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Liu Bowen’s Reconstruction of the Old Beijing City


If someone inquires why China’s Northern Capital has been established in Beijing, the reason is closely connected with the story of Prince Yanwang (Zhu Di(1360-1424), 朱棣, e.g. Emperor Cheng Zu, the third emperor of Ming Dynasty).

Zhu Di was assigned to be the Yan Area, which today covers Beijing, Hebei province and some parts of the Shanxi province, when he was young. As a child, he was quite talented and outgoing, perhaps with qualities that made him the most excellent candidate for the role as emperor.

When Zhu Di lived in Nanjing, he planned to build a capital in Northern China. He subsequently inquired about this possibility of this project to Liu Bowen(刘伯温), one of most prominent members of the Ming Dynasty then, about the best location for the project.

Liu Bowen replied: “Please let General Xu Da (徐达), have a hand in this situation.” Zhu Di summoned Xu Da at once.

Liu Bowen told Xu Da: “It will be decided by your strength and your archery, as well as what you believe the location for the Northern reconstruction project should be”. Xu Da agreed and shot an arrow towards the Northersn side of the of palace to mark the spot. Liu Bowen hurried up to go after the arrow following Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal.

The arrows did not stop until arrived in Nan Yuan (南苑), which today is more than 20 kilometers far away from southern area of Beijing. At the time, there were eight moneybags living in Nan Yuan, and they were rather uneasy and nervous. They thought: if the capital was settled here, their properties and farmlands would be occupied. Finally, they came up with an idea that moved this arrow to another place, where today is Houmenqiao(后门桥).

A stone stele with three characters: 北京城 (Town of Beijing) was said to be erected under Houmenqiao, and that arrow was said to fall over there. Liu Bowen mysteriously gave a prediction after they got to Nan Yuan that the arrow should fall here. He called on these moneybags and forced them to return the arrows. The moneybags had no choices but beg Liu Bowen: Anything required would be followed as long as the town was not selected to be built here. Liu Bowen thought for a while and said: “Ok, but the expenditure of building capital must be paid by you”. These moneybags thought they owned a large amount of treasure and agreed the requirement of Liu Bowen.

Town Tower of Xizhimen Gate was the first building to set up, but unexpectedly, eight moneybags had been broke to the world before the completion of the this tower. How to solve the problem, Liu Bowen re-showed his power and knew the solution to the problem. He ordered an understrapper to look for a man named Shen Wansan(沈万三),a man who was said to be sworn in as the brother of Zhu Yuanzhang(朱元璋) who was the founder of Ming Dynasty.

After a long time, a man named Shen Wansan, a beggar, was found.and sent to Shichahai, where Liubowen used to live. Majority of people felt disappointed that Shen Wansan was a beggar dressed in dirty and ragged clothing. Shen Wanshan was quite sacred and nervous on hearing Liu Bowen and asked him for money. He shivered and said:“ I am just a poor beggar without a penny”. Liu Bowen posed to be furious and shouted: “No way! Beat him! ” And so, the understrappers harshly beat Shen Wansan.

At the beginning, Shen Wansan cried out for a long time, but it was useless. He finally said:“ Please stop, the money you need can be gotten underground here”.

Liu Bowen was exultant and really got a great deal of money underground. They resumed the project, but money ran down once again. Liu Bowen continually asked the understrappers to beat Shen Wansan, and Shen Wansan could not bear the pain anymore and pointed at the earth he stood and said:”Stop please, more money you need can be available here” Liu’s understrappers dug and really get another deal of money. And so the story goes, Beijing as a city was being built up during this time. The big pits that Liu Bowen’s aids discovered in order to dig for money were filled with water, and gradually became today’s Shichahai (什刹海), Beihai (北海) and Zhongnanhai (中南海).


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