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Meiguan, Plum Pass

The Méiguān 梅關 Plum Pass, on Dàyǔlǐng 大庾岭, Dayu Ridge, on the border between Guangdong and Jiangxi.The ancient Méiguān Gǔdào 梅关古道, Old Plum Pass Road, has been the main route between north and south China for centuries. And the old road still remains today because, gratefully, the new highway cuts through the pass a mile away from the old Meiguan. A search today on the Internet for Meiguan will turn up dozens of articles about the Meiguan Expressway that is under construction between Hong Kong and the Nanchang.

It is said that the road through this pass was first constructed by the Tang Dynasty official Zhang Jiuling 张九龄.Today (April 27, 2002), a taxi driver while driving to the nearby Yunmensi 雲門寺, related an old story about the cutting of the road through the pass.The work was terribly difficult and the workmen were becoming very discouraged, because one day they would dig three meters forward, but the next morning two meters of earth and rock had grown back!

A local shaman confided to Zhang Jiuling that the only way to resolve this problem would be to wash the road with the blood of a pregnant woman. Zhang Jiuling listened to this advice but was naturally reluctant to implement it. At this time Zhang had, in addition to his first wife, several concubines and one of his concubines was pregnant. Zhang, so the story goes, being the considerate husband that he was, did not tell her about this because he felt it would worry her.

However, one night his concubine heard him talking in his sleep and she learned about the shaman's prophesy. Secretly she got out of bed, dressed and went to the pass. There she slit her own throat and drenched the road bed with blood. Her sacrifice solved the problem; no longer did the earth grow back and the road through the pass was completed.

The main route to the south from the old capitals of China led down the Changjiang (Yangzte River) to Jiujiang 九江, then south over the Poyang Lake 鄱阳湖, past Xieshan 鞋山(Shoe Island), then up the 贛江 Gan River to the city of Nanchang 南昌 in Jiangxi Province. From Nanchang one traveled partly by boat and overland, by foot if one was a poor peasant or monk, or by horse or palanquin if one was an official or a rich monk, and up over the Meiguan, Plum Pass on Dayu Mountains. Along the way one would stop at Buddhist and Daoist temples on Lushan, just south of Jiujiang, in Nanchang, and then further south along the Gan River 赣江. After climbing over the Meiguan, Plum Pass, the way continued south to Huineng's Nanhuasi, a two or three day's march from Meiguan, and on down to Guangzhou in southern Guangdong.

The Meiguan was known to all travelers who for official, commercial, religious or other reasons made their way south. For most it was not a happy event to leave the center of China's culture for the gloomy, miasmic, only recently pacified south, and many poems have been written about the Meiguan. Huineng, the Sixth Chan Patriarch crossed this pass twice in his life, the last time when he fled to Guangdong and established the Nanhuasi 南華寺.

In September of 1094 in the Northern Song, Su Shi on his way to exile in Huizhou, and eventually Hainan made this difficult trip and left us a poem commemorating the event, Guo Dayuling (Crossing the Dayu Mountains). He then stopped at the Nanhuasi to pay his respects to the stupa of 慧能, Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch. Another famous monk poet of the Ming Dynasty, Hanshan Deqing, made this trip more than once, the last time when he returned from Lushan to the Nanhuasi to die.

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