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Christmas 2006 (1/07)

Basketballs bounce in Xi'an

Zhangye, a deeper look (7/06)

China comes to Virginia (7/06)

Winter Conference 

Happy Birthday, Amity, 
Part 1

Part 2 (11/05)

Bringing Sunshine,
Part 1

Part 2 (10/05)

Summer 2005: (7/05)

Needed: China volunteers

Bluefield College in China

Lantern Festival (2/05)

Village of God (2/05)

Summer 2004:

FBC Richmond (5/20)

Opposites attract (5/26)

Mission Impossible (5/24)

Rules for a new mother (10/24)

Brocade Museum (10/24)

Barbara Diggs at NIM (4/4)

Fujian Earthen Houses (2/14)

Zhangzhou Puppets (2/14)

Merry Christmas

JIE's 50th Anniversary

Oral English Competition

Sam's Page

Virginia Baptists arrive for 2002 SEP, Shanghai - Nanjing

Part 2: in Jining, the program begins

Inner Mongolia's grasslands

Baotou and Wudang Temple

Abby and Sarah in Xi'an

Discovering the Nestorian Pagoda

Eating Zongzi June, 2002

Mary Washington comes to China, Part 1
Part 2 May/June 2002

Xi'an May 2002
Terracotta soldiers
   The Nestorian tablet





Mission Impossible

A Tale of Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
Or How to Absolve Your Guilt by Building a Big Monument to Dad

       Nanjing, as natives are quick to tell you, has a long history and is rich in culture. It has been the seat of six or ten dynasties or ruling entities, depending on how you count, going back to 229 AD. Nanjing itself is much older than that, going back 2500 years as a functioning community. It has become something of a hobby of mine, since I am very interested in Chinese history, to visit as many historical sites in Nanjing as I can. I have Chinese friends who help me, of course, and that adds to the pleasure.

      On a sunny October Saturday in 2003, Chinese friends took me to see a historical site east of the city. We took a taxi out there which, delayed and detoured by traffic jams, took about an hour. The site is that of an old imperial quarry from the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty overthrew the Yuan, or Mongol, Dynasty in 1368 and set up its capital a few years later in Nanjing .

      After the first emperor died, preceded in death by his first son and original heir, his grandson became emperor. This young man was very educated, elegant, and enlightened as a ruler. Unfortunately, a ruthless uncle, the original emperorís fourth son, Zhu Di, who was an excellent military leader and who had been dispatched to Beijing to be sure the Mongols didnít try to sneak back down from the north to cause trouble for the new dynasty, decided the young man wasnít strong enough to be emperor of all of China, and that he would be a better one. He took his army to Nanjing and overthrew the young man. The deposed emperor mysteriously disappeared. He was never found, alive or dead, giving rise to all kinds of rumors and suspicions, lasting even until today. But, Zhu Di, became the new emperor. He reigned a long time and was a strong ruler. In order to assuage his guilt of being a usurper and to prove that he was a filial son, he ordered the quarrying of a huge stone to erect to the honor and memory of his father, the original Ming Dynasty emperor. A base, a cap, and the body of the monument were largely carved, even to the chiseling out of large sections underneath the mammoth stones in preparation for moving them down the mountain and then to the outskirts of Nanjing, where the emperorís tomb is located. But, it was never technically feasible to move them and these massive carved granite stones are still there, where they have become a tourist site.

      After seeing them, I certainly understand why they couldnít move them. The marvel is that anyone thought they could. Fully assembled, they would have equaled the height of an 18-story building. One plan, apparently, had been to create a reservoir in the quarry, fill it with water. When the water froze in the winter, 10,000 camels were to have pulled the three pieces down the mountainside. I donít know how far they got in that plan, but it doesnít appear they ever tried it, as the stones are still firmly attached to the stone firmament.

Simulated Ming Village

      We arrived at the base of the mountain and bought tickets. The government has built a touristy reproduction of a Ming Dynasty village which offers souvenirs, food, and entertainment. A stone path leads out of the village up the mountain slope to the quarry. The first piece we saw was the base. It is carved out of the natural granite and stands alone against the rough mountain terrain. It has been chiseled out of the stone, with each side quite straight. At the base of the structure, several places had been chiseled out in anticipation of severing the stone from the mountain.


      The cap and body of the intended monument were further up the mountain. The cap was beside the main body, and only a little smaller than the base. Again, portions of the bottom had been chiseled out. These cavities were large enough for people to get into for picture taking or just to prove they could. To get to the top of the body, we walked up a narrow and steep path.

Cap (center) and monument (right); the base is behind the hill in background

 From the top, you could see both the cap and body of the monument. The body was carved in a horizontal position, but the base and cap were carved as if they were ready for use. In the days before this had become an official tourist site, visitors could walk out onto the body of the monument. It would have been quite a fall, and there are no rails, so it isnít allowed now that there are hundreds of visitors on pretty October Saturdays such as the one on which I went. The monument itself is completely carved out except at one end and the base. On one side, a channel of about six feet was chiseled out, forming the back side of the monument; one end is still part of the mountain. At the bottom, almost the entire length of the stone was chiseled out and visitors were sitting around playing cards and eating picnic lunches. We could walk under it, only slightly bent over. The precision of the cutting of these stones was remarkable considering the technology of the time, in the late 14th or early 15th centuries.

Standing at the head of the monument that is still part of the mountain

Standing underneath the monument; notice that the back side is cut away from the mountain; the two ends remain to hold it up

We rode a public bus back to town. At one stop, I could see a small church just behind the shops and restaurants at the street. In the city, we took a taxi to a restaurant. After a very nice meal, they took me home by taxi. A great adventure: fun and educational.