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Ancient Wenzhou

Ancient WENZHOU ...............温州旧地

The Big Dipper-shaped Mountains and lock protection functioned city

The ancient geomantic theories emphasize that “each state or city should has its own prominent feature.” Therefore, although we may find that there are many common grounds in cities’ construction layout while viewing many ancient maps, when they were being constructed, adjusting measures to local conditions is the most important point. It is pointed out in GUANZI CHENGMA that “ When the location of a capital is chosen, it is either on the root of big mountains or over great rivers so that it is not too high to suffer drought or too low to suffer flood but of sufficient water and free from building flood control systems. It is unnecessary to construct a city according to routine or build a road with the help of ropes for measurement, which demonstrates the principle of adjusting measures to local conditions.” 

Overlooking south OUJIANG River from north OUJIANG River

Vast and mighty current, mist-covered water all sides. The OUJIANG River brings infinite poetry to WENZHOU city. Overlooking south OUJIANG River from north OUJIANG River, between the water and the heaven, the city is no longer comparable by the city designed and constructed in GUOPU’s era. Numerous high buildings, which have broken the restraint of old rampart, stand tall and upright besides the OUJIANG River like a special scenic spot while the exuberant islet in the center of OUJIANG River enhances the artistic conception of its view. The JIANGXIN Islet had ten scenic spots, such as, “Misty rain of spring city”, “ HAIDING Sunglow”, “ OUJIANG Moonlight”, “ LUOFU Snow Shadow” and so on. How can we say that a city with these views is not a city of good geomantic omen?

Therefore, the theories of geomantic omen are both complicated and flexible. Among them, there is one idea for the pursuit of “Universal View”, that is, to design cities as the symbols of constellations. This kind of programming method is not a simple comparison but the comprehension of ancient people towards some kind of relations with the same form and structure among heaven, earth and human beings. It is a kind of worldview: “ The combination of heaven and human beings”. Meanwhile, the idea of “ terrain priority” in geomantic omen stresses the point of making use of natural barriers as shelters. For example, it is said in ZHOUYI that” the advantage of heaven for sheltering is that you cannot climb up to it and the advantage of land for sheltering lies in its mountains, rivers and foothills. Emperors make use of these advantages for protecting their countries.” It is also pointed out in ZHOULI XIAGUAN that “ if there is any mountain or river in the location of city which will be constructed, just depend on it for the purpose of protection.” Therefore, the construction location of Ancient WENZHOU, which located in the flatland between ZHEJIANG and FUJIAN Provinces, backed on sea and was surrounded by mountains, is the best representative.

The lamps of JIANGXIN tower illuminate OUJIANG River through the night

It began to be prevailing in building temples and towers in WENZHOU since TANG and SONG dynasties. The temple on the JIANGXIN islet of OUJIANG River was built after TANG and SONG dynasties. There are two towers on the islet. One is the East Tower that locates in the DONGFENG Mountain of GUYU and the other is the West Tower that locates in the XIFENG Mountain. The two towers stand facing each other and seem to reach the clouds. Except their function of “winning resounding fame throughout the region” and “ driving demons away”, they stand on the port as a mark. It is recorded in WENZHOU Annals that the bottom of OUJIANG River is arenaceous. The sand beach always changes because of water flow, especially when typhoon, flood or big spring tide happen, which will bring bigger changes to sand beach and the route becomes deeper or shallower accordingly. The to-and-from ships can see the two towers after passing MEIYUAN. Therefore, the two towers on the JIANGXIN Islet become the pharos for navigation. From SONG dynasty to GUANGXU era of QING dynasty, the Buddhist lamps in each floor of the towers illuminate OUJIANG River through the night.

Ancient WENZHOU was called OU. In the year 675, GAOZONG, one of the emperors of TANG dynasty came here and named it WENZHOU. From then on, the name “WENZHOU” has been kept for 1300 years and there was no big change happened to the territory of WENZHOU city. The only difference is that the appearance of old WENZHOU city has disappeared in or been covered by the modern and prosperous WENZHOU city now.


It is recorded in ZHISHU that the original location layout of WENZHOU city, which was administrated by YONGJIA County at that time, was decided by GUOPU, who is both a philosopher and geomantic prophet in DONGJIN era. GUOPU is a genius who is accomplished in poems, ode and Confucian classics of ancient China. In order to keep away from chaos caused by war, he went along southward from SHANXI province then resided in WENZHOU. It was the very moment that YONGJIA Wanted to make choice of constructing its county city. Therefore, the local people requested him to make divination for county city. According to the general laws of geomantic omen theories, the city should be constructed on north coast, standing on north and facing south. However, after field survey by himself, he made sample comparisons of soil between south coast and west coast and found that the soil in south coast was heavier than it was in the north coast. Therefore, he decided to construct the city on south coast.

WENZHOU White Elephant Tower Shadow

WENZHOU is an old city with landscapes and 1600 years’ history. It locates on the verge of OUJIANG River and faces sea in the east. The river in the picture below is the WENRUI Pond River, which locates in south OUJIANG River, is called the mother river of WENZHOU. The WENRUI Pond River was manually excavated in DONGJIN period. After dredging up and constructing of the latter generations, the view of “Eighty Miles’ Ponds” appeared, which is an important mark of WENZHOU landscape city. Now, WENZHOU plans to build WENRUI Pond River a City Pond River, Zoology Pond River, Culture Pond River and View Pond River. From cantonal NAN Pond River to WENRUI Pond River in XIANYAN scenic spot, the “Eight Views of Pond River” will reappear. The view in the picture lies in south city and gets its name “White Elephant Tower Shadow” because of the White Elephant Tower built in BEISONG dynasty. Crooked rivers embrace the vitality of WENZHOU. The implication between old and new WENZHOU city is embodied by the crooked watercourse and straight express highway. The picture on the right is the view of old WENZHOU city. 

At that time, When GUOPU mounted the XIGUO Mountain, which was renamed GUOGONG Mountain, he found that the interlaced ridges and peaks looked like the shape of the Big Dipper and HUAGAI mountain locked up its mouth. He said to the fellow local people: “ if we construct our city outside of the mountains, we can lead a rich life but cannot keep away from probable wars. If we construct our city inside of the mountains, the invaders could not enter the Big Dipper -shaped city so that long-term safety and comfort can be available. Because the city was constructed inside of mountains, it was called the Big Dipper-shaped city. GUOPU also designed to excavate 28 wells in the city to settle the problem of city residents’ demand for water, (there are still several wells well-kept), which stands for the 28 constellations in the heaven. Meanwhile, he also considered the dangers brought by probable wars that the city was surrounded and the water supply was cut off. Subsequently, five ponds were constructed. Each pond was connected with river and finally poured into OUJIANG River. In geomantic omen theories, it was explained that “the five ponds in the city were constructed according to the collocation of WUXING so that the water of the ponds would not overflow even meeting heavy rain.”

Ancient and contemporary maps of WENZHOU

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The Big Dipper-shaped ancient WENZHOU city

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The construction of old WENZHOU city is a representative for adjusting measures to local conditions and also possesses the factors of “Universe Mode” in geomantic omen. The location choosing and layout of WENZHOU city is the masterpiece of GUOPU, who is a philosopher and archeologist in DONGJIN Period. According to the principle of geomantic omen, a city should be constructed backing on mountain and facing sea or river. However, after GUOPU’s investigation about the soil status here, he decided to construct the city on south OUJIANG River because the soil in South OUJIANG River is heavier than it is in North OUJIANG River. The reason is that because the soil of north coast is composed of Silt sediment by swashing of river current, which is not solid and cannot withstand heavy load. However, the soil of south coast is composed of sand and gravel sediment from mountainous areas swashed by current, which is solid and of strong load ability. When he went across the river to XIGUO Mountain to survey the terrain, he found that there were seven mountains standing like a ring (it is said that there are nine mountains, which includes two small ones), which shaped like the Big Dipper. Then, he made swift decision to constructing the city depending on the Big Dipper-shaped Mountains. The city was embraced by mountains and the seven mountains became the lean of city, which made the city impregnable. It is said in a tale that when the city was constructing, one white deer came across the heaven with flower of almond held in its mouth. People regarded it as symbol for good luck. Therefore, old WENZHOU city was called both “the Deer city” and “the Big Dipper-shaped city”. We can see the ordered layout of old WENZHOU city in the above old map. We can also find the geographical advantage of its location in the contemporary map of WENZHOU below.

This is a picture that briefly describes the Big Dipper-shaped ancient WENZHOU city. We can find that the natural terrain of it is quite similar with the permutation and combination of the Big Dipper even without extra explanation. Among them, HUAGAI Mountain, SONGTAI Mountain, HAITAN Mountain and XIGUO Mountain are called “DOUKUI” (the four stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper). JIGU Mountain, XUNJI Mountain and RENWANG Mountain are called “DOUGOU” (the upper three of the Big Dipper). LINGGUAN Mountain and HUANGTU Mountain are the complement. By discovering the supernatural terrain, GUOPU made up his mind about the layout of WENZHOU city. He suggested constructing the city across the mountains so that long-term safety and comfort can be available. Therefore, the city is also called “the Big Dipper shaped city”. In WENZHOU city, there are many places that embody the design idea of “ The combination of heaven and human beings”, such as the excavated 28 wells which stand for the 28 constellations in the heaven and the five ponds that were constructed according to the collocations of WUXING. The idea of constructing city according to the law of nature and its development is totally the wisdom of Orient people.

700 years later, a man called FANGLA gathered people and launched an insurrection against the government of BEISONG dynasty. The insurrection was overwhelming and the insurrection army occupied JIANDE, SHEXIAN, JINHUA, HANGZHOU, QUXIAN, and LISHUI continuously in three months. However, when the insurrection army attacked WENZHOU city, they could not occupy it and had to retreat although it had been besieged for about forty days. In JIAJING era of Ming dynasty, Japanese pirates invaded our coastal area, which is equal to the places of JIANGSU, ZHEJIANG, FUJIAN and GUANGDONG provinces, occupied many cities. In 1155, the 34th year of JIAJING era, they invaded HANGZHOU and burned down the LEIFENG TOWER. However, from the 31st year of JIAJING era to the 42nd year of JIAJING era, WENZHOU city suffered six times of invasions from Japanese pirates but not one Japanese pirate was able to enter the city. The merit for which would greatly owe to the GUOPU’s design of the Big Dipper-shaped city except the army-civilian’s brave resistance. In ancient WENZHOU, there was one song made to praise the design. It said, “ The seven mountains look like the Big Dipper. There are several city protection systems. Where is the mouth of the Big Dipper? It is the HUAGAI Mountain.”


On the basis of city constructed according to the design of GUOPU, WENZHOU city had become very prosperous in BEISONG Dynasty after continuous development and improvement. It is described in a poem that: “ WENZHOU is a prosperous seashore city who got the nickname “ Small HANGZHOU” at the very beginning. The street-like layout of rivers and ponds in it looks like the layout in the game of I-go. The mountains surround the picturesque buildings like natural barriers. It seems that flowers are smiling at me everywhere and the moon is always following people to have a tour at night. When it comes to the festival to win the award by rowing dragon boats, many damsels would keep the curtains of their windows open to watch the game.”  

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The geomantic idea about the construction design of ancient WENZHOU is ingenious. It embodies the idea: “The combination of heaven and human beings” through the collocations of the Big Dipper, 28 constellations and WUXING, which would probably still be useful for the programming of modern cities as reference. The issue of weighing soil by GUOPU also shows the principle of science to some extent. Nowadays, the geological exploration has proved that the geological condition in north coast is not as good as it is in south coast because the soil of north coast is composed of Silt sediment by swashing of river current, which is not solid and can not withstand heavy load. However, the soil of south coast is composed of sand and gravel sediment from mountainous areas swashed by current, which is solid and of strong load ability so that a stable ground base for city can be guaranteed.


The brilliant masterpiece of GUOPU has brought safety to WENZHOU people for generations. Accordingly, WENZHOU people praised him a lot for his contribution and the GUOGONG temple was built for commemorating.    


Translated from Chinese by Dean Yu

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