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Guiyang History: Triprimacy Well

Situated on a bed of solid limestone that characterises the karst landscape of Guizhou, over 1000 metres above the sea level, the city of Guiyang has access to ample underground water sources. These days some serve as natural hot springs, while the majority of everyday supply comes from man-made reservoirs - in the past, however, ground waters were an important source of drinking water for the citizens. It was estimated that 21 ancient water wells were located in what we can call the “old Guiyang” area (Yunyan/Nanming districts), out of which the majority is forever lost below layers and layers of streets, alleyways and buildings.

The Triprimacy Well (Sanyuanjing)was preserved in the exact same spot for close to 6 centuries . It dates back to the late 14th century, the Hongwu Period (1368-1398) which marked the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in China. It was then Guiyang was made the capital of the region (back then as Guizhou, it was renamed to Guiyang a century later), and around that time that the old palisade surrounding the town was rebuilt into sturdy, stone city walls. The transition of power from the Yuan Dynasty to Ming brought upon turmoils and migrations, mostly from the north to the south. New settlers would build dwellings just outside the city walls and proceed to cultivate the formerly fallow land. As water supply was crucial to expanding the city, wells had to be dug - three just along the northern walls and what was called the Northern Gate (roughly where Penshuichi is now). They were called the Upper, Middle and Lower Well, based on the order of construction. Eventually, all three were merged into one, thus the name that could be read as “The Well of Three Foundations”.

Where does my attempt of translating the name come from, though? There is a couplet about the Well and it speaks of the magical powers it has:

“Awaiting great favour in their career

Those, who sip from the Clear Spring

Below the Heavenly Turtle’s gaze”

Liu Yun Liang (1844-1914) “Book of Poems and Essays on Fabled Places of Guiyang”

This is a reference to the Qing Dynasty’s system of civil service exams held on three separate levels: local, provincial and national. Hence the term lianzhongsanyuan which describes a person that managed to get first place in all three examinations, securing an outstanding career. The legend has it that those born in the vicinity of the well had indeed managed to leave the city and start a career on the national level. That would not have been possible if they had not ranked first, surely, as per the philosophy that only the best of the best ever deserve a chance.

In 2008 the well was registered as part of Guiyang’s Cultural Heritage, thus becoming legally protected, together with the two other preserved wells. I have found from the locals that while it is but a tiny fountain at the moment, it used to be a vast pool of water in the past (around 50 years ago or so), and would flood the area frequently. There’s a sign warning that the water is not fit for consumption, yet again, the locals I spoke to disagreed and claimed it perfectly fine to drink. Seems the whole spring is just underneath the alley which has obviously received a significant face lift in the recent years.

For the two remaining wells - I’m yet to find more about them.

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Unknown member
Mar 11, 2021

Any effects of water from the well on you? Superhuman strength? Immunity to certain viruses? ;)

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