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Wanxian Introdaction

  About two hours below Shibaozhai the boat reaches Wanxian, which is guarded by two nine-storeyed pagodas for good fortune. The city spreads out on both sides of the river and is known as the 'Gateway to East Sichuan'. lt is situated high above the river and the foundations of the Yangtze Cruisebuildings are many metres high. Porters vie with each other to carry passengers' luggage up the steep stairways to the city. The winding streets vary in level from 29 to 206 metres (95 to 675 feet), so bicycles ate a rare sight. Wanxian has a number of silk-weaving and spinning factories supported by intense silkworm cultivation--operated on a family basis--which continues year round in Wanxian County. Other light industries include tea, bamboo and cane goods, cotton clothing, leather and Chinese medicines. Paper mills utilizing wheat and rice straw from the countryside disgorge milky waste into the Yangtze, adding to the pollution.

  Of the three major regions affected by the proposed Three Gorges Dam, Yichang, Wanxian and Chongqing, Wanxian will lose the most. Two--thirds of the total of 1. 2 million people to be relocated live in the Wanxian prefecture and the reservoir will inundate two-thirds of the city. Over 900 factories are located below the new waterline, and many have already been replaced on higher ground.

History OF Wanxian

  The city received its present name during the Ming dynasty (1368--l644), and became a foreignYangtze River treaty port in l902. In l926 two British gunboats bombarded the city, causing massive fires, when the local warlord took to commandeering foreign vessels for the transport of his troops. Following this incident, a boycott on the loading and unloading of British vessels was enforced for several years. This became known as the Wanxian Incident.

  As the halfway city between Yichang and Chongqing, Wanxian was a main port for East Sichuan merchandise (including large quantities of hung oil, used in treating wooden junks). Early travellers commented on the huge number of junks anchored at Wanxian. Junks also used to be built here from cypress wood found in the nearby hills.


  The downriver boats from Chongqing usually reach Wanxian in the early evening, and depart in the small hours of the following morning although timings will change as the river rises.

  This enables the passage of the Three Gorges to be made in daylight. Upstream boats also make a long stop. Passengers rush off the boats, hurrying up the hundreds of steps to the town where every night of the year the famous Wanxian rattan and cane market is held on Shengli Lu. Buyers and sellers mingle in a frenzy of bargaining for handmade summer bed mats, fans, hats, straw shoes, furniture and basketry. Small, round, red- trimmed baskets with lids are the most popular item and are well known throughout China. Roadside stalls trade in spicy noodles and cooling, opaque soyabean jelly and fresh fruit. ln the mornings, just a little further west of the night market area, one of the city's ten free markets sells local produce and seasonal delicacies such as mountain mushrooms or live eels. Second Street (Er Malu) is the main shopping thoroughfare.

  There was a community of foreign missionaries in this region (formerly Sichuan Province) before l949, and two churches--Catholic and Protestant--continue to draw sizeable congregations of country folk.

  In l983 a small workshop was set up, employing two teenage boys and a few part- time workers to paint and varnish river stones from the Three Gorges and from the Daning River's Three Little Gorges. These make attractive mementoes and can be bought at the Arts and Crafts Store, 1 Third Street (San Malu). Visitors may also visit silk-weaving and cane--furniture factories.


  This small pool, originally dug by a locally revered Song-dynasty official, Lu Youkai, was once a Travel Chinavery large lotus pond surrounded by decorative pavilions. Now it is not much more than a traffic roundabout. Nearby stands an ancient two-storey, yellow-tiled pavilion which houses a huge rock carved by the calligrapher Huang Tingzhen. Around the Xishanpai Pavilion once flowed a winding freshwater channel. Local literati would spend their evenings here, floating full wine cups along the channel. When a wine cup stopped in front of one of them his forfeit would be to compose a poem.


  A clock tower, which dominates the town's skyline from the river, was built in this large park in l924. The upper part was damaged by Japanese bombs in l939. There is a memorial to a Russian volunteer pilot whose plane crashed in the river in the same year. During the summer, people relax in bamboo deck-chairs under the leafy trees, sipping tea and listening to Sichuan-style opera.


  A natural bridge in the shape of a Chinese zither crosses Chu River, which divides the town. It isYangtze River said that Lu Ban, the patron saint of carpenters, spent a whole night building it.


  The poet Li Bai (70l--62) lived here for a time, in the Ming dynasty a memorial hall was built to commemorate him. Stone inscriptions dating back to the Tang dynasty are still to be seen.


  This small museum, on the Wanzhong Highway, is a repository of some of the artifacts collected in advance of the flooding of the area by the new dam. Han tomb effigies and a Ba period 'hanging coffin are featured. The museum's exhibits are rudimentary, but the shop is extensive--the usual tourist trap with no local products.