Shennongjia:A Natural Wonder Giving Birth to TCM

2019-09-10 21:33:32 CHINA TODAY 2019年9期

SHENNONGJIA Forestry District is a mountainous area with towering peaks in western Hubei Province. Seated between the Yangtze and Hanshui rivers, the 3,250-square-kilometer region is widely acclaimed as the legendary place where Shennong, a mythical ruler of prehistoric China who is regarded as the founding father of Chinese medicine, built a ladder to climb the mountains to search for medicinal herbs. The world-renowned mountains boast towering peaks, deep valleys, and lush vegetation, coupled with a changing climate that showcases breath-taking natural views throughout the year.

Featuring sub-alpine natural scenery and biodiversity, the world class geopark embodies harmony between man and nature. It is one of the 10 most beautiful forest parks in China, attracting endless streams of visitors from home and abroad. At the 40th session of UNESCOs World Heritage Committee convened in Istanbul, Turkey, 2016, Shennongjia was added to the World Heritage List.

Treasure Trove of Nature

With an average altitude of 1,700 meters, Shennongjia has its highest peak measure 3,106.2 meters at the Shennong Peak, dubbed the ridge of central China. The unique geography and microclimate enabled many species of wildlife to survive after the quaternary glacial movement.

To protect the vast expanse of forestry, the Shennongjia Nature Reserve was established here in 1982, and upgraded into a national nature reserve in 1986 by the Chinese government. In 1990, it was listed as a site of the Man and Biosphere Program by UNESCO.

Alternately affected by the southeast monsoon and continental high pressure throughout the four seasons, Shennongjia boasts a cool summer and warm winter thanks to the adjusting effects of mountains and forests on the heat and precipitation. The wellpreserved subtropical forest ecosystem makes it a transitional zone for plant species in northern and southern China and the habitat of a wide variety of animals.

The Chinese dove tree, native to Shennongjia, is a species under first-class state protection. The rare ornamental tree measures more than 20 meters in height, and has palm-size flowers. In a gentle breeze, the flowers look like dancing doves, giving rise to the trees name. Its seeds have shells harder than walnuts, and because they are water resistant, there was little chance of them sprouting, making the species even rarer. Local forestry research centers worked on this challenge for years before they literally finally cracked the nut. The sprouting rate now is as high as 90 percent.

Shennongjia Nature Reserve shelters many rare animals under first-class state protection — like the snub-nosed monkey, the South China tiger, leopard, white stork, and golden eagle. Frequently seen animals include black bears, foxes, porcupines, and red deer. With crisscrossing turbulent rivers and streams, Shennongjia is also home to giant salamander, otters and a species of frog known as Quasipaa spinose.

The snub-nosed monkey, unique to China, is one of the worlds endangered species. The species in Shennongjia has the fewest number. They migrate twice a year. In summer, they usually live in the forest at an elevation between 2,500 to 3,000 meters above sea level, and return to the habitat around 1,500 meters during the remainder of the year. The monkeys leap from tree to tree in droves during their migration. Having a long reproductive cycle, the snub-nosed monkey was listed as an endangered animal in the same category as pandas. With years of effort of preservation and the improving local ecology, the species has been well protected in Shennongjia, with its population now more than 1300, compared with 500 in the 1980s.

Ancient Culture

Shennongjia is one of the matrices of Chinese civilization. The mythological Chinese ruler Shennong is said to have tasted hundreds of herbs in the area to test their medicinal value.

Shennong is also the legendary emperor who taught his people how to cultivate grains as food, and is hence considered to be the father of Chinese agriculture. According to folklore, Shennong lost his life after eating the poisonous gelsemium elegans plant when testing its medicinal value. He is assumed to be the author of Divine Husbandmans Materia Medica, the earliest extant Chinese pharmacopoeia regarded as the foundation of the traditional Chinese medicine.

The Legend of Darkness is an epic poem by primitive people in Shennongjia to pay tribute to heroes who created the world. The 3,000-line poem records the tales of Pangu, Nüwa, and Fuxi, and is regarded as the first epic poem of Chinese genesis mythology. It was passed down by local residents generation after generation. Some elders still keep a handwritten copy as a family heirloom.

Situated in unfrequented mountainous areas, the isolated lifestyle means many of the Shennongjias primitive folk customs and cultures have been preserved by locals. The ancient distinctive ballads, music, and lyrics were well preserved and have become an essential part of their cultural life. There are unique ballads for weddings and funerals. Some rural households preserve traditional customs, like displaying a pair of wooden masks with scary faces at the house entrance to ward off evil spirits.

When a guest visits the family, the host will first offer them a cup of liquor, claiming it to be a cup of tea. The guest is supposed to drink it out to show respect. After that, the host will offer them hot tea.

Another defining feature of Shennongjia culture is shown in its alpine influences rarely seen in Asia.

Mysterious Natural Wonders

Located in the nature reserve, the national 5Agrade Shennongjia scenic spot has its tourist views categorized into sceneries of landform, water, and biodiversity. Exotic stone, deep valleys and pools, spectacular waterfalls, virgin forests, alpine meadows, rare plants, and animals define the popular tourist destination.

Shennong Peak in southwest Shennongjia is the core of the scenic spot and a must-see for visitors. Boasting forestry ecology and biodiversity, the location is an embodiment of harmony between humans and nature. Its vast primitive expanse does however cater for visitors by providing comprehensive services with its well-established hospitality facilities.

Stories are often told that primitive men were seen in the region since the 1870s. The mystery sparked widespread attention. Although scientists have reached a final conclusion that there is no such existence of primitive men, explorers remain enthusiastic for wild adventures in search of such evidence.

Some geological phenomena in Shennongjia reveal the magic power of nature. There is a river in Honghua Township whose tide rises three times a day for half an hour each time. In the dry season, the water is turbid, and in the rainy season, it is crystal clear. In Guanfeng Township, there is a miraculous cave where schools of silver white fish surge out in the spring.

Another wonder is an ice cave in Songluo Township. When the outside natural temperature rises above 28 degrees Celsius, it starts to ice up inside. Water seeps through crevices in the stone wall and forms ice curtains of 10 meters high. In late autumn, the ice begins to melt, and the temperature inside becomes higher than outside.

A cave in Muyu Township offers people the experience of four seasons in a single day. Wandering in the 5,000-meter-long cave, visitors will be greeted by a chilly wind from deep in the cave, and then be met by baking heat as they move forward — two distinct sensations in the same place. Many curious visitors come to find out why this occurs, but are prevented from doing so as the cave is too narrow halfway in.

These mysterious natural phenomena make Shennongjia an interesting destination, attracting large numbers of curious visitors.