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Cheng Weizhong and Chengdu's Vanished Rivers


Chen Weizhong is 75 years old. He’s short with glasses; his words come quickly and his thoughts come clearly. He graduated from Qinghua University in the 1950s with a degree in Water Conservancy, then worked in the Waterworks industry for 52 years, in both Shanxi and Chengdu, before retiring in 1996. After retiring, he continued to work with Chengdu Waterworks. For every development plan, policy, and engineering project, the department asks this old expert to work as a consultant. 


Recently, in the office of Chengdu Waterworks, Chen Weizhong has been telling reporters the history of Chengdu Rivers. “In the Records of the Historian Sima Qian described how when Li Bing was building Dujiangyan, two rivers passed through Chengdu. These two rivers are the Pi River and the Liu River, now known as the Botiao River and the Zouma River. In their lower reaches, the Botiao River turns into the Fu River and the Zouma River turns into the Nan River. Historically these two rivers flowed together, but after the mid-Tang Dynasty, the Fu River was made to flow around the North and East of the city.”


Chen Weizhong speaks easily about Chengdu’s the distribution of Chengdu’s waterways and irrigation projects. “In Chengdu, rivers and canals can’t be completely distinguished. We often call them waterways. These can be separated into main canals, branch canals, lateral canals and field ditches.  Dujiangyan area has 6 main canals, 260 branch canals, 270 lateral canals and over 20,000 field ditches. These canal systems are as complicated as a spider web, intersecting across the Chengdu Plain, similar to the veins and blood vessels of a human body.” The expert explains all of this without stopping for breath, like a performer reciting a piece. 


Chen Weizhong said that, as well as the Fu River, Nan River and Sha River, there are 47 smaller rivers in Chengdu, mostly situated near the Sha River and in Chengdu’s western suburbs. 


Historically, there were rivers in Chengdu that no longer exist. Did you know that Chengdu used to have a stream called Jie Yu Stream? 


Even those who have spent their entire lives in Chengdu often haven’t heard about this small river that used to flow in front of Daci Temple.


“Historically, this river held a similar position to the Sha River. It was a relatively important river that flowed down from Dujiangyan. It was dug out during the Tang dynasty, and dried up in the Song Dynasty. This river had fine silt, and you could use it to polish jade, so it used to be called Jie Yu Stream.” With Chen Weizhong’s description, the image of Jie Yu Stream becomes clear. Before the Song Dynasty, this clear river flowed from Kejia Alley, past Hongxing Road, meandering in front of Daci Temple, busy with traffic, an example of harmony between water and people.


“There were two other important rivers, and although the river channels are still there, they are now underground.” This refers to the Jin River and the Yu River, that once flowed through the city centre. The Jin River entered the city from Tonghui Gate and flowed east, passing People’s Park and joining the Fu River at Da’an Street. The Yu River circled the old Shu Prince’s residence, which is now Sichuan Science and Technology Museum. Afterwards, they became air raid shelters, buried underground, which is a real pity. 


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