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Early History
Warring States (475-221 BCE) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


The particular landscape that is the focus of this digital ethnography surrounds the course of the Longxi river, from its headwaters in the north at White Horse Spring down to its junction with the Qingyi River to the south, in the city of Ya’an.  The Longxi River valley is bound by Mengding Mountain to the east, which separates the valley from the hills descending eastward to the Chengdu Basin, and by Luochun Mountains to the west, beyond which are ever-higher mountain ridges ascending to the Tibetan plateau.  To understand the early history of this landscape, we must place it within the broader Ya’an region, and against the sometimes-dim backdrop of a long period of human habitation in that region.

Recent archaeological discoveries in the Ya’an region have pushed back the horizon of settlement to the Late Paleolithic period.  Stone artifacts and village sites unearthed in Fulin township along the Dadu River in Hanyuan County, termed “Fulin (富林) culture,” are believed to date from 20,000 years ago, a discovery that supports the theory of multiple points of cultural origin in China. 1   Over the region encompassing the Dadu and Qingyi River drainages, 37 sites from the Neolithic period have been discovered. Even in mountainous areas, Neolithic sites have been found to contain house foundations strikingly similar to the architectural style used by ethnic Tibetans in the same region today.2  Together these findings suggest a relatively stable pattern of settlement over a long period of time, and thus that habitation of the Ya’an region substantially predates ethnic Han expansion into the area; the people who used to live here were the Qiang people.

In the historical record, the first references to Ya’an refer to the region as the “Qiang state” (Qiang guo羌国).  The Qiang are an ethnic group that still exists in Sichuan, in a small area around Wenchuan, squeezed into rocky, mountainous, marginal land between the Han dominated Chengdu basin and the high plateau occupied by Tibetans.  The reference to Qiang in the early history of Ya’an most likely refers to a proto-Tibetan people who eventually retreated under Han pressure to the high plateaus of Eastern Tibet / Western Sichuan, now the Aba and Ganzi Tibetan autonomous areas contiguous with modern Ya’an to the west (and historically part of the administrative unit of Yazhou, especially under the Qing dynasty).  Chinese secondary sources tend to link the cultural development of the Qiang in Ya’an with the Late Neolithic and early Bronze Age civilization of Sanxingdui (三星堆)discovered in the Chengdu basin county of Guanghan.  The consensus of these accounts is that tribes of the Qiang occupied Ya’an, first as part of the Shu kingdom of the early Sanxingdui culture, and then later became influenced by the dominant Han culture of the North China plain.  Qian Muwu, for example, cites the conventional view that,  


[I]n the first stage of the Sanxingdui culture (4800-4000 BCE) the first King of the ancient Shu(蜀) state governed the Sichuan basin. At that time the Ya’an area was also governed and influenced by him. According to the “History of Huayang State”(an ancient state situated on the south side of Hua Mountain), written by Chang Zhu of the Jin Dynasty: “the first king of ancient Shu, named Can Cong (蚕丛 meaning “silkworm jungle”), lived in a stone room in Mengding Mountain, and when he died, he buried himself in a stone coffin. His countrymen followed him.” The remains of Can Cong culture still can be found in the Ya’an area. There existed [sic.] a stone room at the top of Mengding Mountain (蒙顶山). There were unearthed three stone coffins in various places of Ya’an. Besides the world-shaking Wang Hui stone coffin [from the Later Han], there were unearthed in Yingjing (永经)county and in Hanyuan(汉源)county, two stone coffins of the pre-Qin period (先秦时期 i.e. before 221 BCE).
In the period of the Warring States (475-221 BCE) or the second stage of the Sanxingdui culture, the advanced Du Yu clan of the Qiang people, influenced by the agricultural culture of the Central China Plains, came from Shaanxi to Chengdu, the capitol of the ancient Shu state, to teach the people here how to engage in agriculture. Hence King Du Yu (杜宇 “cukoo bird” in Chinese), whose surname was Jiang, was supported by the native people as the fourth emperor of the ancient Shu State. One spring, [the] Jiang [clan] came to the Qingyi River valley to teach people there how to be farmers and enjoy the support of a state. Because the Du Yu wore the green clothing of the Zhou emperor [i.e. Duyu received the ritual green clothing as a token of vassalage to the Zhou], the state was named the “Qingyi (green clothing) Qiang State”(青衣羌). Now we can still see the site of the ruins of [the] Jiang capitol in Lushan (芦山)county, Ya’an. 3


These conclusions concerning the early ethno-history of the Ya’an region are based on fleeting references in ancient texts, and require certain inferences drawn from the origins of place names.  Supporting archaeological evidence from the period at least suggests that Han culture had a strong influence on the Qiang in this period, particularly in their adoption of sedentary agriculture.  It is also clear that Lushan was the most significant political and commercial center in Ya’an during the period from the Warring States (475-221 BCE) through the first empire under the Qin and Han Dynasties. 
Under the Qin state and the Early Han Dynasty, Lushan (then known as Qingyi Dao青衣道) was the military and administrative center of the Western Shu commandery.  As the empire expanded under Emperor Wudi, Lushan was the launching point for general Sima Xiang’s expeditions against “barbarians of the Southwest.”  In 97 BCE Lushan was put under military control and divided into two administrative districts under the Shu commandery, one (the “Qingyi district”) for Han Chinese, and one (the “yak district”) for non-Han ethnic groups.4  This move was probably prompted by the social friction arising from Han expansion into what had previously been a Qiang or proto-Tibetan region.  Ya’an’s early history thus underscores its importance as a border region with Tibet, with the military forces suggesting Han expansion, but also the theme of cultural transmission through mutual cooptation5 and ethnic commingling.  This theme—one that can only be surmised in the Warring States and Early Han—becomes more pronounced in the Later Han, evidence from which infers the earlier beginnings of trends then in full effect.

Ya’an during the Later (Eastern) Han dynasty was both a frontier garrison and an important part of the trade route now termed the “Southwest silk road.”  Throughout the region, the historical record inscribed in the landscape comes to the surface and becomes more dense and legible in this period.  Two important historical sites that remain from the Later Han are Lushan’s Fanming bei, a stone tablet inscribed to honor an important local official, and Gaoyi que, a “watchtower” monument to imperial authority located just outside the town of Ya’an itself.  Both sites contain skillfully wrought stone inscriptions and carvings, including stone lions and tortoises as well as que watchtowers, that together convey a sense of awe and respect before the symbols of imperial power.6  Both sites also are situated in strategic positions along the Qingyi River, defending key passes separating the Ya’an region from the Chengdu basin.  The inscription on Fanming bei shows that Lushan continued as the center of imperial authority in Ya’an during the Later Han by being the headquarters of the Western Shu Commandery.  The official commemorated in the inscription, Fan Ming, was a native son of Lushan, but he served as the high official (taishou) in charge of the Ba Commandery in Eastern Sichuan. There, as in the Shu region, managing “barbarians” on the frontier was the taishou’s main responsibility, a task Fan was said to have performed “in an upright, outstanding, and meticulous fashion.”7  The fact that such an illustrious official family lived in Lushan points to full Han control, and to a firmly established presence in the Ya’an region as a whole.

Han imperial power—and ethnic Han cultural influence—radiated out from these military garrisons, extending deep into the mountains on the edge of the Tibetan plateau (in today’s Baoxing county).8  Excavations in Longdong township during the 1980s unearthed stone coffins contemporaneous with the well-known Wang Hui stone coffin (dated to 183CE) in Lushan.  On the mountainside above this archaeological site, in the village of Xianrenping, are the remains of three tombs constructed of bricks, also dating to the Later Han Dynasty.  These bricks, embossed with distinctive geometrical patterns, are similar to those found throughout the Sichuan region, but they incorporate a unique wheel-like symbol associated with the Qiang.9  It is unclear whether the tombs were built by Han Chinese using local Qiang iconography, or by Qiang people influenced by Han construction and burial practices.  In either case, the tombs suggest the cultural exchange that accompanied military expansion in this frontier region. Just above the tombs is the foundation of a Tibetan-style stone stupa, dating from a later era and still used as a place of worship by the local Han Chinese inhabitants of Xianrenping in modern times—further evidence of the commingling of different ethnicities and cultures in particular places of the frontier landscape.

Many of the Later Han era tombs, inscribed tablets, and stone carvings in Ya’an speak to its importance as a military frontier, but it was also traversed by an important trade route that served to knit the region together, and to bind it to the imperial and cultural center. The Southwest Silk Road carried Chinese goods from Chengdu through Qionglai to Lushan, Feixian pass, Yingjing, and Hanyuan in the Ya’an region, and thence on to Xichang in Southern Sichuan, Yunnan Province, Burma, eventually reaching India. A stone inscription rediscovered in 2004 in Yingjing county (known in Han times as Yan Dao 严道) gives evidence that this ancient trade route was maintained by imperial officials during the Later Han (and confirms that the Southwest Silk Road in Ya’an is now retraced by National Highway 108).10  The inscription records the efforts of the Shu Commandery taishou, surnamed He, who in 57 CE constructed a zhandao plank road suspended on a cliff face by beams mortised into the rock.  The extent of the expenditures and high level of official administration in the road’s construction, as well as the settlement pattern of county seats and market towns along the longer route, all indicate that trade along the Southwest Silk Road was a major influence shaping the early development of the region.11

The town of Ya’an itself was out of the mainstream traced by the archaeological and historical records of the Later Han. Routes of the Southwest Silk Road bypassed what later became Ya’an County, following instead the Luochun Mountain path through Lushan, or the Flying Dragon Pass on to Yingjing.  Present-day Ya’an’s earliest settlement was a Han military camp at Duoying (literally, “many tents”) that guarded a key juncture on the Qingyi River. As the Han dynasty fell and China entered a four-century period of disunity, the Liao people (migrating from Guizhou) settled in the area and gradually mixed with the ethnic Han population.  Toward the end of this period another town, Shiyang, grew up at the foot of Ya’an Mountain, but the area as a whole was only loosely connected to any central authority until the imperial presence returned under the Sui (581-618CE) and Tang (618-907) dynasties.  In 604 the Sui Dynasty reasserted ethnic Han political control by establishing Yazhou (雅州) as the new regional political center in the second empire.12  Local gazetteers recount the building of city walls and re-establishment of the Commandery (changed, in the late Tang, to county) system of administration, but now formerly central places, such as Lushan and Yingjing, were placed under the political control of Yazhou, with officials presiding in Duoying.

While Ya’an became the new administrative center, older patterns and places continued to develop.  Trade on the Southwest Silk Road intensified under the Tang, and the new religion of Buddhism flourished along its routes, particularly in key mountain passes and river crossings where travelers funneled through on their journeys.  This interconnection of trade and pilgrimage shaped Yazhou in physical and conceptual ways.  Buddhist temples, monasteries, and rock carvings along the Southwest Silk Road served to layer a web of sacred meaning onto the landscape, and to define places by giving them name and narrative.  It is through the placement of these religious sites that we can follow the development of the Southwest Silk Road from its origins in the Han to its height in the Tang Dynasty.  Thus Buddhist rock carvings trace an arc from Mingshan, through Lushan, and on south to Yingjing—all places that have significant extant relics from the Later Han Dynasty, as well.13

Just as imperial political authority in the Han Dynasty was communicated by the placement of military garrisons guarding key passes and tablet inscriptions commemorating official achievements, during the Tang Dynasty Buddhist rock carvings on riverside cliffs and mountain precipices communicated religious teachings to illiterate travelers.  On the road that entered Yazhou from the Chengdu basin to the East through present-day Pujiang County, for example, the rock carvings of Feixian ge and Kandeng shan (865CE) presented hundreds of larger-than-life Buddha figures, as well as images of disciples, bodhisattvas, and fierce guardian spirits.14  The carvings constitute a diorama of religious teachings, each set of figures representing a story from the Buddha’s life, or a particular sermon or event, with hand gestures and iconography that served as mnemonic signs conveying religious meaning. 

The Tang cliff carvings naturalized and localized the Buddhist religion; at the same time, they sacralized the local landscape. There are many examples of natural features imbued with religious significance in Yazhou of the Tang era.  In the Longxi river valley that is the focus of this project, the headwaters of the river to the North at White Horse Spring was made a holy site in the Tang, as were the peaks of the Mengding and Jinfeng mountains (marking the valley’s borders to the East and South, respectively), where temples were first built in this period.  Thus contemporary senses of place have their roots in the Buddhist religious topography first established during the Tang.

We have only glimpses of what the area might have looked like one thousand years ago.  A Tang era official wrote a poem commemorating his passing the imperial examinations, a feat he attributed to the “voices in the waters” of the Penjiang, one of four rivers running through the town of Ya’an.  The scene he evokes is one of communion with pristine nature, but we also know that the region was considered a strategic storehouse of exploitable natural resources.  An imperial edict issued by the Tang Emperor Taizong in 648 mandated that ships be constructed in Yazhou, and appointed the general Zhang Shigui leader of a force to pacify the Western barbarians. This order suggests the importance of the Western Frontier as a source of good timber (especially Chinese fir), a rapidly dwindling resource in the more heavily populated East during the economic revolution of the ensuing Song era.15  

Yazhou of the second (Tang-Song) empire was still very much a frontier region.  From 779 to 964 CE, as the Tang dynasty declined, the area was frequently overrun by invading armies of the expansive Tubo (Tibetan) Empire to the west and the Nanzhao kingdom to the south.  Chinese administrative control was reasserted in the Song dynasty, and the seat of Yazhou was transferred from Duoying to the present-day location of the town of Ya’an (formerly Shiyang)—a move characteristic of the urban development during the Song period.16 Beginning in 1070, Ya’an became an important outpost on the new “tea-horse” trade route (茶马古道), in which Chinese tea was exchanged for Tibetan horses.17  While the mainstream of the Song economic revolution—particularly irrigation techniques and improved rice strains—seem to be largely absent in Yazhou of that era, the cultivation of the native tea plant did have a major economic impact that began to transform the landscape through intensive garden-style farming, and through the establishment of towns as marketing centers and service waypoints on the tea-horse trade route.  Here we see the early development of a cash economy in which farmers supplement their subsistence agriculture with both tea as a cash crop and wage labor as bearers in the tea trade.  The trade itself was managed by the Song state through a warehouse distribution system and letters of credit.  These innovations of the 11th century mark the beginnings of the late-imperial economic system that endured well into the 20th century.18  

The tea-horse trade was more than a state-run economic system; it was also a strategy for pacification of the Tibetan threat, and for strengthening the empire with resources (in this case, horses) exploited from the Western Frontier.  This pacification strategy was typical of Song-era bureaucratic approaches to affairs of state, a method that was also applied to the regulation of the landscape through the construction of state-cult temples—a reinforcement of the imperial bureaucracy through placement of sacred counterparts.19  Officials in the county seats of Yazhou during the Song built wenmiao ( 文庙 temples to honor Confucius), as well as other temples commemorating historical figures who were great military heroes or upright officials of antiquity.20  Again taking Lushan as an example, the county official xxx built the wenmiao during the reign of the Zhaoxing emperor of the Southern Song (i.e. sometime between 1131-1162).  The wenmiao provided “literary” (wen, 文) balance to the martial (wu,武) valor commemorated in the Pingxiang lou (平襄楼, built in the Northern Song), a temple to the general Jiang Wei (姜维)of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) who was thought to have established a settlement in Lushan.21  Over all of Yazhou, the gazetteers record the building of “bureaucratic” temples (miao) and ancestral temples (ci) during the Song, but no Buddhist temples (si) were built during this period, and there is evidence that Buddhism was in decline, with monastic property confiscated by the state.22  In contrast to the sacralization of nature in the Buddhist temples of the Tang—indeed, in conscious opposition to Buddhism—Song bureaucrats sought to imprint the settled landscape of towns and villages with a standardized, rational, and nativist sacred hierarchy of officialdom.

Ethnic Han political control of the frontier increased under the reign of the first Ming emperor, Hongwu.  The city walls of Ya’an were reconstructed in 1368 and, more importantly, the South Sichuan Road connecting Ya’an with the provincial capital of Chengdu was officially opened in 1376 (Ya’an shizhi 1996, 2-9).   The Ming period saw an intensification of earlier trends in the Tang-Song, including the building of irrigation canals and temples (both Buddhist and “official”), which in turn suggests a more dense settlement of the landscape.  Buddhism returned to favor under the Ming.23  Many temples that had fallen into disrepair were rebuilt, and new temples and cliff carvings began to penetrate areas hitherto outside the main established trade routes.  The Lushan county gazetteer records the rebuilding or new construction of seven Buddhist temples during the Ming, a pattern repeated across the Yazhou region.24  In Ya’an, Jinfeng si on the mountain overlooking the town was revived, and in the city itself Yuexing si, built in the Ming, occupied a prominent position next to the wenmiao and city god (chenghuang) state-cult temples.25  Both temples in Ya’an bear witness to the continuation of the tea trade with Tibet during the Ming Dynasty; Yuexing si was the first stop in Ya’an for Tibetan travelers into Sichuan, and the religious figures in Jinfeng si are rendered in a mixture of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist styles.26 

In the Longxi River valley, Ming-era Buddhist temple (re)construction and cliff carvings give evidence that the area was home to a significant population, linked to the town of Ya’an by a stone paved road following the course of the river.  In addition to the revival of Jinfeng temple on the southern boundary of the valley, and the rebuilding of the temple at White Horse Spring on the north (in xxx), by the end of the Ming a new Buddhist temple, Bifeng si built in xxx, marked the valley’s Western rim, at a key mountain-top juncture above the point where the river flowed down out of the broad uplands into a narrow mountainous gorge.  In the valley’s middle reaches, carvings at Thousand Buddhas Cliff (Qianfo yan ) were completed between 1542 and 1560.   A smaller Guanyin shrine, cut in a rock outcrop in xxx, was placed to protect the road as it passed through a narrow gorge high above the river.  These Ming carvings in the Longxi River valley are different in scale and appearance from those of the Southwest Silk Road carved during the Tang: the figures are cruder, more “sinified” (e.g. the prominence of Guanyin and the “laughing Buddha” Mile fo) and share space with non-Buddhist icons—in sum reflecting the full domestication of Buddhism by the late Ming and its absorption into folk culture.  More importantly, perhaps, the inscriptions at each of these new temple and carving sites indicate that they were built through contributions of local families, rather than by official decree.  Thus we have evidence that, in the Ming, popular participation in the shaping of the landscape was as important as official action, at least in the core areas of Yazhou closest to Ya’an such as the Longxi River valley.

Imperial power did not wane or retreat during the Ming; on the contrary, officials in Yazhou remained committed to defending the frontier, regulating trade, developing infrastructure, and building temples honoring the sacred bureaucracy—and thereby buttressing their own authority.  The most significant new “official” temples emerging in Yazhou under the Ming were dedicated to the cult of Li Bing, the Qin Dynasty official who, in 347 BCE, built the Dujiangyan irrigation system that transformed the Chengdu basin into an extraordinarily fertile agricultural region.27  The cult’s central temple on the Min River in Dujiangyan, called Er Lang miao (in honor of Li Bing and his son Er Lang, who finished his father’s hydraulic engineering project) was first established in the fifth century on the old site of the temple to Du Yu, King of the Qiang state.  This central Er Lang miao was substantially expanded and given imperial sanction in xx under the Northern Song, in keeping with that dynasty’s predilection for establishing and regulating temples commemorating upright officials.28 

Although the central temple in Dujiangyan is outside the Yazhou region, in the early Ming branch temples of the Li Bing cult were built under official patronage throughout Yazhou, on key points in the landscape where the god-official could exercise his “dragon taming” (flood control) powers.  The specific names of these local cult temples varied—Er Lang miao, Chuanzhu miao, Chuanzhu gong, Chuanwang gong, Huimin gong—but the names identified Li Bing (and Er Lang) as “master” (zhu) or “king” (wang) of Sichuan, which could also infer “master of rivers” (Chuan), bringing “benefit to the people” (huimin).  All of these temples were placed—like acupuncture points on the geo-body—at either the confluence of river flows, or where a river flowed out of a gorge.  The Yazhou fuzhi (1739) records eight temples of the Li Bing cult in Ya’an county, and the Lushan county gazetteer lists four extant in 1943, including the most important one in the region, the Er Lang miao at Feixian Pass.

Feixian guan or “Flying Immortal Pass” was so named because only a flying immortal could safely traverse the river-bound narrow defile, known as “Great Achievement Gorge” (duogong xia), leading out of the pass.  It was precisely because of this dangerous approach to the pass from downriver to the east that the Han era Southwestern Silk Road bypassed what is today the city of Ya’an in favor of the route through Feixian pass from Lushan to the north. During the early Tang dynasty, for military and administrative purposes29, a plank road suspended along the cliff face was built in 620, allowing direct eastern access to the pass following the course of the Qingyi River, and thereby creating the conditions for building the new administrative centers of Ya’an and Mingshan.  These new settlements became especially important as the tea-horse trade route began going through Feixian pass during the Song Dynasty, adding an east-west trade axis to the much older north-south Southern Silk Road.  Historically, then, Feixian pass was a critical meeting point at the crossing of two trade routes, the juncture of three rivers—the Yunjing, Tianquan, and Qingyi—and the boundary of four counties: Ya’an, Lushan, Yunjing, and Tianquan. 

Feixian pass was also a place that gathered myth and memory.  The “Great Achievement” of Duogong Gorge was said to be the work of the ancient sage emperor Yu, founder of the Xia Dynasty, who dredged the gorge out of the surrounding mountains to channel away floodwaters.  To this hydraulic achievement was added another, legend has it, in the form of Er Lang’s construction of a weir (fifth of the six weirs (lidui ) that composed the Warring States re-engineering of Sichuan) on the same site.  According to the Lushan gazetteer, “ [Er Lang’s] dredging and chiseling of the weir stopped the perils of rushing foam and swept away evil things, an achievement no less than that of Yu.  The temple was built to commemorate this.  Praying for rain in the early morning brings results. ”30 The god-official’s merit continued to exercise power over this liminal and historically saturated place in the landscape.31 

From at least the Song Dynasty onward, there seems to be an insistent line of narrative in local historical consciousness that works to draw the landscape into Han imperial / national storylines.  Part of the settlement process is that Nature is explained, and transformed into place, through reference to established historical figures and events.  Thus the course of the Qingyi River through Ya’an county is bounded on the west by the stories of Yu and Er Lang dredging Great Achievement Gorge, and on the east by Guidufu, an island in the river explained as the fourth weir of Li Bing’s irrigation project.  Narrativization of the landscape is the essence of place: as historical inventions become collective memories they inform self-understanding (identity) even as they transform nature. 

Stories of place served to settle the frontier by connecting the landscape to the imperial center.  This process of narrativization accompanied the displacement of the Qiang people as ethnic Han moved in and began to recreate the environment through the building of towns, temples, roads, fields, and irrigation systems.  Remnant foundations of the ancient Qiang capitol at Lushan, for example, were reinterpreted as the remains of a city built by the great general Jiang Wei of the Kingdom of Shu (dates), an identification of local place with the broader history of Sichuan that was officially sanctioned by the building of the Jiang Wei lou in the Song Dynasty (date).32  Memory of the Qiang people was not erased entirely, however.  One local folk belief maintains that touching certain stones, called tanshen (altar spirits), left by the earlier inhabitants of the area, can cause madness and paralysis.   Here the Qiang people persist as sources of danger, dark gods deeply rooted in the land itself.33

Despite the increasing density of settlement and the transformation of the landscape during the Ming, Yazhou remained an often unstable frontier.  In 1520 six local Tibetan chieftains in Tianquan county rose up in revolt against the Ming.  The “barbarians” attacked eastward and occupied territory in the north of Lushan county, killing the county magistrate’s father (whose heroism later was duly recognized in xxxx by the construction of a temple in his honor).  The fall of the Ming in 1644 brought widespread destruction to Yazhou, as the peasant rebellion led by Zhang Xianzhong took control of Sichuan and declared the “Daxi Dynasty.”  After Zhang’s defeat in 1646, warring armies of Ming loyalists, of the turncoat Ming general Wu Sangui, of local Tibetan chieftains, and of the conquering Manchus continued to fight for control of this borderland region, with full control of the ensuing Qing dynasty established only in 1658.  The result of this continuous warfare was the virtual depopulation of Yazhou. 

The history of Yazhou in the Qing Dynasty begins with its repopulation by migrants from Hubei and Guangxi, and efforts to reconstruct the war torn infrastructure of the region.  In local memory, the devastation wrought by Zhang Xianzhong and the migration form the opening chapter of historical self-understanding.  As that story is recounted in the genealogy of one family from the village of Xiakou:
[Zhu Congde’s story from the Suishen bao]

 

1 cite Cao Hong here, Ya’an wenwu, Qian Muwu

2 personal communication: Dai Qiang, [date]

3 cite Qian and the same story in Cao, 3.  Note that Cao adds that the Jiang clan under Du Yu was referred to in the Huayang text as “rear households” of Spirit Pass in Lushan, from which he infers that those families practicing early agriculture in Lushan were in fact placed there to guard the “back door” mountain pass to the heartland of the Qiang Kingdom in the Chengdu basin.

4 Cao, p.4; Wang, 36

5 Evidence of mutual cooptation: Qingyi Qiang siding with Han during an uprising of tribes bordering the West who made their own imperial claim (Cao, 4); this suggests that, despite tensions between Qiang and Han mentioned above, they could cooperate when it was in their mutual self-interest.

6 Both Fanming bei and Gaoyi que are the work of the same team of artisans led by the master mason Liu??.  The presence of such skilled workmen reinforces the point below that these monuments suggest a well-defined, stable, and enduring Han presence in the region.

7 The inscription text here reads: 有夷,史之直,卓,密之风

8 The frontier boundaries between Han and non-Han ethnicities has been fairly stable from the early Imperial Period of Qin-Han to the present, following the topographical boundary between mountains and plateau.  Thus archaeological excavations on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau and Western heights of the mountains show a striking continuity of Tibetan housing patterns between the early historical period and the present day (personal communication, Dai Qiang, date).

9 The patterns on the Xianrenping bricks are quite similar to others found in Baoxing (Ya’an Diqu Wenwu Zhi, 152-53) and to those found in Lushan to the south. (cite Han Brick book, page).

10 The inscription itself was well-known since the Song Dynasty as an excellent example of Han Dynasty inscribed calligraphy, and facsimiles made from rubbings taken in the Song were reproduced in many calligraphy collections and stone inscribed reproductions, even as the exact location of the original inscription was lost over time. Accounts of the 2004 rediscovery of the immaculately preserved original inscription in the local press (citation) were picked up by international news services (citation). 

11 Other stone tablets dating from the Later Han demonstrate the imperial state’s concern for maintaining roads and bridges.  Two inscriptions (now lost, but the text of which was preserved during the Song) mention the building of a road and a bridge respectively, most likely located near the Feixian pass. (Ya’an Diqu Wenwu zhi, 96-101).

12 The origin of the name “Ya’an” is disputed.  One widely held version traces its origin to the Tibetan words for “five yaks,” underscoring the non-Han Chinese roots of this place. Cao () disputes the story on climatological grounds.

13 The specific sites are, Kandeng shan (865) in Mingshan, Fotu shan in Lushan, and Shifo si (797) in Yingjing.

14 A survey of the Kandeng shan cliff carvings can be found in Ya’an Diqu Wenwu zhi, (113-116).

15 cite Elvin here on Song economic revolution and the scarcity of wood resources.

16 Cao () explains the move from Duoying to Shiyang (the foot of Ya’an mountain) as motivated by the presence of “miasmic vapors” in Duoying, which might have been malaria (Elvin notes similar references to “miasmic vapors”)

17 Paul J. Smith details the Song-era trade in tea and horses and the role of Yazhou in particular as both center of tea production and outpost of trade with Tibetans (1991, 175).

18 cite evidence of the chamagudao in the contemporary era.

19 what xx refers to as the Song-era “regularization of the gods,”

20 The Ganlu temple on Mengding mountain is an interesting example of the euhemerization of secular figures during the Song.  Built in xx to commemorate Wu Lizhen, a local person said to have been the first to domesticate tea, the temple was absorbed into Buddhism in xx, becoming known as XX si.  In distinctively Chinese syncretic fashion, the Song era temple to a sacralized secular figure (Wu Lizhen) was incorporated into the Buddhist pilgrimage tradition of “holy mountains.” 

21 (old) Lushan Xianzhi, 85,106.  The building is extant, and most local historical accounts, bolstered by archaeological evidence, claim that Jiang Wei retreated to Lushan—hence one of its names as “Jiang Cheng”—and made alliances with the local Qiang people.  Cao (yr,p) dismisses these accounts as based on legend, and makes the counter-claim that the name “Jiang Cheng” derives from the surname of the dominant clan of the Qingyi Qiang, from a much earlier period than the Three Kingdoms.

22 cite as evidence of the decline of Buddhism the Guangfu si in Lushan (lishi, 94; xianzhi,?) and Baima chuan.

23 Some of the trends discussed here in terms of the Ming Dynasty began during the preceding Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty, e.g. in Lushan, Qinglong si was built in [Yuan 7], and the earliest known irrigation canal in that county also dates from the Yuan.

24 Lushan Xianzhi x-x

25 Extant buildings from the Ming can be found at both these sites: the Baoguang dian in Jinfeng temple, and Guanyin ge , the only remaining building of the Yuexing temple.

26 The influence of Tibetan Buddhism in Jinfeng si can still be seen today.  In addition to the co-placement of bodhisattvas in Chinese and Tibetan styles, there is also an altar to the main figures of the Tibetan Gelugpa  (Yellow Hat) sect, including the Dalai Lama. Although the latter were added in the Qing Dynasty, the temple’s syncretic style dates from its re-establishment under the Ming.

27 Steven Sage () argues that the Dujiangyan project engineered by Li Bing created the condition for the possibility of China’s unification under the Qin Dynasty.  The grain reserves created in the former Shu state provided the competitive advantage for Qin armies to destroy their rival states and create the first empire.

28 Dujiangyan fengjing mingsheng quzhi, 34-35.

29 The principal reason for constructing the plank road connecting Feixian pass to points directly east was to allow communication between the settlements of Duoying, in today’s Ya’an county, and Shiyang, in today’s Tianquan.  In turn, this administrative imperative stemmed from the military goal of reclaiming the area from the Liao people who had moved into the area after the political disunity and turmoil following the fall of the Han Dynasty.  (Cao, 103).

30 Lushan gazetteer (1942), 119.  [Explain “weir” here and the conjectured existence of six in Sichuan, including two on either end of Ya’an county.]

31 [There are other Yu and Er Lang fables about Feixian guan: question: should there be an artifact page on the Li Bing cult which could include Dujiangyan, Feixian guan Er Lang miao, Guidu fu, with mention of Xiakou Chuanzhu miao?  This could be very effective as a separate essay, maybe in the Belief section? or should it be a separate artifact linked to from this history essay and also the Chuanzhu essay??].  End with something about the interior of the Xinan Chuanwang gong in Lushan, or also put in the Li Bing cult essay?]

32 Lushan xianzhi (77).  Cao (2004,?) debunks the Jiang Wei legend and traces the site’s origins back to the Qiang tribe surnamed Jiang.

33 Tell the story here about Zhu Geliang and the arrow in Er Lang shan?

About This Essay


The Early History of Ya'an

Warring States (475-221 BCE) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

This essay demonstrates how an understanding of the landscape of Ya'an is integral to understanding its early history. It argues that the geographic particularities of this place motivated the efforts of successive Chinese states to control this frontier area, and that those efforts to control the frontier in turn shaped the landscape upon which succeeding generations have built. The sources for the narrative presented here are the historical gazetteers of Ya'an, secondary works in Chinese on local history, and stone inscriptions in the local landscape. John Flower wrote this summary of Ya'an's early history in 2004, during a year-long research leave in Ya'an. Special thanks to Mr. Dai Qiang, Mr. Qian Muwu, Mr. Cao Hong, and Ms. Chen Hua for their help on this essay.