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Mt. Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Mt. Qingcheng

World Cultural Heritage Sites: Mt. Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (2000)

Comment from the World Heritage Committee

Mount Qingcheng is one of the cradles of Taoism, known as a famed Taoist Mountain in China. Jianfu Taoist Temple is known as a large-scale architectural complex was built in the Tang Dynasty. Tianran Tuhua Fang (Natural Landscape Pavilion) refers to a pavilion built during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. In the Celestial Mater Cave, the statue of Celestial Master Zhang is worshipped. Most of the palaces and halls on the mountain were built in the late Qing Dynasty. There are also a large number of precious cultural artifacts and ancient trees on the mountain.

It was built in the 3rd century BC, Dujiangyan on western Chengdu Plain, Sichuan Province, is known as a large-scale irrigation infrastructure built during the Warring States period of China by Li Bing and his son of the Kingdom of Qin. Up to the present, it is the largest and the only dam-free irrigation system in the world with the longest history. For over 2,200 years, it has played an important role in regulating the water system on the plain. Li Bing’s construction of the system not only generates benefits for the people in the past, but also serves future generations. As a result, the system is hailed as a masterpiece of the civilized world and a project for all people.


Located 15 kilometers to the southwest of Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, Mount Qingcheng which translates as “the place is green year round” in Chinese.

Mount Qingcheng is an important cradle of Taoism. All the Taoist temples in the mountain center the Celestial Master Cave, including ten buildings like Jianfu Taoist Temple, Shangqing Taoist Temple, Zushi Palace, Yuanming Taoist Temple, Laojun Taoist Temple, Yuqing Taoist Temple and Chaoyang Cave. Jianfu Taoist Temple was initially built in the 18th year of the Kaiyuan Period of the Tang Dynasty (730 AD) and the architectural complex we see today was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1888 AD). There are currently three halls inside the temple for worshipping Taoist immortals and gods. On the pillar of the hall is a couplet containing 394 Chinese characters, renowned as a spectacular scene of Mount Qingcheng. It was built during the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty, Tianran Tuhua Pavilion stands on the middle of Mount Longju, with its roof top coming in the shape of a decagon. The compelling landscape there will make you feel as if you were in a dream, which is referred to by its name name Tianran Tuhua, which translates as a natural picture in Chinese.

These structures show the Taoists’ pursuit of harmony with nature. Most of them feature a traditional axis structure and are built according to the actual geographic conditions. The adornments found in the buildings also show the Taoists’ idea of seeking fortune, longevity and immortality, offering insight into the study of ancient Taoism. They are also considered as having high historic and artistic value.

Mt. Qingcheng

Mount Qingcheng is renowned for its picturesque natural landscape and the large number of Taoist buildings. Since ancient times, it has long been a tourist destination and ideal place for meditation. In particular, the large amount of couplets not only pay a tribute to the beauty of Mount Qingcheng, but help promote Taoist ideas and classics. It can be seen from couplets that the men of letters wrote in the past about the lives of local people and prosperity of the nation.

Dujiangyan is a renowned ancient water irrigation system reposing on the Min River on western Chengdu Plain, Sichuan Province. Today, it is located to the west of the city of Dujiangyan, where the Min River flows into Chengdu Plain from the mountainous regions. Before the construction of Dujiangyan, the level of the Min River triggered frequent floods that posed severe threat to the local people. In 256 BC, the local administer Li Bing and his son drew upon the valuable experience of flood control from their ancestors and led the local people in the construction of the irrigation project. The completion of the project brought a flood of benefits to the local people, contributing to its fame as a land of abundance. Today, the irrigation system still works which contributes to its reputation as a museum of water irrigation.

Dujiangyan Irrigation System consists of three constructions, namely Baoyuzui (Fish Mouth Levee), Feishayan (Flying Sand Weir) and Baopingkou (Bottleneck Channel). The Yuzui, named for its conical head that resembles the mouth of a fish, is the key area of Li Bing’s construction. It is an artificial levee that divides the water into inner and outer streams. The inner stream is deep and narrow, while the outer stream is relatively shallow and wide. The Feishayan has an opening that connects the inner and outer streams. This ensures against flooding by allowing the natural swirling flow of the water to drain out excess water from the inner to the outer stream. The swirl also drains out silt and sediment that failed to go into the outer stream. The Baopingkou distributes the water to the farmlands to the west, whilst the narrow entrance, which gives it its name, works as a check gate, creating the whirlpool flow that carries away the excess water over Flying Sand Fence, to ensure against flooding.

Also, there are places of historic interest in Dujiangyan such as Two Kings Temple, Dragon Taming Taoist Temple and Anlan Suspension Bridge.

Two Kings Temple is located on the bank of the river at the foot of Mount Yulei. The first Wangdi Temple was built in memory of an ancient Shu king that relocated so locals renamed the temple “Chongde Memorial Temple” in the Jianwu Period of the Qi Kingdom to honor Li Bing and his son whom they promoted to king after his death. As a result, the temple has the name, Two Kings Temple. The rear hall contains the statues Li Bing and his son, as well as the collection of the adages of water control and other stone inscriptions.

Mt. Qingcheng

Dragon Taming Temple in Liudui Park was founded in the 3rd century to honor Li Bing’s bravery of taming an evil dragon. Following Li Bing’s death a hall was established his honor and the temple was renamed to commemorate the dragon fighting legends that he was in. Today, it has three halls, among which the front one has a stone statue of Li Bing erected in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). The halls contain the stone statues of the crafts men of the Eastern Han Dynasty who contributed to the cause of flood control, and the Flying Dragon Tripod is said to be left by Princess Jinxian and Princess Yuzhen of the Tang Dynasty who used to practice austerity there.

Anlan Suspension Bridge, or Couple’s Bridge was built before the Song Dynasty. It is known as one of the Five Ancient Bridges of China. Li Bing’s first Zhupu Bridge only spanned the inner stream connecting the levee with the foot of Mount Yulei. This was replaced in the Song Dynasty by Pingshi Bridge which was burnt down during the wars that marked the end of the Ming Dynasty (17th century AD). Extending 500 meters, the bridge was initially constructed by stone bases and paved with pieces of wood, while the railings were made of bamboo. The concrete-made bridge we see today was rebuilt in modern times.

Dujiangyan Irrigation System serves as shinny example of the perfect harmony between man and nature, exemplified by the unique water irrigation infrastructure and superb architectural techniques. It helps regulate the water system in Chengdu Plain and thanks to it, on the fertile land there witnesses the boom of ancient Shu (Sichuan) culture. With a history of over 2,000 years, it remains in function today. There is no doubt that it is a precious cultural heritage are high in political, religious and architectural value.

Cultural Heritages


1. Significance

Dujiangyan is the only dam-free irrigation system left to the present day with the longest history in the world. It not only shows the extraordinary engineering techniques constructed by ancient Chinese but also its contribution to the world’s history of water irrigation. The construction of the system takes into account the local geographic conditions (higher on the northwestern side and lower on the southeastern side) and the river networks. So it manages to guide the direction of the rivers though without a dam. Under this system, the water can be channeled to irrigate crops, prevent flood, divide rivers and sands. The system helps raise the effectiveness of water utilization for purposes such as flood control, irrigation, transportation and daily usage. The most amazing part about the system is that it has survived the test of time for over 2,250 years and plays an increasingly important role in regulating waters. The construction makes full use of the natural resources to serve the benefits of humanity without causing damage to the natural environment. In this sense, it can be seen as a perfect combination of man, land and water. It is said to be the only existing ecological engineering project in the world. It is considered a groundbreaking effort opening a new chapter of Chinese irrigation history while adding to the irrigation history of the world.

Mount Qingcheng towers to the sky on the southern bank of Dujiangyan Irrigation System, with its main peak rising 2,434 meters above sea level. Today, it is known as a famed historic mountain and an important national-level scenic area. At the eastern foot of the mountain are the remains of Mang City, which can be dated back to the late Neolithic Age some 4,500 years ago. These remains of the Neolithic Age are rarely found elsewhere. The large number of excavated cultural artifacts there offer much insight into the study of ancient Shu (Sichuan) civilization. As early as in the 2nd century BC, the Qin Dynasty designated Mount Qingcheng as one of the 18 sacred mountains for performing national sacrificial rituals. Known as the cradle of Taoism, it has thrusting peaks, valleys and cliffs. With a favorable natural environment, it has verdant trees and other plants, among which tower Taoist temples. To the north of Dujiangyan Irrigation System is Longxi Nature Reserve, the highest peak in which rises 4,582 meters above sea level. The height difference allow for distinctive plant species to develop at various altitudes. Also, blessed with biodiversity, it is also known as one of the major habitats of giant pandas in China.

2. Comparison

When compared to other ancient water irrigation projects in the world, Dujiangyan is the only one that has survived and remains in use today. In comparison, the Narl-Hammurabi Channel on the bank of Euphrates River in ancient Babylon and the artificial channels in Rome have been left unused for a long time.

Located on the western rim of Chengdu Plain, Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System are right at the joint of Sichuan Plain and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which are known to be two important geographic landmarks in western China. Indeed, this is also the overlapping area of two major plant species. The complex geographic conditions and the changeable weather provide an ideal eco environment for the growth of plants and animals. Mount Qingcheng stands on the front mountain belt of Denglai Mountain Ranges and the southwestern part of Longmen Mountain Ranges. There, Guangguang Mountain rises 4,582 meters above sea level while the Baopingkou of the irrigation system features an altitude of 726 meters. The height difference allow a series of folded mountains to exist, which come in various shapes and forms. Mount Qingcheng is known for Taoism as well as its ancient architectures, kungfu, study of yin and yang and unique ways of making immortality pills. It is revered as a famous Taoist Mountain and the cradle of Taoism. In 143 AD, Zhang Ling, known as Celestial Master Zhang, founded Taoism there in Mount Qingcheng, and the next year, he lived in the Celestial Master Cave. He also designated 24 areas as the places for Taoist activities. Zhang Sheng, his fourth generation of descendent, built the Celestial Hall in Longhu Mountain. Since then, it has been a ritual that the successive Taoist masters went to Mount Qingcheng to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. As one of the major Taoist Mountains in China, Mount Qingcheng is known to concentrate a large number of Taoist architectural ensembles. There, Taoism started to catch on in the Jin Dynasty and experienced a flourishing period in the Tang Dynasty. The architectures exhibit hints of the lifestyle of the people living in southwestern China. The Taoist buildings there distinguish themselves from those in Wudang Mountains (built in 1416 AD) with perfect fusion with the surroundings, antique beauty, time-honored history and lifestyle of southwestern ethnic groups. In comparison, the architectural complexes in Wudang Mountains feature royal architectural style. Since the founding of Taoism there, Mount Qingcheng has thrived today, holding a fascination to Taoists from around China.


3. Authenticity and integrity

The three major constructions, namely Baoyuzui (Fish Mouth Levee), Feishayan (Flying Sand Weir) and Baopingkou (Bottleneck Channel) and these supporting facilities as Baizhang Causeway and Ren Causeway can still be found today. With the accelerated development of science and technology and the expanding areas of irrigation, since 1936, continuous efforts have been made to gradually maintain and consolidate the infrastructures of the system through concretes and pebbles. Meanwhile, new irrigation facilities have also been built to bring out the best of the system. The overall structure of the ancient irrigation system, which adapts to local geographic conditions, remains unchanged. Up to the year 1938, the irrigated land had an area of 668,700 hectare. Today, it provides water for over 50 medium and large-sized cities as well as hundreds of factories and companies for industrial and urban use. It is definitely a shinny example among all the irrigation projects in the world.

In Mount Qingcheng, the forest coverage ratio is over 95% within the areas under protection and the plant coverage ratio over 98%. All these contribute to the picturesque landscape there. Ancient trees are everywhere in the mountain, including an ancient maidenhair tree with a history of over 1,800 years, 50 meters in height and 2.3 meters in diameter. The diameter at the 4 meters height is as long as 4 meters and the tree trunk is under 5 meters high surrounded by interlocking branches of different sizes, which come in various shapes combining to form an amazing landscape. The famed Taoist buildings there are all well preserved, including the Celestial Master Zhang Cave, which used to be the place where Celestial Master Zhang lived, Shangqing Taoist Temple, Zushi Palace, Jianfu Taoist Temple, Yuanming Taoist Temple and Yuqing Taoist Temple. The bridges as well as wooden structures as pavilions, terraces and corridors, the roof tops of which are made of barks and timber, are all unique to Mount Qingcheng. Also, many Taoist artifacts are well preserved, including the stone statue of Celestial Master Zhang made in the Sui Dynasty, the stele erected by Emperor Shenwu of the Tang Dynasty, and the statues of three emperors of the Tang Dynasty.

4. Application criteria


4.1 Both Dujiangyan Irrigation System and Mount Qingcheng boast groundbreaking significance in the world’s history of water irrigation and Taoism respectively.

It was built around 256 BC, Dujiangyuan Irrigation System enjoys a history of over 2,250 years. Over 2,000 years ago, Li Bing, the local administrator of the Kingdom of Shu, drew upon the valuable experience of flood control from his ancestors and constructed the irrigation system according to the actual geographic conditions. The system is right where the Min River flows into Chengdu Plain. The height difference between the river and the plain is fully made use of to serve the purpose of flood control. In the context of building techniques in the past, he followed the principle of “expand with heat and contract with cold,”excavated the mountains and opened channels to connect the rivers. He capitalized on the natural forces to serve the benefits of the people living on the land. Thanks to this system, Chengdu Plain became a fertile land for crop cultivation, known as a land of abundance and an important barn in China today. Mount Qingcheng is the sacred place where Taoism was found. Taoism was later upgraded to meet the cultural needs of the Chinese people and later became a national religion in China. Given this, Mountain Qingcheng is said to be groundbreaking in cultural value.

4.2 Dujiangyan Irrigation System crystallizes the wisdom of humanity, standing unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

The construction of Dujiangyan Irrigation System, initiated by Li Bing, features a perfect combination of the three major infrastructures, namely Baoyuzui (Fish Mouth Levee), Feishayan (Flying Sand Weir) and Baopingkou (Bottleneck Channel). These mutually enforced constructions are well arranged as a whole to serve the purposes of water division, sand distilling, flood discharge and water diversion. In this way, water can never dry up and floods can be brought under control. To be specific, the mouth-shaped causeways serve as a channel water from the Min River to the crop land for irrigation. In the withered water period, 60% of the water of the Min River will be channeled to the inner water network and 40% channeled out to the exterior network. In the flood period, 60% of the water of the Min River will be channeled out to the exterior water network and 40% channeled into the inner network.

4.3 Taoism in Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System are epoch-making masterpieces of the ancient Chinese people, generating far-reaching implications for future generations.

Since its founding in Mount Qingcheng, Taoism has made its presence in other regions in China. The masters of successive dynasties in Longhu Mountain all went on a pilgrimage to Mount Qingcheng to offer sacrifices to their predecessors. Since the Han Dynasty, Dujiangyan Irrigation System has played an irreplaceable role in flood control. The scientific principle for the construction of the system is widely applied to the fighting against flooding today. Undoubtedly, Dujiangyan Irrigation System is an long standing masterpiece of the Chinese people.

4.4 Mount Qingcheng is known as the cradle of Taoism and the place where Celestial Master Zhang used to practice austerity.

In 143 AD (the 2nd year of the Hanyuan Period of the Han Dynasty), Zhang Ling, known as Celestial Master Zhang, went to Mount Qingcheng and founded Taoism there by drawing upon the ancient Chinese philosophies. It is said that it was there that he became immortal. Since then, Mount Qingcheng has been known for its cradling of Taoism and the place where Celestial Master Zhang became immortal.

4.5 The biodiversity in Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System is said to be the most well known in the world’s subtropical areas.

Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System are located in Deduanshan Mountains, an area known for the best biodiversity in the world. This area is located at the joint of Sichuan Plain and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with complex geographic conditions. The extending mountains, deep valleys and the mild and humid climate there provide an ideal breeding ground for plants and animals of different species. Additionally, the geographic structure is said to have a long history.

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