Editor’s Note: This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies as part of a series of ongoing reports exploring the city’s abundant resources in intangible cultural heritages.
Eighteen Ladders (Shibati), located at No. 1, Zhongxing Road, Yuzhong District of Chongqing, is adjacent to Jiefang West Road in the South and Zhongxing Road in the north. It lies on the riverbank of the Yangtze, connecting Chongqing’s main district and the lower half of the city. With far more than eighteen ladders, Eighteen Ladders stand on top of the world from the earth to support the paces of history and keep the secrets of the elder generation silently.
There are two versions of the legend about the Eighteen Ladders, whose origins have been long-standing. One is that during the Ming Dynasty, it was said that there were 190 stairs in total and an old well at the lower end of the ladder mouth, which was just eighteen steps away from the local residents. As a result, it was called “Eighteen Ladders”. Another is spread in the Qing Dynasty. Stone ladder paths were built-in views of facilitating pedestrian access. Coincidentally, the stairs were just divided into 18 sections. Each section offered passers-by a platform to rest, which generates “Eighteen Ladders”.
The elderly Wang Qingsheng, who has lived here for 50 years, is more willing to believe the first version. “In the past, it took a long time to play the hide-and-seek with those children. Also, I would count the ladders, which included almost one hundred and eighty or ninety steps when boring at a young age.” Wang said slowly and then pointed to the big tree in the distance, “The Ficus Virens, used to cover a large area, now seems it has been cut down. At that time, there were not so many young people anymore. Most of them were the elderly, kids, and “Bangbang”, porter in the local dialect. Now because of the rebuilding, they moved away and got separated from each other.” Once the evenings arrived in the summer, the livings inside were so dense and hot that every family would put the mattresses and cool shops out of the rooms. Several adults gathered to play cards while old men were lying on the rocking chair, using the cattail leaf fan to cool the air.
Wang recalled his childhood jumping up and down the Eighteen Ladders with friends. And his mother always nagged to him, “Be careful and don’t run around with other people. There are traffickers hanging around!” “It is impossible for anyone not to recognize me because all the old neighbors are around.” Old Wang said, “In the evening, we play the game of tag or hawk-and-chicken instead of hide-and-seek. Only did we feel tired, we would come back, eat and drink something. Every time I didn’t realize to go back home until my mother called me. Sometimes my mother would call my nickname, “Xiaohuan, Xiaohuan; it is time to come back for dinner.” Having chatting for a while, there was not any sound. After calling him several times, the old man came back to his senses and said with a smile, “Oh, I am distracted again.” When he left, he waved to the Ficus Virens as if to say, “Mom, I’m leaving. Take good care of yourself.” Every step of the ladders here is invested with too many memories. Just like old Wang, when you look back on your life, you will also see the old shadow of your childhood appear on each ladder, slowly coinciding with yourself now. With the eighteen ladders forming from individual slow ladders, the more you walk, the more you intend to recollect.
The modern eighteen ladders have adapted to the new era. Just as the fact that the ships of the new era cannot bear the prevenient memory, the old residents have left, leaving only high store rents and the figure of foreign tourists. The new slate has replaced the mottled past, and the old gray photos have been colored, which means that everything in the memory has slowly disappeared. Only some broken bricks and tiles are left based on those demolished residential buildings. The transformation of the eighteen ladders cannot be identified as having failed. The commercial atmosphere is so strong that it covers up the history left by the old eighteen ladders. The change of the times has created everything which cannot be regarded as a bad thing, but the memory of the times should be preserved. Maybe in a few decades, the eighteen ladders in the memory of the Chongqing locals’ childhood will disappear completely.
Looking back on the eighteen stairs with every slow step, it is easy to come down but difficult to come up. Wandering the eighteen ladders step by step before leaving, the natives can’t help thinking about the difficulty of returning as if the moon hardly come round.
Chinese script: Menglin Yao
Tutored by: Yanying Wang
Translation: Ziying Zhu
Tutored by: Jie Li
Voice-over: Xin Wang
Tutored by: Yu Lei