Legendary warrior finally defeated as hero's temple gives way to dam

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 December, 2002, 12:00am

The warrior Zhang Fei is said to have defeated rebels and armies with a 5.5 metre steel spear shaped like a serpent's head.

But the hot-blooded hero of ancient China's Three Kingdoms period could not stop the Three Gorges Dam project.

Workers are dismantling the 1,700-year-old temple dedicated to Zhang Fei stone by stone to make way for the rising waters of the Yangtze River caused by the dam.

Authorities are moving the temple from the old city of Yunyang to a new site more than 30km upstream.

Workers boast it will take only two months to take the structure apart, and they are inviting visitors to attend a grand ceremony to dedicate the relocated temple next August.

'It will be exactly the same as before,' one worker said.

Trucks have already hauled away the statue of Zhang Fei and 600 other sculptures, wood carvings and rock inscriptions.

Some local residents worry that tampering with the temple could raise the ghost of Zhang Fei, whose exploits became legend through the Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The novel describes him as 'a man eight spans tall, with a blunt head like a panther's, huge round eyes, a swallow's heavy jowls, a tiger's whiskers, a thunderous voice and a stance like a dashing horse'.

The Three Kingdoms period from AD 220 to 265 followed the end of the Han Dynasty. Zhang Fei swore allegiance to one of the three kingdoms, the Shu-Han, founded by Liu Bei.

One old woman at the site scolds the workers, repeatedly asking what they have done with the temple.

'Where is the statue of the deity?' she asks in a heavy Chongqing accent. Zhang Fei is worshipped, especially among fishermen, as a god of protection.

An old man who lives in Yunyang on the opposite bank of the river from the temple asks: 'Will the relics be protected?'

State media has described the temple relocation as the largest and most important relic preservation project in the Three Gorges area. The move and reconstruction will cost at least 70 million yuan (HK$65 million).

The government has earmarked 1,087 sites for protection in the Three Gorges area. But critics say the state will only be able to save about 10 per cent of relics.

Since October when the operation began, workers have already taken away the wooden structure of the temple, which once stood on a tree-covered hill overlooking the Yangtze.

Dozens of workers are now removing foundation stones, which they individually number and tie with hemp rope before carefully lowering them by crane into a waiting truck.

The 200,000 tourists who once visited the temple every year are gone. Hawkers and porters sit on the stone steps in the town across from the temple complaining about the lack of business.

A sign on the hill reads 148.4 metres, showing the depth to which the Yangtze River will cover the former site of the temple.