Kingdom of Ancient Blockhouses

At the west of Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, two arteries running from north to south No. 317 and No. 318 State Highways - along the Sichuan-Tibet Road are teeming with famous landscapes.

Located in this renown tourist area, about 120 kilometres west of the Sichuan Wolong Natural Preserve, is Danba, known as the kingdom of thousands of blockhouses. The world-famous Dadu River takes shape here and flows south through Danba.

Danba's outstanding geographical position contains countless tourism resources, natural scenic beauty and unique human scenic spots. Further, Danba enjoys popularity for its indigenous and simple folk customs and peculiar dance costumes.

As the old saying goes, people everywhere have their own unique activities. Besides the original Tibet-styled costumes and the charming folk customs, the big draw for curious tourists is the batches of ancient blockhouses. These blockhouses are buried deep in the high mountains and dense forests, covered in a sense of mystery.

Standing independently on the hillside, each ancient blockhouse looks like a sharp sword soaring towards the sky. The sight of these blockhouses fills visitors with passion and enthusiasm as well as a sense of courage.

When visitors pass the upper reaches of the Dadu River and step on the road heading for Danba, they will be captivated by the charm of the stockade houses dispersed throughout the emerald forests and fruitful fields.

Suopo Zhai (Stockaded Village) is one place where visitors find themselves immersed in various blockhouses. There are 113 ancient blockhouses in Suopo Zhai with a history of more than 1,000 years.

In Danba, most blockhouses are built together with resident houses. They are made of clay and stones, with an elegant and strong appearance.

In the past, blockhouses were used as defence forts and beacon towers. Residents would even pray to some of the edifices to exorcise evil spirits and bring good weather for crops.

Inside each blockhouse, a delicate and intricate emblem such as ox horns or a fire wheel hangs on the wall. Some people say these are clan marks. Some argue that it is a secret signal. But the real meaning is still a mystery.

Weng Du is a young resident of Danba. He inherited a 500-year-old blockhouse from his ancestors. The entrance of the blockhouse is 1 to 2 metres above the ground. The inner structure is quite complex and very functional even by modern standards.

It can be divided into three parts: the warehouse, the living room and the defence area, which accounts for the largest room.

From the top to the bottom of the defence area, there is a shooting stage every 3 metres. The defence ability of this structure is so great that it is said the Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) took a blueprint of a blockhouse to Beijing and built several around Xiangshan Mountain.

To unite the country and strengthen the stability of the border, Emperor Qian Long assembled large numbers of troops in Danba to quell the rebellion. However, his toughest enemies were the blockhouses, which required great efforts to conquer. Consequently, Danba suffered a great deal from these cruel wars. Although, the war-ridden era has become history, the battle scars displayed on the walls of the blockhouses will rekindle your passion and you will be lost in reverie.

Today, the once heavily guarded blockhouses have become tourist resorts, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the world. It has become an important bridge between the cultural exchanges of Tibetan minority and the Han nationality.

( Shanghai Star July 18, 2002)