Dr. SkySkull in China, Part 1: Baotu Spring

So I’m back home after my epic month and a half trip to China! It was a really lovely experience: my hosts were incredibly kind and generous, I got to see and do a lot of things that I’ve only dreamed of, and I was able to get a lot of work done.

I also, of course, took a lot of photos! During my trip, I not only took a few trips to other cities, but spent my weekends wandering the city of Jinan, where I was based.  I worked at Shandong Normal University, at their newer campus situated in the suburbs.

Me, outside the Center of Light Manipulations and Applications.

During the late spring/early summer, Jinan is a very hot and dry city. Fortunately, it is also a city filled with water — there are a large number of natural artesian springs in the city, 72 of which are important “named” springs. On my first weekend in Jinan, I opted to go to the most famous of these, Baotu Spring, whose name may be translated as the “Spurting” Spring.  This blog post is about that visit, and several more visits which I took there during my stay!

A little background about my trip there before I share the photos. I arrived in China on a Wednesday, and the next few days were filled with welcome celebrations. By the weekend, however, my hosts had to go out of town for a PhD defense, so I was left to my own devices.  As you may imagine, China is VERY different from the US, in terms of language, culture, writing, and food. Being at heart a midwestern boy who grew up thinking tacos were too exotic to eat, my natural instinct was to spend that first weekend hiding in my hotel room, with occasional forays to the Burger King across the street for sustenance.

But when I feel like that, I force myself to do the opposite! I looked online to find the major attractions in Jinan, of which several stand out: the Shandong Museum, Daming Lake, and Baotu Spring. I hunted down the names written in Chinese, so I could communicate to a taxi driver where I wanted to go, and marched out and took a trip downtown.

On Saturday, on my first excursion, I went to the Shandong Museum, which I will talk about in another post. On Sunday, I caught another taxi and visited Jinan’s most famous and historic spring.

Before this trip, I had never really thought about the geology of springs. What makes water just naturally gush out of the ground at some points?  Here we can borrow an illustration from Wikipedia that illustrates how it works.

Illustration of an artesian aquifer, by Artur Jan Fijałkowski.

In short: rainwater (3) is absorbed into a porous layer of material like sand or gravel (1), where it is trapped between non-porous layers (2), forming a sort of natural bottle.  If ground level ends up being below the water level (5) of the “bottle,” then it will naturally spill, or gush, out anywhere that an opening is created, be it an artificial well (4) or a natural channel (7). In the case of Jinan, the city is built on a slope that runs downhill from the mountains in the south; rain that falls on the southern mountains fills up the aquifer, resulting in a remarkable number of active springs in the city itself. Daming Lake, which lies in the center of town, is almost entirely sustained by the action of these numerous springs (more on Daming Lake in a future post).

The result, in the case of Baotu Spring, is a spring where the water is coming out of the ground with such force that it actually is visible.

View of the pond of Baotu Spring. Note the three spots of disturbed water in the center; that is the water from the spring.

The jets of the spring can emit water with much more force, if the conditions are right. Do a google search of Baotu Spring and you can easily find photographs where the water is bubbling a foot or more above the surface of the pond.  Apparently, historical records indicate that at some times it has had jets which are tens of meters high!

In recent years, however, the force of the spring has apparently lessened, in large part due to the huge demand for water by the surrounding city. Now the government has emergency plans which can be put into action to preserve the flow of water when conditions are hot and dry. In June of 2018, these plans were nearly put into effect.

The buildings around the pond aren’t simply there for show; they have historical significance, as does the spring itself.  The spring itself has been dated back some 3500 years, to the Shang dynasty in China. It has long been renowned for its strong forceful flow, and has appeared in documents throughout China’s history.

The buildings surrounding the Spring include the Luoyang Hall, on the north side of the spring (the left of my photo above), which was built during the Song dynasty (960-1279).

The Luoyuan Hall.

West of the spring, on the right of my original photo, is the Guanlan Pavilion, which dates to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

The Guanlan Pavilion.

Was there any particular purpose to these structures? I don’t really know: there is very little information online about the history of the spring (at least in English), and the little I’ve been able to learn comes directly from Wikipedia.

On the east side of the pond, next to the Laihe Bridge (built in the Ming dynasty), is a structure with a modern practical purpose: the Wangheting Teahouse.  If I understand it correctly, the teahouse was built in the 1950s when the area around Baotu Spring was turned into an official historic park by the government.

The Wangheting Teahouse entrance.

Apparently, the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) of the Qing dynasty often traveled to the area around Daming Lake, and visited Baotu Spring on one of those occasions. He was much impressed by the spring, and drank tea made from its waters. He found that the tea tasted better than that made elsewhere, and bestowed the title “First Springs in the World” upon the region.

Now, the Wangheting Teahouse exists to honor that historic event.  You can drink tea made from the waters of Baotu yourself there, and of course I had to give it a try! I am not a connoisseur of tea, so I cannot tell you if it is exceptionally better than tea elsewhere, but I certainly enjoyed it and the experience.


The buildings around Baotu Spring are lovely, and before moving on it’s worth sharing just a couple of additional photos from different perspectives.  It’s also worth noting that you can actually smell the spring water when standing next to the pond, and it smells wonderful and fresh.

View from the Laihe Bridge.

The Guanlan Pavilion again.

The south side of the Baotu Spring pond, with a good view of the spring.

But Baotu Spring is not the only spring in the area! The Baotu Spring Park, created in 1956, contains a number of different springs as well as gardens and memorials.  South of Baotu, i.e. right behind the building in the photo above, is the Wuyou Spring, which has a much more natural look.

The Wuyou Spring.

The flow of water is impressive. Not being used to natural springs, it’s pretty hard to believe that the small waterfall in the photo above is supplied with water naturally — I kept looking for hidden pipes at every spring!

The beauty of the area attracted a number of important figures in Chinese history, and a number of them are recognized in the park.  The most noteworthy of these is the poetess Li Qingzhao (1084-1155), and a pavilion and garden was built in the park to honor her life and work.

Entrance to the Li Qingzhao Pavilion.

Li Qingzhao was born in Jinan to a family of scholar-officials and was therefore fortunate to have access to a good education and an excellent collection of books. She took up poetry, and became renowned for her work at a very young age.  In the year, 1101 she married Zhao Mingcheng, a scholar of inscriptions on ancient bronzes and stone tablets, and had a happy marriage with a shared interest in writing.

Memorial to Li Qingzhao.

Sadly, Li Qingzhao’s life would not remain happy. In 1127, fighting in the north forced them to flee south to Nanjing, but Zhao died en route. Li never recovered from this dual tragedy, though she continued to write poetry for the rest of her life after settling in Hangzhou.  Only about one hundred of her poems are known to survive to this day, written in the ci form.  A translation of one of them is given below.

Lonely in my secluded chamber,

A thousand sorrows fill every inch
of my sensitive being.

Regretting that spring has so soon passed,

That rain drops have hastened the falling flowers,

I lean over the balustrade,
Weary and depressed.

Where is my beloved?

Only the fading grassland
stretches endlessly toward the horizon;

Anxiously I watch the road for your return.

The Li Qingzhao Pavilion was built near the Shuyu Spring, where Li used to sit and compose her poetry. One of her books of poetry was titled Shuyu Poems because of this. “Shuyu” means “rinsing jade,” which is derived from a Chinese idiom meaning “living a hermit’s life.”

The Shuyu Spring.

From the Shuyu Spring, I turned north and took a break in the Baihua Garden, an enclosed space that also includes a small museum describing the geology of the springs.  Traditional style parks like Baotu Spring in China are meant to be places to lose yourself for a while in reflection; being the tweeting-photographing sort of guy, I had to force myself to sit down every now and again just to appreciate the setting and circumstances I was in.  Did I mention that it was also really blood hot and sunny? While I was sitting in the garden, a welcome breeze started blowing through; I took a short video so that everyone could appreciate at least the sights and sounds of the moment.

That was the first time that it really, really hit me that I was now effectively living in China, albeit only for a month and a half. It was a really wild and amazing feeling.

The intense green of the Baihua Garden.

There is even more to see in the Baotu Spring Park. Though I didn’t go there on my first visit, I later went back and explored the so-called 10,000 Bamboo Garden, a 186 building complex originally built during the Yuan dynasty and which served as the governor’s residence. I didn’t take as many photos in that garden, but the image below is a nice highlight of the architecture.

A courtyard pavilion in the 10,000 Bamboo Garden.

Leaving the Baotu Spring Park through the North Gate, I crossed the street and entered another lovely, though less famous, park: the Five Dragon Pool.  The Pool itself is a magnificently serene body of water that is supplied by 27 underlying springs.

The Five Dragon Pool.

Local signs gave a bit of the history of the area. One legend of the pool states that the house of a great Tang dynasty general, Qin Qiong, used to exist on this site.  One day, a terrible storm with massive thunder and lightning caused the house to collapse into the ground, and the pool formed in its place, the home of a fairy dragon.

I didn’t see any dragons while I was there, but the pool, like many of the springs in the area, is now home to a large number of decorative koi.  From the second floor of the building in the photo above, one can look directly down into the water and see the fish swimming clearly. (This is some good optical science — light transmission is usually a maximum at normal incidence, so the best way to see into the water is to look straight down into it.)

Remember General Qin Qiong? Because of the legend of the Pool, his name is closely connected to the area. In 2010, a temple was built in his honor in the park of the Five Dragon Pool.

Temple of Qin Qiong.

The temple includes a suitably impressive statue of the general himself.

General Qin Qiong.

The general’s exploits are quite impressive, and he is still well-regarded as a door god in China, though this seems to be more a respected tradition than formal worship.  In one conflict early in his career, Qiong served under the general Zhang Xutuo, where their 20,000 soldiers were facing a rebel army under Lu Mingyue which had 100,000 men. Zhang set up a plan where he would seemingly retreat from Mingyue’s superior forces, forcing the rebel to pursue, which would leave open Mingyue’s base to attack. Qiong and another officer agreed to lead a small 1,000 troop force to sneak behind the main enemy force and capture the base.  The plan was successful, and caused Mingyue’s forces to panic, leading to their capture and his defeat.

With a visit to Qin Qiong’s temple, I was pretty worn out for the day, thanks to the sun, the heat, the walking, and just the experience of being in a very different place than I’m used to! I wandered out of the East Gate of the Five Dragon Pool Park to find a taxi back to my hotel.

On the way, though, I saw one more thing that is worth noting. China is a country of interesting contradictions: they have a strong sense of tradition, but an almost equally strong instinct to adapt modern culture and ideas.

I honestly wasn’t expecting this.

Here ends my first post on my China trip, though there are many more to come! Let me leave a few miscellaneous images at the end here.


A sculpture of the five dragons of the Five Dragon Pool.

Flowers at the Five Dragon Pool.

A man playing traditional music in a lovely gazebo.

A stage at Baotu Spring Park.

Proof that I was actually there, and am not stealing other people’s photos off of the internet!

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1 Response to Dr. SkySkull in China, Part 1: Baotu Spring

  1. Bindu bambah says:

    I really enjoy your posts I am glad you have become adventurous about food. China is a movable feast.

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