Visiting Chengdu, China
Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
For more Asian American
stories in Wisconsin, click:
As always, I took snap shots as I went along: Interesting people, street vendors, and weird English translations. At one point,
when I passed a grand gate guarded by half a dozen soldiers, I noticed a slogan on the tall, burgundy wall that stated
something along the line of “soldiers are not to be violated!” I thought it was quite odd. Soldiers of the People’s Liberation
Army had always been claimed to be the “sons and brothers of the people.” The signage projected a message that was
foreign to me. I took out my small point-and-shoot camera and wanted to take a photo of the slogan. I heard a loud shouting
even before the cover of my camera opened.

“No photo taking!” a uniformed soldier by the gate shouted in a fierce voice.

I was surprised by the hostility. Just as I was about to put away my camera, another soldier ran to me in record speed. There
was no sign indicating what organization was behind the gate and no language stating photos are prohibited. Besides, the
place was very close to the center of town. My puzzled look didn’t slow down the soldier’s demand to take a look at my
camera. I showed him the last photo I took: a white-haired dog wearing four little red shoes. I felt sorry for the cute little
creature and took a picture of him or her as we were waiting to cross a street. The man who was holding the dog leash
appeared pleased with his extra “care.”  The soldier seemed to be satisfied with what he saw and ran back to his position. I
walked on, feeling offended by the rude treatment. I asked a street vendor half a block away what was behind the tall walls
and guarded gate.

“It’s the army,” she said without lifting her head.

I sought solace in my next stop, Qing Yang Si, a Taoist temple. The walled area was much larger than I expected, with
meticulously maintained gardens, pavilions, courtyards, and temples that contained numerous statues of Taoist immortals.
The symbol of Ba Gua, the eight trigrams which was explained in I Ching, an ancient divinatory text, was mounted on the
walls, carved into the concrete platforms, and even shaped on the bushes. Visitors burned incense and kowtowed on the
cushions placed in front of the immortals. There was a sense of peace and reverence in the air. I lingered much longer here,
examining the images of the deities that I had heard of in bits and pieces over the years.   

However, the place that truly struck a chord in my heart was the “Thatched Cottage of Du Fu.”

Du Fu (712-770) is one of the most well-known poets in China. He lived in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and moved to
Chengdu at 47.  He built a hut in the then outskirts of the city, which he fondly referred to as his “thatched cottage.” He spent
about four years there, composing more than 240 poems, a most productive period of his life. I was first exposed to Du Fu’s
poems when I was a child. Today, children in China start learning his poems in elementary school, if not earlier. His
classical, rhymed poems are powerful, expressive, and soul-touching. Du Fu’s poems reflected everyday life and events, and
he was considered by many as a “social historian.” I was struck with awe as I stood in the rehabilitated “cottage,” imagining
this great poet, a genius, once walked the same ground.

In one exhibition hall, a life-size Du Fu stood in front of a horse-pulled cart. It was during the period of An Shi Rebellion (755-
763). The eight-year war was brutal, claiming the lives of 32 million people, two-thirds of China’s population at the time. On
the wall behind Du Fu was a painting of a battleground, accompanied by his famous poem about the war written at this
cottage:
       
Spring View
The nation has fallen, the mountains and rivers still stand;
Spring greens the trees and grasses in town.
Flower petals shed tears of sorrow;
Birds’ chirpings startle the souls at parting.
Turmoil of war goes on three months in a row;
A letter from home is worth a fortune in gold.
Scratching the white locks makes them thinner;
A hairpin can hardly be held in place.

I remember reciting the poem as a child and revisiting it numerous times as an adult. But standing there next to Du Fu’s
statue, I felt the power of the words and the emotion of the poet more than I had ever before. Tears welled up in my eyes.
I wanted to check out every pavilion, garden, exhibition hall and pagoda surrounding the “cottage,” an area of 59 acres. Three
hours later, I was still walking back and forth. I captured many photos of tall bamboos, ponds full of golden fish, and well-kept
bonsais, along with hangings of Du Fu’s poems in beautiful calligraphy and huts and cottages built in the style of the Tang
Dynasty. As the time came for me to return to the hotel for my evening activities, I found myself reluctant to leave.

There are so many other places in the city that I wanted to see. At the end of the day, I was only able to check off three
attractions on my list, which left me with a strong desire to return for another visit, hopefully in the near future.
Jian Ping
Mao at WangFu Square
Du Fu and his poem Spring View; (Below) Du Fu's
thatched cottage
By Jian Ping

Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, is located
in the southwest of China. I made an unexpected
stop at the city during my recent trip to China. A
flight delay resulted in my arrival at Chengdu
Airport after midnight. Since I only had one full day
in the city, a place known for its rich culture and
beauty, I set out from my hotel early the following
morning for my exploration. Armed with a detailed
city map, I ambitiously marked six places that I
wanted to visit.
I took the subway to Wang Fu Square, the center of the city. I had never
been to this part of the country before so I was surprised to see a large
statue of Mao extending his waving arm toward the large square when I
emerged from the underground. As in any other cities in China,
construction cranes were visible in every direction. I wondered what Mao
would be thinking if he, not his statue, were watching such drastic changes.

The first site that I stopped by was the Wide and Narrow Alleys, an area
which is set up for tourists. The concept was quite similar to that of “Tian Zi
Fang” in Shanghai or “Hutong” in Beijing, with local street settings and
building structures. The walls of the houses and courtyards were built with
traditional gray bricks, and the gates, heavy wood, topped with curved tiles.
But despite the man-made old aura, the inside of the cafes and restaurants
along the alleys were contemporary, giving the place a sense of “dual,” if
not conflicted, realities. Everything is commercialized and seemingly proud
to be so. One store even names itself “Zhui Yin Zu,” “Silver Seekers.” A
small board, which was placed out front, declared in crippled handwriting:
“Father’s love is limitless; Mother’s love is boundless.” Under the line was
a for-sale announcement of 20 percent off on its entire jewelry inventories.
The message couldn’t be more bluntly presented.   

As I walked toward my next destination, I couldn’t help noticing how
fashionable the young women were in the streets, nicely fitted clothes, high
heels, and even visible tattoos. Many were talking on their cell phones
while walking. Even young mothers with small children at their heels
dressed themselves smartly.