Digest>Archives> April 2007

Generosity Saved China’s Tenacious East Gate Lighthouse

By Chen Nan Yang


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The East Gate Lighthouse lies on the Mentou Cape in East Gate Island, which is in Xiangshan County of China's Zhejiang Province.

Ren Xiaohe and his brother Re Xiaofu built the lighthouse in 1915. In the beginning, the lighthouse used ethyne light, which soon broke because of misoperation and was replaced by a kerosene light. A fire in 1916 caught the kerosene barrels and burned the lighthouse.

Ren brothers and Ji Chuanchang raised money to rebuild the lighthouse. The new lighthouse was completed in 1919. Shanghai Custom paid for its kerosene since that time.

Yu Changlin, a winner of Chinese imperial test of Qing Dynasty (1664 - 1991) wrote a note for the lighthouse to memorialize and praise the dedication of Ren brothers. Native stonecutters then engraved the note in a monument beside the lighthouse.

One hundred meters west away from the lighthouse, is the tomb of Ren brothers. Calligraphist Yu Huaibai wrote its epitaph; praising the two brothers as "beautiful wagtails fly off one after the other, honoring your wonderful homeland."

The lighthouse is only 7.84 meters height and the 3.3 meters in diameter. Its top floor has no wall, with only eight pillars supporting a stone vault. One of these 0.1-meter pillars is just over against dangerous submerged rocks near the island. If a ship were too close to the rock, the pillar would shade the light and sailors would know they were in danger.

The lighthouse was seriously damaged when the Japanese navy attacked the East Gate Island in 1940. After the World War II (1945), Ren brothers donated the lighthouse to Shanghai Custom since they could no longer afford it. However, officials of the custom said that the lighthouse was in a "wrong place" and refused to accept it. After some negotiations, the Aquaculture Bureau of Zhejiang Province took ownership of the lighthouse and provided financial help. The lighthouse was relit on May 5, 1948.

After 1949, the Chinese government regarded sea near East Gate Island as dangerous watercourse and banned ship going through that area. The lighthouse was then abandoned.

During the Culture Revolution (1966 - 1976), the lighthouse was seriously damaged because the government preached that historic sites were "residue of the feudal poison." Maoists pushed over the monument and pulled down the buildings around the lighthouse. Fortunately, they let the lighthouse alone apparently because it was too difficult to be destroyed by shovels and hammers in their hands.

The lighthouse stood lonely by sea for another three decades. However, people wouldn't forget a lighthouse that appeared to have a soul for survival. In 1997, several retired teachers and officials spent 80,000 Yuan ($10,000) on the repair of the lighthouse, which cost them most of

their life savings. Finally, in February of 1998 the lighthouse reopened.

Today, China’s steadfast East Gate Lighthouse continues to be a guide unto all.

This story appeared in the April 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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