Inner Circle

Of Dragons and Dinosaurs

Intriguing myths and legends that surrounded Changzhou in the past offer clues to its prosperity today.

Of Dragons and Dinosaurs
Legend has it that the city and its surrounding mountains were home to originally nine dragons, but territorial disputes led to a fierce battle between the beasts.

The story of how Changzhou got its nickname, the Dragon City, has many versions. One of the more credible (and probably historically accurate) versions describes that during the Northern and Southern dynasties, when political unrest and civil war marked the country, it was the birthplace of 15 kings. Traditionally, dragon represents the king and the city’s reputation as the cradle of dragons spread.

Worthy of the city’s reputation is Tianning Temple, one of the four most important Buddhist temples in southeast China during the Qing dynasty. In his southward trip to see Jiangnan, Emperor Qianglong visited Tianning Temple three times and even gave the temple a plaque inscribed with “The Religious Dragon City”. Dating back nearly 1,400 years, the temple has been rebuilt many times and a glimpse of the psychedelic display of the natural crystal Buddha shows that this temple spares no expense to impress devotees. Along with various sculptures, the relatively new pagoda – built in 2002 and reputedly the tallest in China at 153 metres – houses many interesting works of religious art.

A good souvenir of a trip to the city is a fine-toothed comb. Here, craftsmen have been making bi out of wood, bamboo or bones for more than 2,000 years and are famous for their intricately hand-painted artwork on these combs. Production of a traditional Chinese bi can involve a lengthy and complicated process of as much as 72 steps. Today, workshops around the Grand Canal and Biji Alley, the birthplace of the famous bi of Changzhou, are where you should go to hunt down the finest combs.

Fun Around

Another version of the city’s affair with dragons is based on folktales. Legend has it that the city and its surrounding mountains were home to originally nine dragons, but territorial disputes led to a fierce battle between the beasts. In the end, six of the dragons remained to watch over the people of Changzhou and the city prospered under their protection.

Today, a different kind of dragon holds the key to this boomtown’s success. Attracting hoards of visitors to the city, particularly families, is Dinosaur Land, an attraction reminiscent of Jurassic Park. To avoid queues, arrive early to make the most of a day out; otherwise, you will find yourself waiting for at least an hour for the popular rides, such as the Dinoconda roller coaster and the Crossing Jurassic waterslide boat. Younger children will love the animal shows and the Dinotoon area. The 4D Lost World film provides fun for all the family, complete with moving seats as you delve into an adventure set amongst living dinosaurs.

Shangri-La Hotel, Changzhou is located in Wujin District and is an easily accessible weekend escape to explore the surrounding cities. Within a 15-minute drive from the hotel is Yancheng, an ancient city from the Spring and Autumn period, dating back over 2,500 years. The ruins, which consist of moats and city walls, provide a perfect setting for a history theme park – various buildings have been constructed to give a taste of the Old China, including a palace that houses a vast collection of artefact replicas.  There is also a 4D theatre showing a short film on what life was like back in Yancheng’s heyday.

Further afield is Tianmu Lake, offering a peaceful alternative to the excitement of the more commercial attractions. Although it’s more than an hour away from the city, the lake, surrounded by the idyllic Nanshan bamboo forest, is probably what first sparked the imagination of its people. The crystal-clear lake and lush greenery are said to have blessed the folk with longevity. While it’s likely to be another myth, at least it does look like the perfect place for dragons to roam.

 

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