Oral Histories

A River Returns

I often participate in Beijing’s ‘water action’ activities, I suppose because I love rivers. And, for as long as I can remember, my dream has been to live next to a river that flows tumultuously day and night. Sadly, I was never able to. Then, quite by chance, I was given the opportunity to live near this river. But it was a rather smelly one. I just kept hoping it would be properly managed so that it wouldn’t stink any more. As long as I have lived here, people have been talking about how nice it would be if the river were cleaned up. Read the full oral history…

Daxing County’s Water Gone Forever

Below is the eleventh in a series of oral histories about Beijing water, as told to An He and Wang Jian by Li Zhenwe. Mr. Li is from Shahe Village in Daxing County and a former engineer at the water bureau in the Daxing County. Read the full oral history…

Jiayukou Village on Great Rock River

In the early chilly part of the spring of 1971, after I finished ninth grade, I was sent with nine school friends to Jiayukou Village, which was on Great Rock River (Da shi he) in Fangshan County. Our group of “educated youth” went there to live for three years and be “re-educated.” Read the full oral history…

Magic Water Village of Mentougou District

Our village, Magic Water Village, is right next to a mountain, which doesn’t belong to any of the surrounding mountain ranges, so we call it Solitary Mountain or Dushan. Looking down from a plane, it looks similar to a lotus petal, so we also call it Lotus Flower Mountain or Lianhua Shan. It is made of really hard rock, quite unlike limestone and because it has never weathered over the years, the mountain is called “Inspired Volcanic Rock.” How this rock could be put to use in the future, no one knows yet. Read the full oral history…

Old Beijing’s Goldfish Ponds

Seventy years ago, when I was very young, we lived right near a place called Lucao yuan or Reed-Grass Gardens in Chongwenmen District. You might ask why it was called Lucao yuan. The reason is that in those days there was a large lake with a lot of reeds in that area. Xianyu kou or Fresh Fish Junction was close to our home. Many of the old hutong (laneways) were arranged on an angle because they followed the direction of the old river, and all the houses had been built along its banks. Read the full oral history…

Remembering Miyun Reservoir

Huang Deyu and Guo Shulian originally lived in Ganhechang Village to the east of White River (Bai He) in Miyun County. For generations the family had been farmers but, after 1968, they were employed as administrative staff at the Miyun Reservoir. Having now retired, they have moved into accommodation provided by the Beijing Water Bureau in Chaoyang District’s Zuojia Village. Read the full oral history…

The Lost Rivers of the Forbidden City

Our house was in Jiqing Xiang (Lucky Lane). 500 metres to the east was Wangfujing (Well of the Princes’ Mansions) and 200 metres to the west was Tongzi He (Pipe River). From the Ming to the Qing dynasties, about ten princely mansions were built in this location and because there was a well with very sweet water nearby, it was called Well of the Princes’ Mansions. The imperial capital had been built here for 800 years, demonstrating a great deal of sound judgment. Read the full oral history…

The Vanishing Haidian

People of our age can’t avoid talking about water when Haidian[1] is mentioned. I was born in 1949, the year New China was born. Since I was young, I’ve lived in the area near Yiheyuan (SummerPalace) and Dayouzhuang (Abundance Village). Between 1958 and 1968, I was at school there and I remember it was like a solitary boat in a marsh— with the Western Hills, the sunsets and water everywhere. It was absolutely beautiful. Read the full oral history…

Three-Eyed Well in Xuanwu District

There used to be a siheyuan (family compound house) with an especially elegant courtyard in Three-Eyed Well Lane (Sanyan Jing hutong). At the front entrance grew two Chinese scholar trees, so large that three people couldn’t encircle one with their arms, and they cooled a huge area with their shade in summer. They were at least a few hundred years old, but in the eighties they were chopped down. What a shame! It made the lane really beautiful to have those two trees and that spacious restful area. Read the full oral history…

Yongding River in Mentougou District

The people in our village originally came from Yanchi Zhen (Goose Wing Town). I’ve heard the older folks say that many years ago, a man from Yanchi looked southward from the north bank of the river, saw that this area of land was pretty good and thinking that it could be opened up, he crossed the Yongding River to the southern bank to set up home on this plateau, founding Henantai Village. He had five sons who then had five families that have extended down to the present day. We are the descendants of those first five families. Read the full oral history…

The Xishan Dajue Temple’s Spring Runs Dry

The tenth in a series of oral histories about Beijing water, as told to An He and Wang Jian by Guan Zhanxiu, a forestry specialist at the Xishan Dajue Temple (Great Awakening Temple, or Temple of Enlightenment) in Beijing’s Haidian district. Read the full oral history…

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