By staff reporters ZHOU CHANG & TIAN QIUPING
FENGDU is famous for its ghost folklore, but its lure to visitors rests on more than that. Deep in the hills, an ancient lake surrounded by beautiful scenery and a cave full of strange shapes and shimmering walls are waiting to be explored.
Mingshan Mountain: The Ghost Culture
The Ghost City of Mingshan Mountain is located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. It is a proof that, though it was excluded from mainstream Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, a belief in ghosts existed among people in China for thousands of years.
As early as 4,000 years ago, Fengdu was controlled by Ba, a small kingdom established by Di and Qiang tribes. Both tribes believed in powerful ghosts and worshipped a common god, Tubo, who was believed to live in Fengdu and be the first ghost emperor of the tribes. During the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 -220), two Taoist priests, Yin Changsheng and Wang Fangping, practiced in Fengdu and were said to have eventually become immortals. They were jointly called "Yin-Wang," meaning the "Emperor of the Nether World." A statue of the Emperor of the Nether World was later erected and worshipped at the Emperor Hall of the Mingshan Mountain near their former residence.
Chinese literary classics like Journey to the West and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio recorded tales of the Ghost City. Today in the Ghost City of the Mingshan Mountain, people can see and experience the nether world described in Chinese mythology. The Ghost City has been approved as a national AAAA scenic area, receiving hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. For foreign tourists, it brings to mind Dante's Divine Comedy, a Western version of the life beyond our world.
In the Ghost City, lifesize statues of all kinds of characters depict the legendary afterworld for tourists. It is reigned over by the emperor and queen and high-ranking officials that include six personnel evaluators, four judges and ten marshals. When a person dies, the soul of the deceased is led by officials on a journey through the Nether World Pass and the Road of Yellow Spring, then mount a platform to bid farewell to their loved ones in the mortal world. The final section of the journey crosses the Bridge over the Abyss, also called the Bridge of No Return. As the soul walks over the bridge, it undergoes all kinds of tests and faces the final judge. Those deemed as evil will descend to the 18th floor, the bottom of hell reserved for torture and punishment.
Real life tales have become woven into the lore of ghosts. In 1062, Bao Zheng, an official known for his sense of justice and honesty, passed away, bringing deep sorrow to the people. Later, a legend about Bao spread that when his soul arrived in the Nether World, the Emperor appointed him to watch over the border between the Nether World and the mortal world. The emperor gave him a magic mirror to help him make judgments between right and wrong, which is why he is always portrayed as having a crescent moon on his forehead in films and on television. In China, you can hear hundreds of legends like that of Bao, passed from mouth to mouth for generations as lessons to live good lives.
South Heaven Lake
The South Heaven Lake is located 45 km southeast of Fengdu, surrounded on all sides by mountains and forests. The high altitude and difficult terrain kept visitors to a mimimum in the past, but the lake is now accessible to tourists.
It takes about two and half hours to drive from Fengdu to the lake following the Longhe River, with tranquil scenes unfolding one after another. The first scenic spot is Shanshuping, or Ground of Firs. Walking in the woods, tall, straight trunks and umbrella-shape crowns keep out the heat of the sun. You can see nothing but green and hear nothing but the sound of the breeze rustling leaves.
Driving through the high alpine meadows in the south of China, the view is never dull. One can't help but notice the difference from northern grasslands; the meadows extend across the gentle or staggered slopes of mountains and are dotted with small woods.
The South Heaven Lake was formed hundreds of millions of years ago by the movements of tectonic plates. Due to the dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock, the water level gradually fell and the hills were exposed. Now all that is left of the vast lake is a series of smaller pools that inspire awe and humility in the face of nature's power.
Snow Jade Cave
The Snow Jade Cave, 12 km from Fengdu, was named the "most beautiful cave in China" by the Chinese National Geography in October 2005. The Snow Jade Cave is the youngest of all the caves developed for tourism in China. Four-fifths of the stalactites and stalagmites are still growing, which means that their color is clear and unsullied. White as snow and pure as jade, they inspired Zhu Xueyin, chairman of the Committee on Speleology, to name the cave Snow Jade.
Usually it takes tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years to generate stalactites and stalagmites, which usually grow dark and develop an uneven surface in the long process. However, most of stalactites and stalagmites in Snow Jade Cave were generated between 3,300 and 10,000 years ago. Cave deposits usually grow a millimeter every 100 years, but in Snow Jade Cave, they grow 33 millimeters.
The Snow Jade Cave contains a huge variety of cave landscapes, and it's no wonder that Zhu Xueyin describes it as a museum of marble sculptures and speaks highly of its value for tourism and scientific research. According to geologists, the cave began to form between 80,000 and 55,000 years ago. Not earlier than 10,000 years ago, the conditions inside of the cave became favorable for the formation of secondary minerals.
The main components of the rock, carbonate compounds, are easily dissolved by groundwater which then evaporates and leaves behind calcium carbonate that forms mineral structures. Water dripping from the roof formed goose straws, as well as stalactites and stalagmites, which eventually grew to meet each other and form stalagnates. The walls also formed stone banners, ribbons, curtains, terraced fields and shields. In calm pools, rimstones, cave rafts and coral-like stone flowers formed, and sediments grew into hairy and spiral-shaped stones. Water containing sulfates formed long, needle-like anthodites and coated the cave walls. Where the stream current was strong enough, erosion carved stones into different shapes.
Strange shapes aside, the cave also boasts the biggest ground shield in the world. This four-meter-high "penguin," bulging outwards because of its weight and almost reaching the roof, was formed by water seeping through the rock, and is still growing like many formations in this constantly changing museum.
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