Dujiangyan: Sweet Home for Pandas

By China Report

On a high-speed train from China’s southwestern metropolis of Chengdu, central Dujiangyan is just a quick nap away.

Located on the northwestern rim of the Chengdu Plain, Dujiangyan has a sort of a paradoxical existence that could well embody today’s China: ancient yet fashionable, traditional yet modern, national yet global.

Nurtured by Sichuan’s Min River and Mount Qingcheng, Dujiangyan is characterised by beautiful scenery, a thriving economy, a comfortable lifestyle, as well as being inclusive and open-minded.

An inland city in Southwest China, Dujiangyan may not look like an international city, but it has long embraced the world historically.

More than two millennia ago a local magistrate named Li Bing led efforts to forge its now world-famous irrigation system. He also built what’s now called the Songmao Ancient Road, connecting Dujiangyan to Songpan and Mao County.

Today, this is a vital economic artery, a key cultural bond, as well as a colourful ethnic corridor. The road also leads to Nepal and India via Tibet.

The Songmao Ancient Road is also connected to the ancient Silk Road and forms part of China’s global transportation network with the ancient city of Xi’an as the centre.

As Dujiangyan reached out to the world along the Songmao Ancient Road, friends from elsewhere were able to travel and discover Dujiangyan, widely known for trading tea and horses. Arguably the most famous visitor was the Italian explorer Marco Polo.

Today, a growing number of overseas tourists visit Dujiangyan and Mount Qingcheng each year. In 2000, Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System were listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Then in 2006, Mount Qingcheng was listed as a World Natural Heritage site for being a “panda habitat corridor.”

Popular Tourist Destination
“Lower the tripod dams, release the water!” With a thunderous order from the master of ceremonies, water pours out of the Min River amid deafening cheers from onlookers.

During Tomb-sweeping Festival, held each year in early April, visitors from across the world can witness the spectacular sight of a traditional water-releasing ceremony thousands of years old.

The water distribution and irrigation project is a fine example of the harmonious coexistence of humans and Mother Nature. The Chengdu Plain, once plagued by unpredictable and uncontrollable droughts and floods, has been transformed into a “Heavenly Kingdom” that sees neither, and never experiences a poor harvest or famine.

Smart design, clever distribution and fine engineering have made the project a unique masterpiece in the history of science and technology.

And the millennia-old irrigation system still functions today, benefiting 2.3 million acres of farmland across the 37 cities, counties and districts of Sichuan Province. Mount Qingcheng sits sixteen kilometres from the centre of Dujiangyan.

The mountain’s name means “green town” in Chinese and comes from healthy, plentiful forests that resemble city walls. According to Chinese legend, the mountain is home to the Queen Mother of the West as well as a number of other gods, and it’s also known as the “homeland of gods.”

In 143 the founder of Taoism, Zhang Ling, travelled to Mount Qingcheng on a pilgrimage through several famous mountains. Attracted by the beautiful landscape and rich historical and cultural heritage, Zhang settled there to preach – creating China’s only local religion in the process.

As the spiritual home of Taoism, Mount Qingcheng has become one of China’s great holy mountains. It is also believed to be the site where the Yellow Emperor – the legendary ruler who is considered the founder of the Chinese nation – studied.

Today, people from across the world visit Mount Qingcheng in search of enlightenment, to realise inner peace, and to explore the mystique of Taoist culture.
It’s rich cultural, religious, and natural heritage makes Dujiangyan a tourist magnet.

According to the official figures, the Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System site was visited by around 50,000 overseas tourists in the first seven months of 2017, reflecting the global influence of the city.

Now, the site is branching out. August 10 saw the launch of an “Overseas Dujiangyan Promotion Station” in Cambodia, followed by another in Indonesia. The city is making efforts to boost its international profile and turn itself into a global tourist destination.

Home for Pandas
Giant pandas, known for their chunky build and playful character, have long been intimately associated with Chinese culture.

In 2016, Kungfu Panda 3, produced by DreamWorks Animation and Oriental Dreamworks, became a smash hit. The hilly hometown of Po, the panda warrior in the movie, is
a cartoon recreation of Dujiangyan and Mount Qingcheng. The city’s lush mountains proved an inspiration for the film’s designers.

Rich ecology and a temperate climate make Dujiangyan an ideal home for pandas. Located in the middle area of the mammal’s narrow natural habitat, it is believed to be a “natural corridor” for pandas to live in and reproduce, and was listed as a World Natural Heritage site in 2006.

In 1953, when a wild panda was spotted at Dujiangyan’s Yutang township, it became the first panda to be rescued after the founding of the People’s Republic. The event paved the way for China’s rescue and protection of wild pandas.

The panda protection experiment station, the first of its kind in China, has regularly spotted pandas in the wild; in 2000, a particularly hungry panda broke into the home of a local farmer.

The incident took place while Dujiangyan city was applying for UNESCO World Heritage listing, which prompted the panda to be named “Yibao,” literally “heritage baby.” Yibao quickly became a mascot for the city’s heritage application.

Today, Dujiangyan is home to more than 60 pandas and has two panda bases. The city is also planning to build a panda-themed ecological holiday resort, where visitors from around the world will be able to make close contact with the much-loved animal.

Dujiangyan also boasts the world’s only “retirement home” for pandas over 26 years of age, or 100 years old in human terms. Dujiangyan is ground zero for China’s “panda diplomacy” efforts.

As home to “overseas returnees” Taishan, and Baobao, two celebrity pandas that enjoyed great popularity in the US, each commanding a following of more than a million fans on social media. Dujiangyan is also the birthplace of many pandas who have gone abroad, such as Xinghui and Haohao to Belgium, and Fuwa and Fengyi to Malaysia.

Dual Centres
Today, Dujiangyan city is improving its urban distribution by planning “dual centres” and “dual districts,” in a bid to reshape the city’s economy and boost tourism across the city.

Supported by the principles that govern China’s mountain development areas and rural ecological development zones, Dujiangyan’s tourism sector is growing into an ecosystem on a par with its more developed global peers, integrating various layers across multiple industries.

Explore religious tourism in Mount Qingcheng, discover the great ancient Dujiangyan water irrigation project, wander through the thousand-year-old town of Guan County, experience Qingcheng Kungfu martial arts, and enjoy thrilling water rafting at Hongkou Township.

Dujiangyan is a city with a slow pace of life, a sense of romance, a serene environment and wonderful experiences. It’s a place to visit, stay and taste.

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