Shanghai Urban Legends

The Dragon Pillar of Yan’an Elevated Highway

Shanghai has a comprehensive network of elevated highways. Chengdu Elevated Highway, which runs north-south, and Yan’an Elevated Highway, which runs east-west, divide the city into a layout like the Chinese character “田” (tián), meaning “field”. At the conjunction of these highways stands a huge pillar that supports both highways. This pillar is special not only because of its location but also due to its appearance — unlike other pillars, which have little decorations with a number, this pillar features exquisite golden dragon ornaments against a shiny silver background, giving it the name: “The Dragon Pillar.”

In the 1990s, Shanghai was nearing the end of its construction of elevated highways in the city center. The whole project was being completed at an incredible pace until the construction team found that they were not able to drive down the very pile supporting the conjunction of the two elevated highways—it simply refused to go down, no matter how hard the workers tried.

The ground of Shanghai is typically composed of soft sand and mud, which means that driving piles into the soil would not be an issue under normal circumstances. Since such problem was never anticipated, the government and the engineers were perplexed. The conjunction of the two highways is arguably the most important part of the highway network in Shanghai. Hundreds of experts were urgently commissioned to solve the problem. However, they achieved little progress. The cement that they poured down entirely disappeared in the soil.

Meanwhile, a theory concerning the Chinese tradition of Fengshui was quietly but widely spread among construction workers: could it be that the pillar accidentally hit the “dragon vein” of Shanghai and offended the dragon guarding the city?

“Dragon vein”, usually appears as long stretches of mountains and has a special place in Chinese common superstition. It is believed that China is a country composed of several stretches of mountains, which represent the backbone of the dragon, the mystical patron of China. Dragon vein gives life to the country, and what is important is that, dragon vein can never be disturbed, or disasters may occur over night.

At first, the rumor irritated all the scientists involved in the project, who saw such a theory as an insult to science. For the Communist government officials, such a theory was also unacceptable, as it conflicted with official atheist ideologies. However, as the construction work kept meeting obstacles and foreign scientists were also unable to solve the problem, people’s faith in science faltered. There did seem to be something happening at the construction site that could not be easily explained by physical laws.

Time waits for none. Two government officials assigned by city leaders visited a famous monk in Longhua Temple, in Zhenchan (真禅), to privately ask for help. After the monk surveyed the construction site, he stayed silent for a while then explained to the anxious officials and workers that the only way to solve the problem was to devoutly invite the dragon, who is lurking under the ground, to come out. To achieve this, a series of religious rites must be done. The monk sighed, saying that as too many secrets of dragon had been released, it wouldn’t be long before he would leave this world. However, the monk felt glad to be able to make his own contribution to the construction of Shanghai, since it was the place where he put all his faith and happiness.

The time and supplies were strictly assigned by the monk; the dragon carvings, which we can still see now, were also an important part of it. Currently, no accurate historical information can be found about this process of rites. It seems that everything was blocked on purpose, even though people still ask about the details on the internet. All we know is that after the rites, the monk predicted the best day for piling, as well as some other details to pay attention to, all of which must be carefully followed. Although the construction workers were lost in confusion, it turned out that the rites worked, and the pillars got successfully piled

It was even more surprising to learn that the monk passed away after he returned to Longhua Temple, seven days after the construction of the pillar. Was it a coincidence, or another legend that cannot be explained by science?

This article was written by Emma Tao. Send an email to [email protected] to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Blackstation @ Flickr

Author: Emma Tao

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