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Cliff coffins add mystery to Wuyi Mountain

2017-12-13 09:50:39Shanghai Daily Huang Mingrui ECNS App Download

Even before its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, Wuyi Mountain was already a popular tourist destination in China.

The mountain scenic area straddles Fujian and Jiangxi provinces and contains a natural reserve and the ruins of an ancient city.

Nine-Bend Creek, which snakes about 7 kilometers through the area, is considered its lifeblood. The waterway doesn’t have exactly nine bends, and it’s certainly wider than the usual definition of “creek.” Gazing down on it from above, it looks like an emerald belt cinched among craggy peaks.

Visitors can choose either bamboo rafts or rubber boats to go on sightseeing tours on the waterway.

The rafts, propelled by locals using long bamboo spars, allow tourists to take in the magnificent scenery at a slow pace. Grotesque rock formations on either bank include ancient hanging coffins on cliffs.

The rubber boats are more adventurous, taking in a route that includes some mild whitewater. For first-time visitors, the bamboo raft trip is probably the best choice because it exemplifies local culture.

A raft can accommodate up to six people. There are no sideboards. The surface of the river is right beside your feet. But there is no danger because the boatmen are experienced and skilful, and the current is smooth. Of course, life jackets are always required, just in case.

The whole journey lasts about 90 minutes. It begins from a dock in Xingcun Village and goes upstream to a dock near the Wuyi Palace.

The popularity of the rafts does tend to spoil the natural serenity of the waterway. Long lines of people wait to board rafts, and the number of rafts has grown so that it can almost seem like a traffic jam at times on the river.

Cliff coffins

Those who have been to Wuyi Mountain never stop talking about the coffins on the cliffs lining Nine-Bend Creek.

They are found on 18 cliff sides in the mountain area and date back about 3,500 years, according to carbon dating. Some of the coffins are perched on wood frames jutting from the cliffs; some peek out of small mountain caves.

The burial tradition symbolized respect for the dead, and their location vis-à-vis one another identified the social status of the dead. The higher, the better.

It is believed that cliff burials are part of the Ou Culture. Ou was the name of a country that existed in eastern China some 3,500-4,000 years ago. The descendants of Ou people are today’s Zhuang ethnic minority.

The Zhuang recount a tale that has been passed down through the centuries. It is about an old lady living alone, who adopted a “man with short tail.” When she died, the man conjured up a wild wind to send her body up to the cliff. It is said that every March 3 on the lunar calendar, the man, who was actually the son of a dragon, would come to the cliff to pay tribute to the old woman. That was the beginning of the Song Festival, a significant event in the calendar of the Zhuang.

Magic powers aside, how did ancient people manage to hoist coffins so high on cliffs? Ancient books credit supernatural forces. No modern explanation has been verified.

From a bamboo raft, visitors use binoculars to get a closer look at coffins nearly 100 meters above the water, marveling at a mystery yet to be solved.

Dawang Peak and One-Line Sky

Mountain attractions are as compelling as those on the water. Dawang Peak and One-Line Sky are considered sights not to be missed in the scenic area.

Dawang literally means “king.” It is the first peak at the entrance of the Wuyi Mountain area, perched on the north side of the Nine-Bend Creek.

The shape of the peak looks like a black-gauze cap that ancient Chinese officials wore, which is why the crag is also called Official Cap Peak.


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