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Opposing Plans To Cover The River In The Western Suburbs

Public Action

Between 2006 and 2011, there were three attempts to cover the Western Suburb River in Chengdu, turning it into an underground river in order to make way for traffic. 


West Suburb River was originally called West Moat. In 876 CE, the military commissioner Shi Gaopian built a second wall outside the city wall in order to protect against invasion from the Nanzhao Kingdom. He cut off the Pi River in the North West of the city with Mizao Weir, now known as Jiuli Dyke, bringing the water into the newly excavated Qingyuan River (also known as Youzi River or Fu River). This river circled around the north and east of the city before meeting the Nanjian River, which was also called the lower moat, improving the protection of Chengdu. From then on, the city was enclosed by two rivers, keeping it safe as well as holding unique cultural importance. 


The rivers surrounding the city (the Fu River, Nan River, Jinshui River and Jieyu River) are collectively called the four outer city wall rivers. Downstream from the Jiuli Dyke, the Pi River gradually filled with silt, so Gaopian opened up the East Moat, now known as the Yinma River and West Suburbs River. The West Suburbs River, Yinma River, Nan River and Fu River join together in a jade necklace around Chengdu. But since the 1990s, the West Suburb River and the Yinma River have been destroyed. The Southern stream of the Yinma River already has a section that has been put underground, and is heavily polluted. 


The Western Suburbs River flows between Xian Bridge and Xi’an South Road, making it 660 meters long. In order to open up the inner ring road, the governmental departments responsible decided to erect a four-lane viaduct above the Western Suburb River. City development has forced the river to be covered in order to improve transportation. When even rivers must be pushed back to make space for cars, it marks the end of a city. According to data from CURA, in the space of a few decades almost 300 of Chengdu’s rivers have been blocked or covered. Many places have the word bridge in their name, yet there are no bridges. Other places have bridges but no rivers. CURA leader Tian Jun said “the problem doesn’t lie with the ways rivers function, but with our attitude towards rivers. West Suburbs River passes Qintai Road, Shi’er Bridge, Qingyang Palace, and Baihuatan Park. All of these places play a strong part in Chengdu’s history and culture, which itself is over 1000 years old. How does constructing a viaduct over this jade necklace fit in with the surrounding history and culture?”


Because of this, CURA’s experts and volunteers have used all sorts of channels to bring about dialogue and cooperation with planning and transport government departments. Work was called off and a seminar was held on planning the inner ring road between Tonghuimen and Qingyangzheng Street, attracting attention from the urban population. After many unexpected changes, it was decided that the construction would be cancelled, and at the end of April 2011 it was returned to its original state.


In the end, Western Suburbs River was revived, meaning it is worth rethinking our perspective on propositions, including how a grassroots environmental organisation sticks to its beliefs, and how it protects the life of one of its city’s rivers. 

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