Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 83.djvu/563

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
559
REMARKABLE MONUMENT IN WESTERN CHINA

river Min and moored his boat at the gates of Jah-ding. Leaving the stream, he ascended Mt. Omei, and the resulting account, which he published in England, provoked the curiosity of the traveling and scientific world, for it was the first to call attention to that strange old mountain, with its clustering monasteries and temples, its noble bronzes, and its glorious natural scenery. But Baber found other wonders besides those of Omei which were worth recording. A few hundred yards from Jah-ding stands the ruin of an immense image of Buddha. Twelve hundred years ago, a niche two hundred feet high was cut in a cliff which stands by the side of the river. The recess extended the full height of the cliff, and in it was carved an immense image. Unprotected from the elements, and neglected by the people, time has done its work; practically all that is left consists of a few vestiges of the face. The entire niche is overgrown with brush; vegetation hangs from the features so as to give it the appearance of possessing eyebrows and mustache. Standing on the opposite bank, it is possible dimly to discern the outlines of a countenance; that is all.

Baber freely admitted that this old image is a ruin and a disappointment. He also admitted having been informed through a Russian traveler that a hill, two days’ travel east of Jah-ding, had been hewn into a representation of the seated form of Buddha “several hundred feet high, which far overtops the roofs of surrounding temples.” Here, it would seem, was something worth the effort to visit and describe, yet he made no attempt to do so.

About ten years later (1887), Virgil Hart, American missionary, followed in Baber's footsteps and duplicated his journey, collecting as he went the material for one of the most vivid, accurate and delightful books of travel that have ever treated of China. The volume which he published challenged attention and provoked admiration. Hart’s flowing phrases were in striking contrast to the baldness and bareness of Baber’s account. The reverend gentleman treated Mt. Omei with especial fulness and enthusiasm. He said:

Mt. Omei is a center of natural and artificial wonders, the like of which may not be found elsewhere upon the globe. I speak advisedly. The world is large, and in regions like Switzerland and Alaska, nature seemingly has been taxed to the uttermost to produce a combination of natural objects of surpassing beauty and grandeur. Here, however, near the borders of Chinese civilization, we find a region of unequaled sublimity—a combination of lofty mountains, of swift rivers and of valleys of wondrous fertility. Then also of the works of man there are many—such as thousands of brine-wells, a great silk culture, a white wax industry, mountains chiseled into the forms of idols, colossal bronze statues, pagodas, and one temple wholly of rich bronze. Great Omei Mountain is scores of miles in circumference, rising 11,000 feet, its highest point enveloped in the everlasting clouds. All these wonders are within a radius of forty miles.

On another page. Hart quoted Baber’s account of the figure sculptured in the river bluff above Jah-ding, and added (p. 176):