Even the great protector can’t be protected. The Great Buddha statue (Leshan Dafo 乐山大佛), just outside Leshan in China’s south western province of Sichuan, was carved out of the cliffs in the 8th century at the confluence of three rivers.
His purpose was look over and protect the fishermen from drowning in the turbulent waters and defend the population against flooding.
Now, it is the local population flooding to the aid of the Giant Buddha by using sand bags to protect him from rising flood waters.
Not since 1949 have the flood waters reached the magnificent statue’s enormous feet.
This is another a recent video from Leshan showing the dramatic scenes of the flood waters reaching the base of his feet.
Yushu Mani Wall Before The Earthquake. On the 14th of April 2010 in a remote area of China’s remote province of Qinghai, a huge earthquake struck the town of Yushu and the surrounding areas.
The earthquake resulted in a terrible loss of human life and a vast amount of cultural damage was done to Tibetan monasteries and temples. The greatest cultural loss was the destruction of the Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall, the longest in the world and one of the most sacred for the Tibetans.
What is a Mani Wall?
A mani wall is a wall that has been built up over time using rocks, stones and pebbles that have prayers written on them. The most common mantra is Om Mane Padme Hum, but ather mantras are also written or engraved on the rocks.
Tibetan pilgrims often pay to have the rocks placed on the ever expanding walls. The Seng-ze Gyanak Mani wall, just a few kilometers outside Yushu was, and still is, the longest Mani wall in the world. The wall was re-built after the earthquake.
We were fortunate enough to have visted Yushu in the summer of 2009; eight months before the eathquake.Here are some of our photos that I have re-done and some new ones that I didn’t post the first time. The photos still don’t do justice to mind-blowing exerience of visiting the wall.
Click here to read the original travel article and the subsequent article that we posted after the earthquake.
As previously mentioned above:Mani Walls are rows of piled-up stones, engraved or painted with orations. The size of such Mani Wallscan vary from the humblest pile to a circuit of several hundred meters. Pilgrims walk round these walls of holy stones in a clockwise direction, uttering prayers and twirling prayer wheels.
The Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall was truly enormous; a sign by its side proudly proclaimed that it is 283 metres long, 74 metres wide, 2,5 metres high and consists of 2 billion stones!
What’s more, the Wall, before the earthquake, was still growing, as we witnessed with our own eyes: devout pilgrims contributed new stones everyday, which were hoisted up on to the pile carefully.
The billions of beautifully carved stones carry the Buddhist prayers “Om Mani Padme Hum” or, “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus”, and other orations.
Building the Mani wall
I never really sussed out how the system worked. But it seemed that wealthier pilgrims paid more money for bigger stones or rocks to be placed on top of the Mani wall in order to get more merit (I could be wrong here).
As you can see from this series of photos; a pilgrim, a monk and rock carriers were all involved in the process of heaving the rocks to the top of the wall.
Hoisting the rocks and stones up onto the top of the Mani-wall was done by muscle power alone and not only was the toil unceasing, but it was also back-breaking. You could read the expressions of pain and agony on the faces of the carriers as they struggled with the larger rocks.
The muscle and stamina of these guys puts anyone doing exercise in a gym to shame.
I can’t imagine how they must of felt having to put the wall back together again after its collapse in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.
The other fascinating part of a visit to the Seng-ze Gyanak Mani Wall is to observe the thousands of Tibetan pilgrims who come every day to place rocks and circumambulate the wall.
Tibetan pilgrims from all over the Kham region and further afield descend on this huge Mani Wall from dusk to dawn.
Dressed in their finest, they circumambulate the sacred stones in a constantly rising and ebbing flow. The early morning sees a high tide, while the crowds ebb during the afternoon, only to return again in the early evening.
The Awesome Hats
The Hats! We had never seen anything like them before. Huge, pancake-flat, wide-brimmed, and elaborately-embroidered; these stunning hats seemed to be all the rage in and around the Yushu and Serxu areas of Qinghai and Sichuan Tibetan areas.
These photos we taken at the Sang-ze Gyanak Mani-wall.
Elsewhere, we had never laid eyes on them, not even in Lhasa or around Ganzi, Litang or Dege.
The Chapals and Prayer Wheels
The best way to take in the ambience was, and probably still is, to join in with the pilgrims and accompany them on their walk around the Wall.
The more times you circle the Wall, the more fascinating it becomes.
Numerous dark chapels and prayer-wheel halls, lit up by thousands of flickering yak-butter lamps, provided a diversion from the routine.
If anybody reading this has been to Yushu recently, please lets us know what it is like now.
Getting train tickets in China has always been a hit and miss operation, especially if you want sleeper berths for long distance trains. At Chinese New Year, getting a ticket becomes something akin to winning the lottery.
This BBC clip sums the situation up quite well, and shows the growing divide between the haves and have nots in modern China, where just having access to a computer is an advantage。
Memories of Zhongdian
Our first attempt to visit the town in 1991 was thwarted when the police pulled us of the bus just after Tiger Leap Gorge and sent us back to Lijiang. Zhongdian/ Dukezong was still apparently closed to Foreigners then. Eventually, we got there in 2007 on our way to Tibet.
Sangzi Village Hunan Province: And I thought my Journey to class was bad. I’d always complained about my journey to work at the University in Madrid. Everyday, having to face the over-crowded underground transporting its cargo of stressed out passengers. Sweaty and smelly in the summer; germ infested in the winter; it’s standing room only most days. Compounding the misery, there are the strikes and demonstrations, that might delay your journey by up to an hour (and Madrid has one of the world’s best underground systems). Then I saw this video and since then I have I gone into Zen mode. I don’t moan or complain anymore.
I just say to myself how lucky I am. My gripes were nothing more than that of a privileged urbanite who has no idea as to what lengths other people have to go to in order to get an education.
One of China’s favorite TV shows has been axed. The programme, Linxingjianhui 临刑见会, which we can loosely translate as “Interviews Before Execution”, or much better, “Dead Men Talking”, is a programme in which prisoners on death row are interviewed, often only a few hours/ minutes before they are killed by a bullet to the back of the neck, or a lethal injection.
The programme was the brain child of the journalist and presenter Ding Yu.
The recent reports about the protests in the village of Wukan in Guangdong Province say that the village is continuing to resist the authorities. The police are surrounding the village and an uneasy standoff is taking place. Out of curiosity I looked up Wukan on Google Maps, and to my surprise I found it was right smack in the area of Lufeng.
As part of my Chinese History Degree at SOAS (London School of Oriental and African Studies) we did a course called Peasants and Revolution, a study of peasant revolutions and rebellions throughout China’s turbulent history. Special emphasis was focused on how Mao Zedong 毛泽东 was able to galvanize the peasants and convert them into the vanguard of the Chinese Revolution.
Mao was not the first Chinese Communist to discover the potential force of the peasants to serve the Chinese Communist revolution. Another was Peng Pai 澎湃. Peng fired up the peasants in the area of Haifeng and Lufeng during the 1920’s。 In 1927 he created the first ever Soviet, the Hai-lufeng Soviet. One of Peng’s first and foremost objectives was to single out landowners, the rich and corrupt officials and brutally kill them. Something he did with amazing efficiency until the Soviet was crushed by Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces.
What must the current Chinese leadership be thinking when again they see the area of Lufeng at the forefront of anti-official protests? Perhaps the killing in police custody of the village representative, Xue Jinbo, was an attempt to avoid another Peng Pai from arising out of the protests? Is history repeating itself?
Reading foreign news reports about the Yushu earthquake, it was clear that large numbers of Tibetan monks had participated in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the disaster. If, however, you had only relied on the Chinese state media, you would never have known they were there. In a classic case of Communist style photo-shopping that would make Mao proud, the Tibetan monks have been airbrushed from the picture. In the Chinese media, you can only see Han Chinese rescue workers and the Peoples’ Army, rescuing hapless and grateful Tibetans from the ruins.
To add insult to injury, the government is now actually ordering the monks out of Yushu, for fear that these burgundy-clad heroes might become too popular in an area where 97% of the population is ethnically Tibetan. Most of the monks have come from the neighbouring province of Sichuan, from the huge monasteries of Serxu/Serchul and those around Ganzi. These monasteries are known for their devotion to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Something we witnessed last year.
The pity is that the earthquake might have served to bring about a better understanding between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans. Instead, most Chinese will never know that the monks where there helping, and the Tibetans will again feel that the Chinese are now going to move in and control the area even more tightly than before.
There have been very few personal accounts of the tragedy in Yushu. But Losang, the creator of the Land of Snows Website, has written a first- hand account of how he and his family were caught in the earthquake.
The reports I have heard from Yushu say that Thrangu Monastery has been almost completely destroyed and many of the monks are missing.
We spent a wonderful evening at Thrangu Gompa being shown the fantastic murals and wall paintings that had been recently painted by master painters from Tongren. The monks were so enthusiastic and proud of their monastery. We can only hope that they and the paintings have survived.
For anybody who has been following our blog over the last few months, you will know that we were in Yushu and the surrounding area last year. It is one of the most stunning and fascinating areas of China we’ve visited.
It’s difficult to express how we feel at the moment. Sitting here in the comfort of our flat in Madrid, the catastrophe in Yushu seems a world a way, and yet so close. We can only hope that the people we met and their families have survived this tragedy.