Cigar base's Buddhist heritage

Updated: 2008-05-16 07:19

More than 60 km to the northwest of Chengdu, the city of Shifang - called "a shining pearl in West Sichuan" - became a dim casualty of Monday's earthquake.

Hundreds in the Shifang area are reported buried among the rubble of two collapsed chemical plants, a middle school and numerous residential complexes.

But, before the quake, Shifang was more widely popular to locals as home to some of the finest Chinese cigars.

According to local records, the city has been a hub for cigar production for the past 400 years.

Its top-quality cigars were on the list of royal tributes to the Qing Court during the reign of Emperor Guangxu.

In the mid-1950s, the Shifang Cigar Factory also provided specially made cigars for late Chinese leaders including Mao Zedong, He Long and Deng Xiaoping.

The largest natural wonder in Shifang is Yinghua Mountain, which is sacred to Buddhists. Over the past centuries, around 50 temples have been built on the mountains.

The cultural heritage of Shifang that draws thousands of visitors from home and abroad includes the 1,400-year-old Grand Arahats Monastery, the Hidden Dragon Monastery and the Mausoleum for Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) hydraulic engineer Li Bing.

The monastery is well known among Buddhist believers in China for this is the very place where the Eighth Generation of Buddhist Zen Patriach Dao Yi, a Shifang native surnamed Ma, took the tonsure (head-shaving ceremony) and began practicing Buddhism.

The Hidden Dragon Monastery, some 20 km north of the city of Shifang, is believed to have been a key summer resort of ancient kings based in Chengdu.

Many people know about Li Bing and his ingenious Dujiangyan irrigation project in Guanxian county of Sichuan. However, few know that Li's mausoleum is in Shifang.

Li is believed to have died while working at the Luoshui River, a tributary of the Yangtze River that flows through Shifang.

Li, believed to be of ancient Qiang ethnic origin, was born and laid to rest in Shifang.

It is unclear when exactly the mausoleum was first built. But, it has been rebuilt many times in history and was frequently visited by grateful locals and officials.

(China Daily 05/16/2008 page20)