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Ancient Temple Reopens on New Site
For Xiao Lianyun, who lives in Yunyang County in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, tomorrow is just like the Spring Festival.

The relocated Zhang Fei Temple, which Xiao has known and loved for decades, will reopen tomorrow morning.

"My old house was just beside the original Zhang Fei Temple on Feifeng (Flying Phoenix) Hill in Yunyang," said the 60-year-old, who worked at a local agricultural machinery factory but is now retired. "I was proud of being its close neighbor."

Xiao's family moved upstream to the relocated county seat early this year.

In the second phase of the damming of the Three Gorges Reservoir in June, the water level in this area rose to 135 meters and submerged the old county seat, including the original Zhang Fei Temple site.

The Zhang Fei Temple was too valuable to let it disappear from the map. To save it from going down with the rising water, national experts on conservation and the relocation of ancient architecture helped work out a remarkable program to relocate the temple.

Xiao and his neighbors are happy to see that the Zhang Fei Temple has been restored to its original glory on the new site as a result of eight months of arduous work by more than 300 people.

Household hero

For centuries, travelers and locals were confronted by the imposing and awe-inspiring Zhang Fei Temple, named after the legendary figure from the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280).

Standing majestically on the northern bank of the Yangtze River, close to the old city of Yunyang, the temple has witnessed the passing of much of China's history.

Through time, the temple perched loftily on a precipitous rock like an eagle poised for take-off.

It had the four huge Chinese characters jiang shang feng qing (cool breeze blowing on the river) carved into its foundation, as well as interwoven courtyards, elegant pavilions, precious ancient calligraphic inscriptions, exquisite sculptures of historical figures, lush trees, grass, and roofs featuring brightly colored patterns and beautiful upturned eaves.

The temple was designated as a key cultural relic under state protection in 2000.

A household name among the Chinese, Zhang Fei was a brave, wise and loyal warrior in the Three Kingdoms period and also a major protagonist in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

For centuries, Zhang has been worshipped as a god of protection, especially by fishermen on the Yangtze River and those living near the temple.

Every year, 200,000 or so visitors went there to pay their respects to Zhang Fei.

On October 4 last year, thousands of visitors from China and abroad went to the temple to celebrate the 1,843rd anniversary of Zhang's birth. They lit candles, burned incense, and offered sacrifices such as chicken or fish at the shrine. The Yunyang County Chuanju Opera Troupe staged the drama Oath in the Peach Garden for the big event, recalled Xiao Lianyun.

The temple's original construction made the best use of the natural landscape and exemplified the mysterious beauty of ancient Chinese architecture on the upper middle reaches of the Yangtze River valley.

It housed more than 600 delicately made, centuries-old sculptures, stelae, ancient Chinese wood carvings and rock inscriptions.

These were rich resources for academic research into Chinese history, fine art, classical literature, ancient architecture and even environmental changes in this section of the Yangtze River valley, according to Gong Tingwan, an expert in the relocation, reconstruction and renovation of ancient Chinese architecture and senior project supervisor for the relocation and reconstruction of the Zhang Fei Temple.

Temple reassembled

The temple's relocation and reconstruction were considered the largest and most important of a series of government-organized projects to preserve relics of historic, cultural, artistic or ecological value in the area of the Three Gorges reservoir.

Altogether, 1,087 sites, including the temple, are on the State Cultural Relics Protection List. They are located in 22 counties and districts in Chongqing Municipality and Hubei Province, which will be flooded as part of the Three Gorges project.

To prepare for the relocation, experts took tens of thousands of color photos of details of the original site, Gong said.

The actual work on the Zhang Fei Temple began on October 8 last year.

The more than 300 people on the temple project worked side by side, taking down the ancient temple piece by piece.

With great care, they removed the tiles, wooden rails, stone sculptures and even time-worn stone steps of the original temple.

Every part of the original temple that was removed was treated with antiseptic, mothproofed and numbered to make sure that it would be put back exactly where it should be.

Each of the temple's fragile pieces was then wrapped in cloth and loaded onto lorries. The lorries then transferred the items to a gigantic ferry to take them to the new temple site in Bangshang Yuanzi, in the village of Long'an in Panshizhen township in Yunyang County. This site was chosen because its geographic features most resemble those of the original site.

Gong Tingwan said the new site is about 32 kilometers upstream on the Yangtze River. It will still be safe from the reservoir water even when the water level reaches 175 meters in 2009, he said.

The relocation team moved not only pieces of the temple as such but also plants, railings, rocks, stone stairs and an old stone bridge from the front of the temple.

They then reassembled the pieces at the new site.

Gong said: "We are working in line with the cardinal guideline of making no changes to the size, raw materials or structure of the original temple during the relocation process.

"For example, no nails are used in the reconstruction process of the main structures."

At least 97.8 percent of the temple's wooden parts were kept intact during the process of disassembly and transportation and reassembly, Gong added.

But the original clay sculpture of Zhang Fei in the temple's main hall had become fragile with the passing of time and could not be removed safely. It was abandoned and replaced at the new site by a newly cast bronze sculpture that is 3 meters high and weighs 2 tons.

A three-story museum has also been built below the new temple. It will be a treasure house for all the major cultural relics unearthed in Yunyang County, according to Chen Yuanlin, head of the county's cultural heritage administration and the curator-to-be of the museum.

While the temple proper will be open to the public tomorrow, it will take three months before work on the whole temple area will be complete. Work is still continuing on a green belt around the temple, which will create a similar ambience to that of the original temple.

The overall cost of the temple relocation is estimated to be at least 70 million yuan (US$8.45 million), according to Chen Zulin, general manager of the Chongqing Xiajiang Cultural Sites Relocation and Conservation Corp and the main contractor in the project.

Xiao and his neighbors have closely followed all the rebuilding work.

"I find that the rebuilt temple looks almost the same as the original one," Xiao said.

Although the original Zhang Fei Temple has gone, Zhang's admirers and those who love legends about Zhang in folk tales and Romance of the Three Kingdoms will come to visit the new temple to pay homage to him, Xiao said.

(China Daily July 18, 2003)

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