Li Jitang, curator of the Cultural Heritage Center of the ancient Dachang town, has been keeping a close eye on the flow of the river traversing his hometown since the mammoth Three Gorges Dam began flooding on June 1.
The town with an air of antiquity, boasting a history of more than 1,700 years and the largest group of exquisite structures in the Three Gorges area, will be inundated when the water level finally reaches 175 meters above sea level.
The town has dismantled some of its ancient buildings and only a few stacks of stone fragments remain, losing its traditional tranquility.
Straightforward yet nostalgic townspeople are now asking whether their town will disappear forever.
Wen Guanglin, 60, a native resident, was so fond of the century-old, spacious residence he had inherited from his ancestors centuries ago that he spend quite a number of sleepless nights after he heard a few years ago that it would be submerged.
The lovely, blue-brick house is the best in the 10-hectare town, with a total area of 800 square meters. Wen felt snug and contented in his house, with its black roof tiles, carved beams and painted rafters, which are all appeasing to his eyes.
Listening to rain drops falling in the quiet and peaceful yard, smoking cigarettes, humming ballads and teaching children about the old, traditional ways, Wen cannot bear the thought of leaving his ancestral home.
"For me, to lose a single inch of precious land from the old house is the worst disrespect to my forefathers," he said.
The 1,700-year-old Dachang was the most integrated ancient town in the Three Gorges area, with slabstone roads, traversed by the Daning River, a Yangtze River tributary.
Its ancient structures were designed in the architecture styles of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
To rescue and keep intact the lovely town, a very bold and prudential project has begun to move the entire town, involving 38classical residences and the integrated ancient walls. It will take a total investment of over 30 million yuan (US$3.61 million).
In line with a plan finalized by engineers and specialists mainly from the eminent China Research Institute of Cultural Relics and the China Construction Prospecting and Design Institute, ancient residential houses have been removed.
Every brick, tile and beam was meticulously marked, torn down and shipped to the new location five km from the former town seat, strictly in compliance with the original styles.
The existing construction materials of these houses that remain useful have been treated against white ant infestation and rust. And substitutes have been purchased and used for some parts that were too decayed to be moved away.
After hearing of the project, Wen Guanglin made a field inspection of the new location.
He is now confident to hand over his old house.
According to Liu Yuchuan, a noted cultural relics specialist from southwest China's Chongqing municipality, some residents are willing to conserve their folklore even after the town is moved away.
"Perhaps I will return to my old house to live after it is moved to the new location," said Wen Guanglin.
Scheduled for completion in the year 2009, the Three Gorges Water Conservancy Project will submerge over 1,100 towns, big and small, and about one million inhabitants in the dam area will be relocated.
China has worked out a series of feasible plans to conserve a total of 224 most valuable ancient structures in the area.
Gazing tenderly at the water of the Yangtze River flowing into Dachang Town, Li Jitang said the brand-new town would become an enticing tourist attraction on the new itinerary for the Three Gorges.
"Dachang will never disappear."
(People's Daily June 13, 2003)