|Behind the Baisha’s Millenary Weirs|
Water conservancy is the lifeblood of agriculture, and the designing and construction of dams are complex projects with great impact on the future. Behind the realization of each of these projects, there are numerous moving stories. The recent listing of the Thirty-Six Weirs of the Baisha River among the seventh batch of the 2020 World Heritage Irrigation Structure (WHIS) was a major event for the worldwide popularity of Jinhua’s Wucheng District.
The Baisha Weirs were built during the reign of Emperor Guangwu of Han in 27 CE and cover most of the basin of Baisha River. A total of 36 weirs were built and 19 of them are still in service. This 1900-year-old historical project is the sixth one in Zhejiang and the first one in Jinhua to be recognized as WHIS.
A number of historical records prove that the Baisha Weirs were originally built by General Lu Wentai of the East Han Dynasty and his 36 subordinates. Over a hundred years later, the population along the Baisha River adopted the strategy ideated by Lu Wentai, then named Master of Baisha, to build ponds serving as water storage and open canals serving as water irrigation ducts. In extending the project along the 50 km of the middle and lower reaches of the Baisha River, the 36 weirs came into being.
Lu Wentai, courtesy name Gao Ming, was born in Fanyang, Prefecture of You (today’s Dingxing County, Hebei Province). During the later years of the reign of Emperor Cheng of Han (33-7 BCE), he served as an official of the infantry and later was appointed general. When Wang Mang usurped his predecessor (approx. 9 CE), Lu took a leave claiming illness to avoid pledging allegiance. He then sustained Liu Xiu (Emperor Guangwu) to establish the East Han Dynasty. But after the founding of the Dynasty, Lu did not maintain his high-ranking post and decided to retreat with his 36 subordinates to the upper reaches of Baisha River, present-day Tingjiu Village.
Baisha River originates from the Nanshan (South Mountain) and flows north through Shafan, Langya, Bailongqiao, Linjiang, and enters the Wujiang River. Confronted with the Baisha River, Lu Wentai experienced the deep difficulties of the locals: when sunny, they would be suffering from droughts; when rainy, they would be hit by floods. He made the decision to build a system of weirs and streams to irrigate the vast fields and benefit the people, also preventing the local area to suffer again from drought and flooding. In his poem “Fond Memories of the Baisha River,” grand councilor of the Song Dynasty Wang Huai (1126-1189: see note 1 below) chants:
Along the Baisha stand thirty-six dams
To restrain and release spring’s floods.
Fields and crops are free from drought
In a farmland of bountiful falls.
The Baisha Weirs and Lu Wentai’s contribution are also chanted in “Untitled,” a poem by Song Yue, first magistrate of the county of Tangxi during the Ming Dynasty:
A fortress of strength for his country,
He then retired in quiet modesty.
He fell outside the emperor’s good graces,
But after death he gained honor and praises.
Water sluices across the thirty-six dams
standing dutifully to beautify the land.
The people of the Baisha basin have permanently benefited from Lu’s great affection, virtue, wisdom, and courage. The villagers of the Baisha basin remained extremely grateful to Lu Wentai and erected temples and sculptures honoring him.
A total of 36 temples are recorded only in the Baisha basin, and others are present in the neighboring counties, including Lanxi, Suichang, Pujiang, and even Yiwu and Lishui. Lu Wentai was conferred by six emperors posthumous titles seven times in history, including Firm and Majestic Marquis (武威侯 Wǔwēi Hóu) and Bright and Sharp Marquis (昭利侯 Zhāolì Hóu). Wu Chen (?-1396), great secretary of the Eastern Library during the Ming Dynasty, dedicated to Lu Wentai a special inscription, “Records of the Zhaoli Temple,” which says:
In the midst of Han, crystal waters meander
Placid and lush are the banks of the Baisha.
Grand fields and planting become shelter for our farmers.
Numerous are the written records about Lu Wentai leading the villagers to control the water and make contributions to the irrigation project. But the most popular stories are still the oral legends passed down by the people. These legends mostly describe Lu’s active life in digging, farming, and transportation of goods. His deeds of caring for the people and fighting for the cause are also chanted. Mythical elements are also present, but the spiritual purpose is to show the merits and deeds of a hero of water management of ancient times.
In the village of Tingjiu, where Lu Wentai lived in semi-seclusion, there are many cultural relics and historical sites, such as the tomb of Lu Wentai, an ancestral hall, the Jinchai Well, and the Tingjiu Weir. Lu’s tombstone is located at the edge of the village, and it shows an inscription reading “Tomb of Sir Lu, Honored by the Emperor.”
The tomb is a cultural site protected by the municipality, and locals have the custom to visit the tomb and worship it. The Ancestral Hall is also located at the edge of the village; built by villagers of the Baisha basin, it works as a temple to commemorate Lu Wentai’s achievements in water control. (Text by Du Shunhua, photo by Qian Yuan, translated by Marco Lovisetto, edited by Mariam Ayad)
1. Wang Huai (王淮; 1126-1189) a native of Jinhua who earned his jinshidegree in 1145. After serving in Linhai, Taizhou, he was court official in several places and a Hanlin academician. He became Vice Grand Councilor in 1175 and Grand Councilor in 1181.
Lu Wentai’s Tombstone, Tingjiu Village