Hydraulic engineer and his humble temple

2016-10-27 14:57 千龙网

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On top of the hill next to the southeast exit of Jishuitan subway station perches a small temple called “Huitongci”. The temple overlooks the open water of Xihai lake and its surroundings which form a serene world quite different from the hustle and bustle of the second ring road nearby. Today the temple is home to the memorial of Guo Shoujing, a prestigious Chinese scientist in astronomy and hydraulics of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

A stone path on the small hill outside exit C of Jishuitan subway station leads to Huitongci. [Photo/Qianlong]


In ancient times, Beijing was rich in water resources and there were six large waters, namely Xihai, Houhai, Qianhai, Beihai, Zhonghai and Nanhai from north to south. The inlet of Jishuitan, as the throat of six waters, occupied a key position in the city. Thus people made an islet out of stones and installed under it a water gate to regulate water flow. They also built a temple called Zhenshui Guanyin’an (Temple of Avalokiteshvara in Charge of Water), the predecessor of today’s Huitongci on the hill on the islet.

The facade of Tuitongci. [Photo/Qianlong]

It is said that the history of Huitongci can be traced back to Emperor Yongle’s reign (1404-1424) in the Ming Dynasty. Once known as Zhenshui Guanyin’an or Fahua Temple, the temple changed its name to Huitongci after it was rebuilt in 1761.

Another saying goes that the buildings of Huitongci were first built in the Yuan Dynasty and they were where Guo Shoujing worked when he was in charge of the construction and designing of hydraulic projects then. Whatever the temple originated from, it was dismantled in 1970s to give way to subway construction, and the temple we can see today was built in 1988 according to its former architectural form.

A pair of stone lions stand outside Huitongci. [Photo/Qianlong]

Walking up the stone steps of a path which zigzags up the hill outside Exit C of Jishuitan subway station, you could get to Huitongci easily under the guidance of signposts. A quaint building with a traditional Chinese grey roof, red walls, a white arch and two red doors emerges in front of you. As you approach it by mounting the last stone staircase, you will find the three Chinese characters “Hui Tong Ci” (from right to left) carved in the stone above the arch and golden characters in a horizontal black wooden plaque which read “Guo Shoujing Memorial” on your left sheltered by leaves before.

The plaque of Guo Shoujing Memorial on the exterior wall of Huitongci. [Photo/Qianlong]

After entering the temple through the entrance, you will find it looks like a courtyard house except that there is no room in the south but gates, and an independent front hall in the yard. Of course, there are other signs like the ridge beasts that suggest the building complex is not an ordinary one. There are three rooms in the east and west respectively and a back hall of three rooms in the north. Exhibition on Guo Shoujing is divided into different parts like “Water control in Dadu”, “Astronomical surveying and calendar creation”, and “Jishuitan in the Yuan Dynasty” which are put on in different rooms.

An exhibition room inside Huitongci.  [Photo/Qianlong]

Visitors to the museum can learn about the life story of Guo Shoujing, the water system and hydraulic projects of Beijing in ancient times as well as astronomical knowledge despite its relatively small size.

Life stories of Guo Shoujing are written on a side wall of the front hall inside Huitongci. [Photo/Qianlong]

Guo Shoujing

Confucius once said: "How could we call a room humble as long as there is a virtuous man in it?" Similarly, how could we call Huitongci a humble temple since it houses a memorial of such a great man as Guo Shoujing.

A statue of Guo Shoujing at the foot of the hill where Huitongci is located. [Photo/Qianlong]

Guo Shoujing was born in Xingtai, Shunde (today’s Xingtai in Hebei province) in 1231. He was first taught by his grandfather Guo Rong, a reputable scholar with expertise in the Five Classics, astronomy, mathematics and hydrotechnics, and later went to learn from Liu Bingzhong, an important counselor of Kublai Khan, a famous scholar then and Guo Rong’s good friend. Guo was smart and hardworking and already good at practice in his teens when he made a complicated water clock after working out its working principle only according to a picture left from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

Xihai and its surroundings to the southeast of Jishuitan subway station. [Photo/Qianlong]

As an adult, Guo became a hydraulic engineer and participated in many water control projects and made on-the-spot water resources surveys. Supported by the Yuan’s imperial court, Guo went to today’s Ningxia to repair and dredge the ancient channels in the region in 1264. The project greatly benefited the farmland irrigation there and thus Guo won the appreciation of the local people.

People in leisure at the foot of the hill where Huitongci is located. [Photo/Qianlong] 

However, Guo’s most well-known water control project was Tonghui Canal. After the grains and materials produced in the south were transported through waterway to the Yuan capital Dadu, today’s Beijng, they could only reach Tongzhou rather than the city directly. To build the missing link between Tongzhou and Dadu, Kublai Khan appointed Guo to take in charge of the project. Under Guo’s guidance, Baifu Canal, which carried sufficient water into Dadu and ended at Dadu's harbor, Jishuitan, and Tonghui Canal running from Jishuitan to Tongzhou, were built. Guo also had 24 lock gates constructed along Tonghui Canal to regulate water levels according to the special topography of Dadu.

Guo was also an outstanding astronomer at the same time. He improved and invented many astronomical instruments like guibiao, hunyi, yangyi and jianyi to facilitate observation. The Shoushi Calendar, literally “Season Granting Calendar”, made by Guo and his colleagues, calculating a year to be 365.2425 days, just 26 seconds off the year's current measurement, was the calendar used for the longest time in Chinese history. It was through his work in astronomy that the location of celestial bodies and the angles of the Sun relative to Earth were more accurately established. Many of his research results were hundreds of years earlier than those in Europe.

Guo’s contribution to science was also in other fields like mathematics and geography though. He was the kind of man who may be termed "Jack of all trades and master of all”. Just as a comment Xu Heng, a famous educator of Guo’s contemporary, gave on him goes, “Guo is a blessing for the Yuan Dynasty and a man like him is rare in history”.

Huitongci is worth visiting for being home to the memorial of Guo Shoujing, a man whom all the Chinese should remember and be proud of.

Information board of Guo Shoujing Memorial. [Photo/Qianlong] 

Tips: The temple is under repair at the moment and the opening time is uncertain. For more information, please call 010-83224626.

Elderly people chat at the foot of the hill where Huitongci is located. [Photo/Qianlong]

A elderly man does exercise at the foot of the hill where Huitongci is located. [Photo/Qianlong]

责任编辑:Sun Chi(QN0019)