on Lake Qiandao
One cloudy afternoon on a late Spring day, we were all standing still, gazing quietly as the flow of water beneath our feet submitted to the motion of the embarcation. It was upon an invitation from friends that we’d found ourselves sailing to a destination yet unknown, though the place had acquired a notoriety in China, where it’s now known as the lake of thousands islands – the Qiandao Lake (千岛湖). In the calmness of scenes that unfolded before our eyes, we reached a corner of land that was to become a hidden haven for our hosts. Amidst the abundance of nature, and sheltered in the soft mist of the lake, little did we know then that we’d been afloat a submerged territory.
The Chun’an County – land of “pure peace” – a region of mountains and hills which has been inhabited since ancient times and where, on the autumn of 1959, took place one of the country’s major population displacements. The ambitious energetic plan of the Xi’an River Dam was then to flood more than 600 square kilometers of land and cause the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people.
Little is often known concerning the fate of the people who are forced to migrate away from their homes. Forty years later, several ancient structures had been uncovered from within the depths of the mancaused lake, revealing millenia-old ancestral towns identified as dating back to the dynasty of the Eastern Hans. Underwater, they were ironically preserved and spared from culturally disastrous revolutionary events from the communist era.
History aside, the present work is meant to be at times a revisit of personal memories of this expedition, and a reinterpretation of the silent voice of those whom were forced to depart from a soil they might have identified with, a homeland – one can only imagine. It is an exploration of both feelings of grief and wonder – at the grandeur of nature and the ever-growing impact of mankind on it.
With an unconstrained and impressionistic approach, the texts tackles in three parts themes of exaltation and growth, of memories and the inevitable melancholy of moving on; of the primary forces of life, of utopia, and of the ultimate embrace of nature, the overlooking gaze of surrounding heights, half of which now lies hidden underneath. This nature here seems to speak for itself; it guides the lost spirits of a vanished world. The first two parts are an ode to the untouched nature, to home within chaos, to awe in face of the cycles of life, and to loneliness amidst the infinite. They set up the stage for the final part, which is a story told through the marks and scratches on the walls of an abandoned cabin, like sad reminiscences of a long-gone youth, of times of trouble and crude passions.
Accompanied by photographs of the initial expedition, the work ultimately reflects on the idea that the pinnacle of our lives, like a flare lit through the dark, may water down and dim away if we let our memories sink in the depths of grief and oblivion; if we fail to recognize and hold dear what the struggles of life has gifted us with, forsaking thus hopes for a better tomorrow.
People have gone, but they now return – they always will; and many find shelter again on Lake Qiandao – on islands that are, after all, summits born out of the flood.