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Mercury Tower: a historical witness to the vicissitude of firefighting in Xiangyang City

(People's Daily Online)    11:01, March 10, 2015

As released by Xiangyang government official website, Xiangyang will kick off a comprehensive overhaul project for Xiangfan Avenue on April 20 this year. According to the project planning, Mercury Tower will be listed as one of the significant scenic spots along the renovated avenue. It is known that striking signboards will be set up to lead to the specific location of the historical relic.

As early as 1984, Mercury Tower had been recognized as culture relic site under the municipal protection, before it was included into the third batch of culture relic site under the provincial protection in 1992.

On June 17, the reporter paid a visit to the historical relic for a closer observation.

As noted by Annals of Xiangyang Prefecture, “Mercury Tower is located inside Chaosheng Gate in Fancheng and opposite to the city, allegedly built by Guo Pu of Jin Dynasty.” According to Chen Jiaju, one municipal planning expert, Mercury Tower might be built in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, rebuilt in the 19th year of Jiajing Period of Ming Dynasty, and went through five rounds of expansion from the fourth year under the reign of Emperor Qianlong to the tenth year under the reign of Emperor Guangxu.

Mercy Tower, as described by Memoir of Archaeological Survey in Xiangfan, stands 8 meters in height, measures 30 meters in length and 22.4 meters in width. It sits between a front hall of 6 meters high, and a rear hall of 8 meters high. With connected round edge roof and gutter, the 22.4-meter-depth and 9-meter-width rear hall features three rooms, four columns, twelve upturned roof-ridges, and gables at a height basically same as that of city wall.

Ascending along the stairs, you will reach at the front gate. Hung on the rolled eave of front gate is a stone board inscribed with the characters of Mercury Tower. Decorative sculptures of elegant lotus and dashing dragon head are seen on architrave of the tower. Besides, two dragon heads are perched high at both sides of the tower. Water will be spouted out from the dragon mouths after heavy rain. Lying at the center of the architectural complex are two rows of hard top palaces. A board reading “Repaired in the 27th year under the reign of Emperor Guangxu by Xiangyang Prefecture Magistrate Li Zuyin” is hung on the beam of main hall.

Looking around, you will find the west city wall of Mercury Tower is built with bricks bearing characters like “Yi”, “Shao”, and “Guan”. Standing high to the north of Mercury Tower are lush trees. Besides observation windows, which are still visible on the city wall to the east of the tower, the bullet holes on wall were also evidence to the past war times.

As standing much higher than civil residences in Fancheng in ancient times, introduced Mr. Chen, Mercury Tower was ideal to supervise fire risks in the city. Fire accidents broke out quite often in Fancheng, a city dominated by brick-wood structured and thatched shop stores and residences. The lane close to Mercury Tower was such a frequent victim of fire accidents that it was dubbed as Fire Lane by locals then. As long as hearing the fire alarms sent out by the Mercury Tower, people in the city would rush towards the disaster area from all directions to fight against fire.

Huang Guisheng, a local resident in Mercury Tower Community, was having his lunch when I met him during my visit to the historic relic on June 17. The man, who was born in 1950, spent his carefree childhood here. To slide down from the slate slope of the tower, and ride high across the dragon head were his favored pastimes then.

“Back then, Mercury Tower was situated at the outskirt of Fancheng, surrounded by vast farmland and graves”, exclaimed Huang, “How quickly time flied! The neighborhood had become the most prosperous downtown center in the city, even before I was aware of it.”

Though retired from its historical role as guard against fire accident, Mercury Tower is still a significant historical relic bearing evidence to the firefighting vicissitude of Xiangyang City throughout history.

“The government has never relaxed its efforts in protecting the historical relic”, revealed Liu Xiaoling, Secretary of the Party Committee in Mercury Tower Community. From March 1993 to September 1994, more than RMB0.2 million of funds have been earmarked to the restoration of west wing-room and steps of Mercury Tower, which were damaged by the invading Japanese bomber aircrafts during Anti-Japanese war. After renovation, Mercury Tower regained its time-honored charm and was appointed as “Patriotism Education Base” in December of the very year.

Mercury Town, noted Liu Xiaoling, was drowned amid high-rises densely lined along Jiefang Road. At present, Liu is busy to appeal to related authorities to have Fancheng Yiqiaotou bus stop changed into Mercury Tower bus stop, an initiative aimed to attract more residents and tourists to the historical relic to understand the role it played throughout history in firefighting and its significant historical value.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Huang Jin,Bianji)

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