A concise history of Bei-Bei’s most ancient landmark
At the foot of Jin Yun mountain, in the space carved out by the Jia Ling River, energy from below heats Bei Wen Quan (North Hotspring). It’s been that way since before the town to the springs south has been called Bei Bei. For that matter even before the city’s name was Dong Yang, when, like the springs benefit aesthetically from being nestled between the mountain and the river, the city benefited economically from being situated between the kingdom of Ba’s two capitals, He Chuan and Yu Zhong. The city itself was never really that important, most of its history centers around events taking place at the springs.
In 423, a temple was established at the hot springs. The temple’s environs attracted many Buddhist monks and scholars to the springs. At that time, it may have also attracted one famous poet:people in the city say that the poem “Ye Yu Ji Bei” (Midnight Rain, Sent North) was written in the city beneath Ba Shan. Though the people in the city are not the only townsfolk who lay claim to the poem in the greater Sichuan region.
Warfare’s desecration–and the monks’ faithful restoration–marked the passage of time, until history brushed up against the springs again in 1259. Either inflicted with dysentery, or pierced by an arrow, Mongke Khan fled He Chuan to the temple at north hot spring. He never recovered. Mongke, son of Genghis, would be the last Khan to rule over a unified Mongol empire, his death would spark a power struggle between his younger brothers, and fracture the empire. Once besting his younger brother, Kublai Khan would return to He Chuan to complete the siege on Fishing Fortress (Diao Yu Cheng). Kublai continued to unite China and established the Yuan Dynasty.
After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, the cities history continued to be marked by the temple at the hot springs periodic renovation. During both the Ming and Qing dynasty improvements were made, with a full restoration taking place in 1432.
The arrival of Lu Zuo Fu, in the 1920’s, marks the arrival of the modern era to Beibei. In the city, Lu Zuo Fu would complete modernization projects. Not limited to infrastructure, the projects included parks, and grand boulevards lined with trees. The trees and the parks are still in the town today, but the public hot spring facility that Lu Zuo Fu built around the hot springs has dried up.
The hot springs became known as Jia Ling River Hot Spring Park. More pools were created, and the fissures faithfully heated the water. Same as before. Now though, the water heated common people for the first time, making the park the first public hot springs park in China. During the civil war and second world war both Chiang Kai Shek and Zhou En Lai would visit the public hot springs and stay in the guest rooms. After liberation, and after Lu Zuo Fu committed suicide in 1952, Deng Xiao Ping and other important government officials would visit from time to time.
The 1990’s and 2000’s saw the city develop at pace with the rest of China. The universities combined and were upgraded to be part of the 221 University project. Shopping districts and streets full of snack food were constructed to cater to the students. The metro reached out from Yu Bei and Yu Zhong, to the city, and people moved to Bei Bei and commuted to their jobs in the bigger city.
At the same time, developers started building resorts and spas, heated by the same old fissures as the public pools. Sometime in the 2000’s one of these developers built carelessly and caused a calamity. The outcome was that the spas at the north hot springs could no longer extract heat from the geothermal vents below.
While anyone is still able to visit springs, not everyone can afford the price. Since the developer’s mistake, hot water is imported to the springs from other springs in less convenient and picturesque settings. This added cost has meant that even the public hot springs operate with an entry price that excludes most citizens from the city. The cost certainly excludes Peace Corps volunteers.
The developer didn’t receive any legal punishment, but perhaps he befell cosmic consequences. The developer died in a helicopter crash, while his son was on board. People from the town say, “that could be karma,” after all, there used to be a Buddhist temple built on the hot springs.