The ancients in China built many exquisite and tall pavilions, which attracted countless people with lofty ideals to ascend, unburden their hearts and compose poems and fu. Some pavilions become world famous accordingly.
I’ll introduce three historical towers in south China. First is Yueyang Tower. It becomes famous for “Memorial to Yueyang Tower” written by Fan Zhongyan, a famous minister of the Northern Song Dynasty in China.
This carved screen pieced together by 12 pieces of huge rosewood is housed in Yueyang Tower. “Memorial to Yueyang Tower” is carved on it. When was Yueyang Tower, a world famous tower, first built? What was its use at the beginning?
Yueyang Tower located on the city wall of the west gate of the ancient city in Yueyang City, Hunan Province, China. Yueyang Tower faced the Junshan Island and overlooks Dongting Lake, being exquisite and imposing. Since ancient times, it has been enjoying the good reputation that Dongting Lake is the best among lakes, and Yueyang Tower is incomparable among towers. Going to the scenic spot of Yueyang Tower from the south gate, you’ll find well-proportioned pavilions, terraces, and towers. Looking up, you’ll see a pavilion with yellow tiles and overhanging eaves sets the green forest off. Its roof, covered with yellow glazed tiles, has a smooth curve, precipitous yet wrapped, just as the general’s helmet in ancient China covers green pines and cypresses, appearing to be imposing and extraordinarily attractive. This pavilion is the well-known Yueyang Tower. It is the only ancient building with the helmet roof structure in China. Legend has it that this helmet roof was specially designed to commemorate a general of the Three Kingdoms period. Who was this general?
In the 13th year of the Jian’an period in the Eastern Han Dynasty, namely, AD 208, in the famous Battle of the Red Cliff, Lu Su, the senior general of Eastern Wu, contributed to the alliance of Sun Quan and Liu Bei. The allied forces of Sun Quan and Liu Bei launched fire attacks on 8000,000 soldiers of the troops of Cao Cao in the Red Cliff, namely today’s Chibi City, Hubei Province, China, thus forming the tripartite confrontation of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu from then on. Later, Sun Quan of Eastern Wu dispatched Lu Su to lead troops to defend Baqiu, so as to scramble for Jingzhou with Liu Bei. Baqiu at that time is Yueyang later. Lu Su built Yuejun Tower on the top of the city wall by Dongting Lake to train and review the navy. Yuejun Tower is imposing. If you ascend it to look far into the distance, you can have a panoramic view of Dongting Lake. Yuejun Tower was the former Yueyang Tower. Under the Yueyang Gate and by Dongting Lake, the site of the Call-officers-roll Platform where Lu Su reviewed the navy of Eastern Wu at that time is like an ancient gate tower which has experienced many vicissitudes of life when seen from afar. It quietly waits by Dongting Lake, witnessing the constant change of events and the rise and fall of the water for thousands of years.
The verses that “the waters around Dongting Lake are covered by steam, and the rolling waves shock Yueyang City” 气蒸云梦泽，波撼岳阳城。by Meng Haoran and “the vast waters cover an area of 1,000 lies, and layer upon layer of mountains are as tall as 100 floors” 江国逾千里，山城仅百层。by Du Fu in the Tang Dynasty describe here. In “Baling Country Annals” its name is Yueyang, and it was first built in the Han and Jin dynasties. Since Yueyang Tower was built, it has enjoyed a history of over 1,700 years so far. It was destroyed and rebuilt amid wind and rain. Looks in Five Dynasties of Yueyang Tower are located in the scenic spot of Yueyang Tower. By bronze miniature casting, they represent Yueyang Tower in the Tang唐, Song宋, Yuan元, Ming明 and Qing清 Dynasty. The existing Yueyang Tower was built in the 6th year of the Guangxu period in the Qing Dynasty, namely 1880.
In 1983, according to the principle of remaining old as before, it was pulled down for an overhaul, and the original art style and architectural feature of the Qing Dynasty were kept. The current Yueyang Tower is of a pure wood structure. The main tower is 19.42 m. it has three layers of overhanging eaves. Four nanmu hypostyle columns in the tower go straight to the roof of the tower. To commemorate Lu Su, the famous general of Eastern Wu, the roof of Yueyang Tower is designed into helmet roof held by ruyi bracket system. Ruyi bracket system under helmet roof is in the shape of a honeycomb, being dainty and exquisite. Three layers of overhanging eaves set off the helment roof. Looking like a rock spreading its wings and flying up. This roof structure in the shape of the general’s helmet in ancient times is unique in the ancient Chinese architectural history. Helmet roof adds heroic spirit to the elegant and graceful Yueyang Tower and manifests the majestic and exquisite Yueyang Tower.
Before the Tang Dynasty in China, Yueyang Tower was mainly used for the military. After the Tang Dynasty, it gradually became a famous scenic spot where men of letters chanted poetry and composed fu. Li Bai, a poet of the Tang Dynasty, drank against the wind and wrote: “The water and the sky merge in one color, and the wonders of natural beauty are boundless.” Du Fu, another poet of the Tang Dynasty, ascended Yueyang Tower while ill and wrote the famous verse through the ages that “I heard of Dongting Lake before, and now I ascend Yueyang Tower ”
However, it was Fan Zhongyan, a famous minister of the Song Dynasty, that really made Yueyang Tower world famous. Fan Zhongyan was a famous politician, strategist, and litterateur of the Northern Song Dynasty. His father died when he was young, so his family was as poor as a church. He still studied under the tough environment. Through hard self-study, in the spring of 1015 AD, Fan Zhongyan passed the imperial examination and became an advanced scholar. After he served the court, he took worrying care about the people’s hardships and was famous for straightness. Therefore, he displeased some noble officers, thus being demoted for many times. In the third year of the Qingli period during the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song, namely 1043. Fan Zhongyan served as Assistant Administrator equal to the post of vice chancellor. During his tenure, he boldly put toward many reform measures such as being strict with official system.paying attention to farming and sericulture, reorganizing military forces, carrying out legal systems and reducing corvee. They were implemented nationwide with the approval of Emperor Renzong of Song. It is called “The Qingli Reforms” in history.
However, good times didn’t last long, in the fifth year of the Qingli period, namely 1045 AD. Fan Zhongyan was dismissed from his post of Assistant Administrator and demoted to Deng Prefecture, today’s Deng County, Henan Province because the reform viewpoint he proposed influenced the interests of the conservative party of the court. One day in the sixth year of the Qingli period, namely 1046 AD. Fan Zhongyan heard from his good friend Teng Zijing suddenly. In the letter, Teng Zijing said has was demoted to Yueyang and served as a magistrate. He planned to have Yueyang Tower rebuilt. So he invited Fan Zhongyan to write a memorial article. “Painting of Autumn Night by Dongting Lake ” 洞庭晚秋图 was also attached. After hearing from Teng Zijing, Fan Zhongyan had a complex feeling. Unexpectedly, his good friend Teng Zijing also suffered the same hardship. He expressed his emotion with landscapes to console his old friends: “They didn’t joy or sorrow because of the stand or fall of exterior objects and the personal gain or loss, When they were in high position at the court, they would worry about the people, when they were far away from the capital, they would worry about the Emperor. ” 不以物喜，不以己悲，居庙堂之高则忧其民，处江湖之远则忧其君。At the same time, he also expressed his ideal wish: “To be the first to worry and to be the last to enjoy pleasure in the world is our credo.” 先天下之忧而忧，后天下之乐而乐。On September 15 that year, Fan Zhongyan wrote down the eternally famous article. “Memorial to Yueyang Tower.” 岳阳楼记。Today, through the Song palace painting “Painting of Yueyang Tower” kept in the library of Peking University, we can feel the majestic appearance of Yueyang Tower in the Song Dynasty.
The subtle point of this though is just showed in his viewpoint of worrying about the country and the people and being loyal to the emperor yet worrying about the people. Being loyal to the emperor is his fundament, worrying about the people is his mood. In his childhood, he could deeply feel, the common people’s hardships, so he loved and esteemed the common people deeply. Shuanggong Temple was built just to commemorate Fan Zhongyan and Teng Zijing. It imitated the Ming and Qing construction style of the temple of northern Hunan with white walls and gray tiles. Entering through the gate of Shuanggong Temple, you can see the bronze statues of Fan Zhongyan and Teng Zijing. Sitting in the hall straightly, they talk about the past and today freely and share worries and pleasure with each other.
Yueyang Tower is famous for “Memorial to Yueyang Tower” written by Fan Zhongyan. Fan Zhongyan’s feeling of worrying about the country and the people and the spirit of sparing no effort in the performance of his duty inspire generations of generation Chinese. Yueyang Tower is also famous for the well-known verses written by Fan Zhongyan: “To be the first to worry and to be the last to enjoy pleasure in the world is our credo.” 先天下之忧而忧，后天下之乐而乐。 Yueyang Tower which has gone through vicissitudes now still attracts people to ascend to look far and think of the past and today.