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Longyou (Swimming Dragon) Grottoes

Farmers in the suburbs of Xi'an, provincial capital of Shaanxi, discovered by accident the terracotta army of the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 B.C.), known as one of the Eight Wonders of the World, more than 20 years ago. More recently, peasants in Zhejiang Province discovered another spectacular scene - the Longyou (Swimming Dragon) Grottoes.

According to archaeologists, the grottoes were carved out of the rock before the period which saw the making of the terracotta army.

The grottoes, 24 of them, are scattered in the hills near Xiaonanhai Village. They have long been sources of water for the local villagers to irrigate their farmland. Nobody previously paid much attention to studying them because it was believed that they were bottomless.

During the drought in 1992 the grottoes were an unfailing source of water, which kept the drought from the village. In May 1997, some curious farmers used a dozen pumps to draw water from one of the grottoes, and after two weeks finally pumped it dry. The grotto is more than 3,000 square meters in area. It is 30 meters deep, and the roof is propped up by three pillars in the shape of fish tails. The only cultural relic found there was a carving of a creature half bird half hare on the wall. Chisel marks can still be seen on the walls of the grotto.

The farmers then drained four other grottoes, and found that they were different in size but identical in internal structure. In the No.2 Grotto there are two pictographic characters carved on one wall, which the archaeologists interpret as meaning "conquer".

The archeologists have not reached a final conclusion o the purpose of these grottoes or the time when they were cut. Most agree that their construction started in the Qin Dynasty or the Warring States Period (475- 221 B.C.) Some hold that they were used as grain depots during the Han Dynast (206 B.C - A.D.220); some think that they were the arsenals of King Gou Jian of the State of Yue in the late Warring States Period. Others think that they were simply stone quarries.

The discovery of the caves has attracted the attention of China's media. However, no conclusion has been reached about the grottoes, so far. One thing is certain, though, as pointed out by Hu Jigao, a leading cultural relics expert and member of the CPPCC National Committee, these man-made structures were probably not for civilian use, because of the their large scale.

At present, the local government is making efforts to protect the grottoes and develop the area as a new tourist spot in southwestern Zhjiang Province. Buses and trains serve Longyou from Xuzhou in Jiangsu Province and from Hnagzhou in Zhejing.

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