty of the scenery. Then I came to visit this area. After arriving, I happily realized that hearing is not as good as personally observing. Its layered crags and graceful peaks, of unique construction and unusual shape, are indeed difficult to describe. Its forests and trees form intricate woods, randomly rooted and densely flourishing, which protrude above the mists. As I gazed up and peered down, it grew ever more familiar and ever more beautiful. I lingered and spent two nights there, forgetting about returning. For what I saw with my own eyes was a sight hitherto unknown to me. I am delighted to have experienced these unique sights. And if this landscape has a soul, it ought to be surprised to find that it has finally encountered a true admirer for the first time in history.[19]


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