06 May 2011

13. - 6 MAY: Drive to Wuhan, Yellow Crane

I visited the Yellow Crane Tower today after our flight from Yichang to Chengdu was cancelled and we had to come to Wuhan to catch a plane in time for the KLM flight back to Europe.

The tower was first built during the Tang dynasty, one of the most culturally flourishing periods of all Chinese history. Then the Sung, Yuan (Mongols), Ming and Qing all expanded and improved it. It suffered from five major fires during its long history, the last in 1884. Reconstructions was completed exactly one hundred years later, in 1984, but the main central wooden structur was replaced with one in cement.

Over the centuries, famous poets have dedicated poems to it and their verses are engraved in some rocks at the base. You can climb the many steps all the way up, but a lift is available provided you are at least seventy-years-old!

Several legends have been told about the yellow crane at the Wuhan Tower. Here is what they tell us...

One is that a drink house keeper was selling wine but business was slow. He had painted a crane on his door to make it attractive. One day a wizard arrived and to help him attract more patrons he painted the crane yellow with some pigment he had taken from orange peels and the crane came alive. The live crane attracted many patrons and business flourished. After a while the wizard came back and after seeing that business was brisk he decided the crane was not needed any more and took it with him to heaven. The keeper was so sad and he missed the crane so much that he made a sculpture of it, which is still standing today at Wuhan's tower.

A variation of the legend is the following: The Yellow Crane Tower was built by the family of an old pothouse owner living in Wuhan City long ago, named Old Xin. One day, a shabbily dressed Taoist priest came to the pothouse and asked for some wine. Old Xin paid no attention to him, but his son was very kind and gave the Taoist some wine without asking for money. The Taoist priest visited the pothouse regularly for half a year when one day the Taoist said to the son that in order to repay his kindness, he would like to draw a crane on the wall of the pothouse, which would dance at his request. When people in the city heard of this, they flocked to the pothouse to see the dancing crane. The Xin family soon became rich and they built the Yellow Crane Tower as a symbol of gratitude to the Taoist priest.

Today there is no more pothouse, but crowds of tourists and local families enjoy the restored tower and surrounding gardens...

Wuhan is the home of the writer Hu Fayun, known worldwide for his controversial books, especially about the Cultural Revolution. Here is an interview he gave to the New York Times.

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