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Making Room to Protect Ecology and Preserve Local History

By DENG, YANICHONGQING|May 09,2022

Huanghua Island of  Zhongxian County in Chongqing has been incorporated into a national wetland park for strengthened protection and management. Residents have moved out so as to keep the historical relics of Huanghua Island in integrity and a primitive state and create a better habitat for animals and plants.

The breathtaking view of Huanghua Island in Zhongxian County in Chongqing. (Photo/People’s Government of Zhongxian County)

At the Huanghua Island Wharf, over ten residents waited for the boat solemnly. For more than ten years, residents have relocated one after another. 

Huanghua Island is unique 

Huanghua Island, shaped like a heart, is about 346 kilometers away from the Three Gorges Dam in the east and Dingshan Park in Jiangjin in the west. Lying at the golden ratio point in the Chongqing Section of the golden waterway of Yangtze River, it is reputed as the “heart of the Three Gorges Reservoir Region.”

According to historical records, Huanghua Island was once an important part of the defense system of the mountain city of Chongqing in the time of battles between the Yuan and the Song Dynasty (960-1276) and is also one of the ten historical sites for the battles.

The Cargo ships sail on the river passing by Huanghua Island, Zhongxian County, Chongqing. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

“We started the archaeological exploration on Huanghua Island in 2016. Now over five years have passed,” said Cai Yalin, director of the Archaeology and Protection Center for Great Ruins of the Chongqing Municipal Research Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. So far, more than 200 relics of various types such as city gates, city walls, houses, and tombs have been cleaned up, and over 300 pieces of porcelain, ironware, copper coins, tiles, and other utensils unearthed on Huanghua Island.

Also, Huanghua Island is an enclosed land surrounded by water, with its own unique biocenosis. A unique ecosystem has been formed with the biocenosis, hydro-fluctuation belt, and surrounding waters.

Li Xiangyang, head of the Zhongxian Wetland Protection and Management Station, said that Huanghua Island boasts three ecosystems peculiar to water, land, and hydro-fluctuation belt wetlands. It is typical among the reservoir hydro-fluctuation belt wetlands and island wetlands across China and hence enjoys high value for scientific research.

“After completing the Three Gorges Reservoir, Huanghua Island has an area of 0.8 square kilometers in the wet season and 1.42 square kilometers in the dry season, with a unique landscape featuring “island in the river and lake in the island.” Li Xiangyang added that since Huanghua Island applied for the title of a pilot National Wetland Park in 2009, residents have moved out. With decreasing interference of human activities with the environment, certain regions on the island have become a wilderness and further primitive wetlands.

Huanghua Island now boasts 358 species of plants with 12 national protected plants and 329 species of wild animals with 36 key animals under the national and municipal protection.

The sunset view of Huanghua Island.  (Photo/People’s Government of Zhongxian County)

Ecological restoration

“Huanghua Island is small, with limited environmental capacity and carrying capacity. Because the Three Gorges Reservoir sees anti-season water rise and recession at a large scale, the ecosystems are fragile and need restoration scientifically and reasonably,” said Li Xiangyang.

To that end, Zhongxian County has made Huanghua Island a national wetland park for strengthened protection and management and declared it as a pilot national wetland park in 2009. It was reviewed and approved by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration in 2016.

Huanghua Island National Wetland Park consists of Huanghua Island, some surrounding waters, and certain areas at and below the 182-meter elevation of the Ganjing River and the Dongxi River, both first tributaries of the Yangtze River. It has a total planned area of 1,400 hectares, of which the wetlands cover 637 hectares.

“These wetlands were turned from the residents’ ponds and rice fields left behind.” Li Xiangyang said that the ditches, canals, ponds, weirs, and wells built by the people and the natural springs and streams on the island constitute the whole of a micro-wetland system. “The spillway of the ancient well dug by former residents is a water cellar, and outside it is a pond, which connects to the fields. Together they form a complete purification system.”

The ever-improving ecological environment has attracted more animals here.

“In recent years, we have discovered more lotus-leaved maidenhair fern plants, a national first-class protected species, on Huanghua Island.” Li Xiangyang said that in June 2019, the red-billed gull was discovered for the first time on the island and in the city.

Red-billed gull on Huanghua Island. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

To build the Huanghua Archaeological Site Park

“We excavated No. 9 step trench in the terraced area on the island and found a complete and continuous five-layer cultural overlay formed since the Song Dynasty. There is carbonized rice and other plant seeds inside.” According to Cai Yalin, it can be concluded that human history can be traced back 800 years at least.

The investigation team landed on Huanghua Island, Zhongxian County, on April 14. ( Photo provided to Chongqing)

According to historical records, Zhongxian County (known as “Zhongzhou” at that time) was the fiefdom of prince Zhao Qi during the Southern Song Dynasty. After Zhao Qi ascended the throne under the reign title of Xianchun, Zhongzhou was promoted to Xianchun Prefecture. In the first year of the Xianchun period (AD 1265), the government of Xianchun Prefecture was moved to Huanghuazhou (now Huanghua Island) in the middle of the river, and Huanghua City was built here.

“There is also a city gate named ‘Chaotianmen’ in Huanghua City, which is the first under the name that can be identified in the history of Chongqing.” At an excavation site on Huanghua Island, Cai Yalin crouched down and touched the arrow mark on the gate post, “An important part of the defense system of the mountain city in the battles between Song and Mongol, Huanghua City had three layers of city walls and multiple city gates, all with traces of the battles.”

On November 26, 2021, the Jiangpu Relics – An Exhibition of Staged Achievements of Archaeological Excavations from the Historical Sites of the Song and Yuan Dynasties (Mongol) in Huanghua City was held at the Zhongxian Museum, which marked the archaeological progress and outcomes since the start of the excavation in 2016.

“For the next phase, we will closely work with the archaeological team, focusing on the construction of the Huanghua Archaeological Site Park.” Chen Yunhua, secretary of the Party Committee of Zhongxian Culture and Tourism Commission, said that during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), a plan would be made, and construction started for Huanghua Archaeological Site Park by Zhongxian County. It will be divided into site protection and display, ecological conservation, and scenic resort.

One of the archaeological sites of the Huanghua City Ruins. (Photo provided to iChongqing)

 

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