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Qiantang River Tidal Bore Introduction


Qiantang River is the mother river of Hangzhou worldwide famous for its grand view of tidal bore, one of three top tides in China, which comprised of Qingzhou Tide of Shandong, Tide of Yangzhou (disappeared) and Tide of Qiantang River, and also one of top three tides in the world, which has been explained in details as below. Formerly called Zhejiang River, Lucha River or Qujiang River, it runs through Yanguan Town, Haining City, 45 kilometers to the northeast of Hangzhou. Originating from the border of Anhui and Jiangxi provinces and flowing to the Ease Sea at the Hangzhou Bay, Qiantang River meanders along over 600 kilometers, including 360 kilometers in Zhejiang Province. The best time to view its grand view is on mid-autumn festival.

Legends of Qiantang River Tide Prose of Watching the Tides
Prose of Baiyang Lake Grand View of Qiantang River Tide
Danger of Watching Tide Other Highlights Deserving View
Story of Tides of Zixu and Wenzhong Story of Suppressing King Dragon
Story of King Qian Shoots the Tide Fuchun River - A Branch of Qianjiang

The Legends of Qiantang River Tide

【Tides of Zixu and Wenzhong】- Perhaps someone may ask why the wave of Qiantang River is so despotic. The reason is fairly associated with the history of Wu State and Yue State in Spring and Autumn Period. Wu Zixu(伍子胥), the authoritative marshal of Wu State prevailed on King Fu Chai(夫差) not making peace with Yue State after getting the final victory in the battle between Wu and Yue States, but some wicked men's speaking ill of Wu Zixu together with the seeming compliance and deference of Yue State made Fu Chai in complacence and arrogance, in contrast, he began to suspect the loyalty of Wu Zixu due to a series of annoying and disrespected words and alarms from Wu Zixu. Eventually, Wu Zixu was executed and thrown into Qiantang River, but before the execution, Wu Zixu declared his eternal will of hanging eyes on the wall of town to see the overthrow of Wu State, and his body was covered with cloth and floated on Qiantang River and became the wave of anger and hatred. This is the side of Wu State.

On the other hand, Official Wenzhong(文种) of Yue State donated six great solutions to helping King Gou Jian(勾践) overthrowing Wu State, but unfortunately, he was envied and suspected by King Gou Jian due to his unbelievable talents, and finally he was murdered as well in the excuse of unfounded cases. And Wenzhong's tomb was moved by wave of Zixu on a raning night. Since then, the waves of Qiantang River turned more and more dangerous and threatened the daily life of local residents. The local people said there were two waves each time, the front is Wave of Zixu, which is stout and full of valor, and the rear is Wave of Wenzhong, which is soft but dangerous.

【Suppressing King Dragon】 - Surely, this is the more believable legend written in some famous books like The Record of the Grand Historian and Spring and Autumn of Wu and Yue States. But in folk society, there is also another influential legend, which is themed with Six Harmonies Calm the River down. Anciently, a bad-tempered dragon king, used to be the guards of Buddha and bodhisattvas, lived under the Qiantang River and he always made many unreasonable and unexpected waves, which caused the overturning of fishing boats and submerged the farmlands. The residents nearby could not bear it at all. Under such circumstances, a fisherman's son named Liuhe made up a mind to fill the river with rocks and stones just as Jingwei's behavior to sea (精卫填海,a classic fairy tale in Chinese literature) so as to preclude the harms of Dragon King. Liuhe spent 49 days throwing the rocks and stones into river, and it eventually subdued the King of Dragon, so the descendant built a pagoda named after ke Liuhe Pagoda in memory of the contribution of Liuhe to local people.

【King Qian Shoots the Tide】 - The tidal bore is also linked to the 'founding father' of Hangzhou, King Qian Liu (钱鏐, 852-932) of Wu-Yue. The kingdom flourished between the end of the Tang dynasty and the founding of the Song (907-60), during a period known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (五代十国). From the earliest days the tidal bore, as well as other floods and storms, threatened arable land and dwellings along the course of the Fuchun River (Fuchun Jiang 富春江), as this length of the river was also known. The cost of maintaining and repairing the dykes and sea walls along the river so as to protect farmland and lives was formidable; it was likened to the expense of containing the erratic flow of the Yellow River itself (as the saying goes 'gold it costs for the daily repair of the Yellow River, silver is needed for the Qian', 黃河日修一斗金,钱江日修一斗银). A folk tale about King Qian celebrates his efforts to tame the irascible 'Sea Spirit' (Haishen, 海神) that was said to stir up the tide:

The statue of King Qian Liu standing in front of King Qian Memorial Temple nearby West Lake, Hangzhou

The story of Qian comes to us from a portrayal in the 'Record of the Shooting of the Tides' (射潮记), written by Qian's third generation offspring, Sun Qian Weiyan. It is said of the early days of establishing the dyke that it took place in the eighth month, at a time of high tides and seasonal flooding. The raging tide and pounding swirl made it impossible to carry out construction work. Qian therefore ordered and led the deployment of soldiers to the site. From the hillsides down to the southern side of the mountain sturdy bamboo trees were made into three thousand arrows by woodworkers. These arrows were then adorned with the feathers of various birds, and painted with a fiery red coloration, and newly fired metal was used to make the arrow tips. Five hundred soldiers who had the skill and strength to fire the crossbow were assembled at the banks of the Yangtze River and each archer was given six arrows. Each time there was a tidal rush, they would fire one arrow into the raging torrent. It was in this way that, after they had fired five times, they unexpectedly forced the tide to turn away from Hangzhou Bay and they made these eastern tides turn toward the western hills. It is said of these five hundred archers that they are all buried together at Pubing, an area between Houchaomen and Tongjiangmen. Above the ground in which they lay, a memorial was erected to them in a place called Tiezhuangpu. In Hangzhou's Jianggan district; even to this day, there are still two lane-ways bearing the names 'the horizontal arrow lane-way' (横箭道巷) and the 'vertical arrow lane- way' (直箭道巷). It is said that these names are related to the story of King Qian and the shooting of the tide.

King Qian Shoots the Tide (Qian wang she chao , 钱王射潮) remains a popular story although, unlike King Canute (or Cnut, the famed 'ruler of the waves' who flourished around the same time), Qian Liu's efforts and those of the ministers who advised him did quell the tidal surge long enough for a protecting dyke to be built. King Qian's contribution to the city of Hangzhou and his taming of the nearby waters by constructing the sea wall (tang, 塘) was acknowledged when the river itself was named after him. Henceforth, it was known as the Qian River, and eventually the Qiantang River.

Rather than shooting arrows into the river in the hope that aqueous disaster could be averted, dynastic rulers and local officials over the following centuries made annual sacrifices to propitiate the Sea Spirit. Even the emperor Qianlong first sacrificed to the river before viewing the tide when his Tours of the South took him to West Lake. Famed for generations as one of China's 'remarkable spectacles' (qiguan, 奇观), the tides continued until recently to wreak havoc along the course of the river, often flooding agricultural land, towns and cities. It has been remarked that due to the directions in which the tides move, their speed and height, they can appear in various forms and patterns. These include: criss-crossed tides (jiaocha chao, 交叉潮), single-line tides (yixian chao, 一线潮), returning tides, 回头潮), midnight tides (banye chao, 半夜潮) and 'T-tides' (dingzi chao, 丁字潮).

The Prose on Qianjiang River Tide

【Watching the Tides,观潮】 - This a famous prose themed with Qiantang River written by Zhou Mi(1232-1298, 周密) who was a great litterateur and bibliophile of Song Dynasty. This prose selected from an ancient book named Wulin Jiushi (The Past of Hangzhou,武林旧事)


The tidal bore on the Zhe River is one of the great sights of the world. It reaches its full force from the sixteenth to the eighteenth of the month. When it begins to arise far away at Ocean Gate, it appears but a silver thread; but as it gradually approaches, it becomes a wall of jade, a snow-laden ridge, bordering the sky on its way. Its gigantic roar is like thunder as it convulses, shakes, dashes, and shoots forth, swallowing up the sky and inundating the sun, for its force is supremely vigorous. Yang Wanli described this in a poem:

The ocean surges silver to form a wall;
The river spreads jade to gird the waist.

As in every year, the governor of the capital appeared at the Zhe River Pavilion to inspect the navy. Warships in the hundreds were arrayed along both banks. Suddenly, they all rushed to divide into 'quintuple formation'. Moreover, there was equitation, banner waving, spear juggling, and sword dancing while afloat, just as on land. In an instant, yellow smoke arose on all sides, and people could barely see each other. The explosions on the water were deafening and earth-shaking; the sounds were like those of mountains collapsing. When the smoke dispersed and the waves calmed, there was not a trace of a hull: all the 'enemy ships' had been burned by fire and had disappeared under the waves.

There were several hundred youths of Wu who were expert at swimming. They had loosened their hair and had tattoos on their bodies. In their hands they held colored banners some twenty feet in size and raced against each other with the utmost exertion, swimming against the current, floating and sinking in the leviathan waves a myriad ren high. Their leaping bodies executed a hundred different movement without getting the tail of the banners even slightly wet—this was how they showed off their skill. Prominent commoners and high officials competed to bestow silver prizes.

Up and down along the river for more than three miles, pearls, jade, gauze, and silk flooded the eyes; horses and carriages clogged the roads. Every kind of food and drink cost double the normal price, and yet, where viewing tents were rented out, not a bit of ground was left for even a mat.





The Traditional Chinese Painting Themed With the Grand View of Qiantang River Tidal Bore

【Baiyang Lake,白洋湖】 - This is a classic prose written by Zhang Dai (1597-1679, 张岱), whose courtesy name was Zongzi, Shigong as well. Zhang Dai lived in Shaoxing and was a great essayist, historian and expert of tea appreciation. He preferred traveling, gardening art, collection, guqin music, operas and editorials. The works collections are Taoan Mengyi(陶庵梦忆, The Dreamtime Memory of Zhang Dai) and Xihu Xunmeng(西湖寻梦, The Dream Searched Around The West Lake). This prose illustrates the grand view of tide crashing the riverside stones:


On previous occasions when I had gone to Three Rivers to view the tidal bore, it had transpired that there was in fact nothing much to see. By afternoon the word would spread that: 'This year the tide is a submerged one', and so it proved, year after year.

In the Eighth Month of the Wuyin year (1638), when I attended the funeral of the Junior Preceptor Zhu Xieyuan, I visited White Ocean and was seated with Chen Hongshou and Qi Biaojia. When the shout went out that the sea wall was the spot from which to view the tidal bore, I hastened there, followed closely by both Chen and Qi.

As we stood on the embankment we could see on the horizon the single line of the bore as it advanced towards us from Haining, heading straight for us. As it drew closer, we could make out the white crests, like a flock of tens of millions of goslings being herded towards us, their wings flapping as if about to take off in panicked flight. Nearer still and the bore began to billow foam and ice flakes flew in all directions, like a million snow lions descending upon the river, whipped forward by the thunder; ten thousand heads stretching up and none daring to fall behind. Nearer still it advanced towards us, as if driven by a typhoon, with a force that seemed as though it would crash against the banks and surge over them. The spectators scattered in panic, taking refuge below the embankment.

When finally the bore reached the embankment it smashed against it with all its might, plumes of water flew into the air and splashed up to a height of several zhang, drenching our faces. Then it rolled away to the right, crashing into Tortoise Hill and, with an extraordinary roar of anger, it exploded into a million pieces in the deep pond, like snowflakes dancing in the air. To see it dazzled one's eyes with fright and it was only after sitting down for some considerable time did I manage to regain my composure. The elders here maintain that the Zhe River tidal bore rises from the constriction of the river as it flows between the Gan and Zhe Mountains. But White Ocean lies beyond these two mountains and here the tidal bore is even higher. I wonder why this is?






The Grand View of Qiantang River Tide

Watching Tide has been a great tradition in Hangzhou for over 2000 years history. Starting from Han Dynasty and blooming in Tang and Song periods, Qiantang River Tide has every generation of Chinese people amazed and impressed. The Qiantang River looks to be shaped like a trumpet at its mouth, while flowing east to Hangzhou Bay. It has been the tradition for people living by the mouth of the Qiantang River to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by eating mooncake and watching the tide. Every year it demonstrates its magnificent tidal wonders, which usually show up around the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar year, with its climax on the 18th day. The tide can shore as high as 8 meters, and surge forward at nearly 10 meters per second. As it rushes to the shore, it roars like thunders. The best place to enjoy the wonder is in Haining County, as well as other places nearby including Xiaoshan and Haiyan. The natural wonder has become a popular attraction for visitors as well.

The grand view of the tidal bores of Qiantang River

The tides of the Qiantang River are the most magnificent and grandest in China. The river runs to the East Sea at the Hangzhou Bay. The inside part of the bayou (only a few kilometers at least) is very narrow while the outer part can be as wide as 100 kilometers. When the seawater flows to the bayou, it suffers more restriction from the narrowing banks as it goes further to the inner part. The seawater is forced to rise higher and higher. In addition, the water of the Qiantang River is also held back as it tries to empty into the sea. Therefore, the water level is increased and an upright water wall is formed. In addition, more seawater joins together to create more water walls, stirring up one great tide after another. Such grand views can only be found in two places, one in Amazon of Brazil and the other in the Qiantang River. People are so overwhelmed by its grandeur that they call it a world wonder. The tides can be different if you take different positions. Line tide can be seen at the tower, the converging tide can be seen at Babao, and the back tide can be seen at Laoyancang. The best days to watch the tide will be around August 18 of the lunar calendar.

The Danger of Watching Tide

However, the tide watching remains the hidden danger. Annually, up to the time of watching tides, the local policemen always remind people not to go near the riverbank. Unfortunately, each year, many people die from tide watching, since most of them go beyond the designated tide watching areas.

Between 1999 and 2013, over 70 casualties have been claimed. During the past few years, many people, mostly coming out of town, would come to the embankments to wait for the tide. They were not quite aware of the power of the tidal waves, and some came to the riverside to get a better view of the tide, some even jumped into the river to swim. They have no idea about the arriving time, or its devastating force, so they are most likely to be taken away. Sometimes, the tidal waves appear to be far away from people, but the waves could suddenly surge, and there would no time for them to escape. Once they are swept away, it would be impossible to come out again, for the waves are rolling forward with huge momentum. Standing on the part stretching deep into the river of a T-shaped dam will be especially tricky. Though the tide appears to still be far away, the waves from the two sides already steal their way and cut off the retreating route. People could only wait there desperately till they are carried away by the rising waves. Anyway, it is absolutely safe for outsiders to watch the tide in the designated areas.

The Fuxing Bridge across Qiantang River is the fourth bridge over the Qiantang River in Hangzhou

Other Highlights Deserving View

Surely, there are also many other good scenes worthy to see on the riverbanks. The Liuhe Tower on Yuelun Mountain on the northern bank of the river is nearly 60 meters high and covers an area of 900 square meters. Upstairs in the tower, you can enjoy beautiful views on every floor. Near the tower, you can find the Xiujiang Pagoda, the tower boy statue in Liuhe, the bell ring in the Liuhe, the exhibition hall of Chinese ancient towers, and others.

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