Despite being constructed in 256 BC, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System continues to serve residents of the fertile Chengdu Plain. A marvel of ancient engineering, the irrigation system was built in response to destructive springtime flood waters. It was commissioned by Governor Li Bing who began work on the project to divide the river into more manageable streams so as to not breach the riverbanks. Once separated, the diverted water was to be funneled through the nearby Mt. Yulei en route to irrigating the surrounding fields and plains. Needing to blast through the mountainside in an age before gunpowder, Li Bing and his son employed a system where the heating and cooling of stones would crack an eventual path through the mountain. After four years of heavy construction the miraculous project was completed, and in doing so, created the world’s oldest no-dam irrigation system. In 2000 the Dujiangyan Irrigation System was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Located 35 miles outside the city of Chengdu, the irrigation system is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Those wanting to experience the brilliant engineering up close are advised to visit in the early morning hours in order to beat the crowds; and while the feat may not be overly impressive to the common layperson, the natural setting surrounding Dujiangyan includes riverside trails and various temples which make for an enjoyable day trip. Particularly notable is the Erwang temple which is dedicated to Li Bing and his son. This site continues to impress visitors even though the 2008 earthquake which struck the region temporarily placed some temple complexes under construction.
A favorite activity of most visitors is walking on the Anlan cable bridge which spans a portion of the river. The bridge is a pedestrian suspension bridge constructed of reinforced steel. Even though a trip onto the bridge may be a twinge unsettling for some visitors, it’s assuredly safer than the original bamboo bridge which spanned the river over 1,200 years ago. Shaky legs and all, however, the Anlan Bridge is still the best vantage point for viewing the ingenious complex in all its glory.