Changzhou: Mystery and Flow


Jizha was the fourth son of Shoumeng, king of the State of Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). It was said that he declined the enthronement three times and was finally made the Duke of Yanling (present-day Changzhou). Jizha was esteemed as a reputable and modest scholar and was, and still is, popularly referred to as Yanling Jizi, or Ji the Master of Yanling. His noble character had a great influence on the conventions of Chinese civilization, and Confucius was said to have written on his gravestone the “Third Man of the Highest Virtue under Heaven.” Some historians believe that his refusals of enthronement changed the course of history, as they gave rise to internecine struggles for power that finally resulted in the annexation of the State of Wu by the State of Yue a decade after Jizha’s death.

Nevertheless, the Changzhou people attribute the root of their humanistic and intellectual civilization to Jizha; they acknowledge him as the forefather of Changzhou culture and continue to observe the set of moral standards that he established. The following story, passed down through generations of local families, is typical of Jizha’s nobility. Once Jizha passed the State of Xu on his trip and met its king, who expressed his admiration for Jizha’s sword. On his return trip, Jizha again stopped at the State of Xu, only to learn of the king’s death. He hung his sword on a pine by the side of the deceased king’s tomb. His attendant asked, “The king is dead, so what’s the point of hanging the sword here?” Jizha answered, “I promised in my heart to give the sword to the king. Can I cheat my heart on the excuse of his death?”

The Changzhou people are influenced not only by Jizha’s moral legacy, but also the patriotism and heroism running in their blood, that of an undefeatable “iron people of a paper town.” In the late Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), the Mongol cavalry swept across the northern part of China and continued their expedition southward, reaching Changzhou in 1275. The local citizens fought alongside the garrison troops, outnumbered by their invaders, but the besieged city held out for months. Historians believe the “Changzhou Battle” to be the most bloody of the “Lin’an (present-day Hangzhou) Campaign,” one of the 100 military operations that had great import for Chinese history. The battle continued for half a year, and blood turned the rivers and waterways red. The dead bodies were everywhere in the city until finally only 18 households were left. The most heroic was Wang Anjie, captain of the Changzhou garrison, who, covered in blood, still leaned upright against the city wall after the enemy chopped off his feet, urging his troops and family to continue fighting. The invaders had never expected to come across such strong resistance in this thinly fortified city, and years after this bloody battle Mongol commander Boyan still marveled at the “iron people of a paper town.”

A Window into a Remote Civilization

It is generally agreed that Beijing is the best place to learn the history of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), while students of the Sui and Tang dynasties (518-907) are advised to go to Xi’an. Yancheng in the southern suburbs of Changzhou is the place to take a closer look at the history of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), or even earlier.

Yancheng is divided into three sections by three enclosing moats. Before I got there, I thought the best time to see it would be at dusk on a winter’s day – just like the time I opted to see Beijing’s Yuanmingyuan when the most solitary hour of a desolate day best reveals the beauty of an historic ruin. But I was surprised by the vitality and green foliage that I saw in Yancheng; the newly built Ancient Philosophers’ Garden, Traditional Chinese Medicine Street, Cultural and Spiritual Paradise, Gourmet Street and Folklore Park have revitalized a distant way of life.

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