About 70 kilometers from Hangzhou, Shaoxing is sheltered by Kuaiji Mountain and nestled among Zhejiang province's abundant Yangtze-fed waterways. The architectural style and atmosphere is typical JiangNan, meaning the area south of the Yangtze river. White walls punctuated with black tiles line narrow cobbled streets, so that when harried city dwellers dream of an idyllic paradise and retirement home, they often dream of Shaoxing. Yet Shaoxing is more than just a quiet place, it's also served as the home to many of China's most renowned scholars, writers and poets.
No city in China can claim to be the hometown of as many nationally known personalities as Shaoxing. This 4000-year-old city was established by the Yue Kingdom and later became the capital of this state, with legends remaining which stretch all the way back to this period.
Six kilometers southeast of Shaoxing, tucked beneath the foot of Kuaiji Mountain, we can find the Great Yu Mausoleum. Before China was united under one emperor, there were many local tribal leaders, whose achievements were passed down orally through the generations. One such tribal leader was this Great Yu, the legendary founder of the Xia dynasty 4000 years ago.
Great Yu's father was charged with the task of taming the local floods, which ravaged the lower Yangtze River. While his father's dams failed, Great Yu took on the task after his death, and succeeded in diverting the waters where his father had simply tried to stop them. Legend has it that the floods were caused by dragons in the water that devoured ordinary mortals. Thus Great Yu covered his body with protective tattoos, which were supposed to camouflage him when he went into the water.
Great Yu's victory against nature earned him the title "Tamer of Floods" and the rank of tribal chief. Eventually, he died near present day Shaoxing, while making an inspection tour of the southern Yangtze River, and he was subsequently buried at the site of the Great Yu Mausoleum. The temple was probably built around the sixth century, and is a place where visitors still come to pay their respects.
Lan Ting, or Orchid Pavilion, is 12 kilometers southwest of Shaoxing at the foot of Lanzhu Mountain. It's the site of China's most famous drinking party, which spawned a drinking game that inspired men of letters from all over China. In the 4th century, Wang Xizhi, a renowned calligrapher, organized a party at this Orchid Pavilion. Since poets tend to be creative souls, they found various ways to entertain themselves in style. For his part, Wang devised a literary game, where the poets would sit on the banks of a small stream, floating small cups of wine downriver. Whomever the cup stopped in front of, that poet had to compose a poem, or drink the wine as a penalty. A mixture of good drinking and tranquil scenery inspired 37 poems that day. Wang Xizhi compiled the poems into an anthology and wrote its preface, which became the Lanting Preface to the Orchid Pavilion.
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