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  • Writer's picture老贵阳

Guiyang History - The Dragon Sighting Cave

If you have ever flown to or from the City, Dear Reader, then surely you must be familiar with the name of the Longdongbao Airport. Now, do not feel bad about it, since I’m sure any English-speaking person did snort with laughter upon hearing it the first time; jokes aside, the name translates into no less than “The Dragon Cave Fort”, which would be completely suiting were we to live somewhere in Forgotten Realms or some other fantasy world. That makes one wonder: how does a name like this end up in our unfortunately mundane reality? Asking a random local person does not help, as the answer always remains - “it’s just a name”, and it in this case it’s easy to accept considering dragons are indeed quite common not only in Chinese folklore but in naming tradition. I have chosen the surname Long (Dragon) as my Chinese name myself, since, come on, isn’t it cool? But that doesn’t bring us any closer to solving the Dragon Cave riddle.

Luckily, at least some of us still seem to retain the miraculous ability, so easily forgotten these days, to put funny-looking shapes together into meaning that had been recorded by people of quite often higher knowledge. Thanks to the magic of reading, we can find out that the Dragon Cave in question has quite an interesting story behind it.

First, you need to know, Dear Reader, that the name refers to yet another spot in the City, very close to the airport itself, that is “The Dragon Sighting Cave” (Jianlongdong 见龙洞). If you live in Guiyang, you might have seen it as a name of the underground station, line 2. The whole huge area around the airport is all new development - ugly and soulless - and therefor it feels like it would be the last place to go looking for pieces of the City’s history. Imagine my excitement when I found out the cave not only actually exists, but also it has a story to tell - it is told to had been inhabited by a real dragon!

Now, the real challenge was actually finding the cave in a city that has been constantly undergoing a massive transformation. No maps showed its actual location, but I assumed it must be somewhere near the underground station or in the street sharing the same name. I imagine the area must have been pretty rural and wild until recently (with parts of it industrial, perhaps), given how much construction is happening there at this very moment; and if we go even further, all the way back to the end of the 14th century, then it must have been one thick and impenetrable forest, dotted with tiny military outposts stranded in this land beyond time.

It was around that time the Emperor Jianwen, grandson of the Ming Dynasty’s founder Emperor Hong came to power far in Beijing, amid some controversy. Hongwu’s son - Jianwen’s uncle - Prince of Yan, did not agree with the fact that his generation simply got skipped in the line of succession and started a rebellion against the new sovereign. A civil war followed, with Emperor Jianwen losing and eventually disappearing from Beijing. Historians can’t establish his fate - whether he was simply killed or managed to flee the capital, remains unclear. The story has it, however, that he escaped disguised as a monk, and later made his way into exile all the way into the wild lands of present day Guizhou, where he hid from his uncle’s ruffians in the same cave you can see in the pictures below:

The area around the cave is currently an utter mess - it’s just one huge construction site with no proper roads and roadblocks everywhere. It took me a moment of waddling around the mud and required ignoring a couple of “no entry” signs (I’m a laowai I can’t read Chinese!) to finally reach it, and then suddenly there it was! Half-history, half-legend. It is said that spiders spun a web so thick around the entrance, that when the assassins following the exiled emperor arrived, they thought it impossible for anyone to dwell inside. Thus, the life of the Jianwen was spared. What became of the run-away emperor later, is only for us to guess, but the story around the cave grew as years passed, with a Ming officials finally carving the three characters on the side of the entrance - Jianlongdong. The Dragon Sighting Cave, as dragons were indeed the symbol of the Emperors, a representation of their immense power and knowledge. As such, Guiyang has gained its own unique dragon cave with quite a story to stir our imagination.

It’s hard too tell what future awaits the Dragon Sighting Cave with all the construction machines wrecking havoc all around the place. There seem to be a half build community just where it is, but the cave was registered as a Protected Culture Heritage spot in 1984, so we can assume that it will eventually become a small oddity at the back of a random apartment building. Will the people living there in a couple of years know about its history, or even enquire about it? Doubtful, yet unless purposely destroyed, the lime stone is there to stay, a silent witness and the only one that knows the truth behind the legend.

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