Yueyang Tower is a well-known architectural wonder of ancient China. During the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) the Viscount of Ba, his state located on the upper Changiiang (Yangtze) River, often led his armies down the valley to make war on the State of Chu. After these fierce battles the Ba troops buried their dead at a site where the Changjiang passes Lake Dongting. By this grave mound, centuries later, a tower was built.
The first tower was built in 716 A.D. in the Tang dynasty. Standing on the southern side of Mount Tianyue, it was named Yueyang Tower (Tower on the Sunny Side of the Mountain). Rescored in 1045 during the Song dynasty, the tower was, in later years, ruined by floods and by war. In I867 it was finally the west gate of the city which took the tower’s name. The 19-meter-tall 3-storied square tower is made entirely of Wood. Four gigantic red columns of nanmu wood form the core of the tower supporting all three stories. Twenty four outer columns hold up tile ground floor eaves and 12 inner columns, the second story. The edge of the four-sided roof of yellow glazed tiles curves upward, and this design is repeated in the second and first story eaves, giving, the building a soaring grace. The top eaves are supported by interlocking brackets and the Entire structure is mortised together without the benefit of a single nail.
Many legend attach themselves to the Tower and some tell of a man named Lv Dongbin. Lv was a Tang dynasty scholar who, after failing the imperial examinations, became a wandering Taoist priest credited with supernatural powers. When the Tower was under construction there was difficulty in mortising the brackets which were to support the eaves. Lv announced that, if his bills for three months’ lodging and meals were paid, he the tower took up the offer, promising to pay the bills. Lv mortised. The rich man, however, refused to pay Lv’s bills and accused him of being a swindler. When Lv’s innkeeper demanded payment, Lv gave him a wood bolt telling him that if the Yueyang Tower should begin to lean and threaten to collapse, the innkeeper should demand a high price for saving the tower. Lv then disappeared. Shortly afterwards, the Tower did indeed begin to lean. The rich man offered a reward to anyone who could save it and the innkeeper came forward, inserted the bolt into a crack in the structure and collected his reward. The Tower has since that time withstood the tremors of earthquakes.
Another legend ascribed to Lvi Dongbin tells of the carpenters hired to build tile To\vet. Seeing that they were given Nothing to eat but rice Lv threw wood shavings into Lake Doting with some sand to sink them. The shavings turned into a long thin silver-white fish which now flourishes in the lake; the sand grains are especially difficult to wash from their gills.
The Tower is flanked by two pavilions. On the tight is “Drunk Three Times Pavilion”. Preserved here are wooden tablets inscribed with a poem by Lv Dongbin recounting the Plum Pavilion” is on the left. While being rebuilt during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), a stone slab was said to have been sprigs at withered plum flowers, each hearing 24 calyxes. Thinking this the work of fairies, the local people built this pavilion to commemorate the discovery.
The main hall of the Tower houses objects unearthed at Yueyang. Poems and couplets composed by famous writers through the centuries, carved on tablets, are hung on the four walls. Du Fu (712-770), one of China’s greatest pacts, passing by boat, left this famous poem:
Long ago I beard of the Dongting waters,
Today I mount the Sunny T0wer.
The great lake divides the lands of Wu and Chu,
The sun and the moon float before me by day and by night.
Li Bai, a contemporary and an equal of Du Fu wrote this Couplet; it hangs by the third floor window overlooking the Lake:
The waters and skies are of one color
The wind and the moon sail in infinite space.