There is a twin well at the crossing of Cangjie Street and Xiaoxinqiao Lane. According to the engraved record on its rim, the twin well “Bailing Well” was built by Lu Jigao and Lou Zhongming in 1933. However, there are two versions explaining the two people: one said the two were in-laws; the other said the two were husband and wife.
Lu Rugong, ages 68, is the grandson of Lu Jigao, one of the founders of Bailing Well (literally meaning ‘one-hundred years of age’ well). One day he got a shock when an article in a newspaper mentioned his grandfather. “The founder of Bailing Well should be in-laws, not husband and wife. And the other founder should be Lou Zhongming, not Jiang Zhongming. How could it be changed to Jiang?”
According to Lu Rugong, the building of the twin well was recorded in Lou Zhongming’s family record. It was written that the well was built in 1933. Lu Jigao and Lou Zhongming were both shareholders of Yazhen Silk Factory, relatives in law, and both were 50 years of age. As 1933 witnessed a severe drought, the two donated the money which they planned for their birthday celebrations to build a well for factory workers and the neighborhood. As their combined ages totaled 100, they named the well ‘one-hundred years of age’ well--Bailing Well.
“It is not the first time we have spotted similar mistakes appearing in books, newspapers and magazines,” said Lu Rugong. He said there is a book about Suzhou wells which put Lu Jigao and Lou Zhongming as a couple. Some documents on the Internet adopted the story, and created textbook style stories of the two being a loving couple.
Residents of the neighborhood are clueless about the relationship between the two founders, but an amateur researcher, lover of local wells and Suzhou heritage, Zeng Beihai has the answer. He has searched many of reliable old records, and said, “Lu Jigao and Lou Zhongming’s names were recorded in the shareholders’ name list of Yazhen Silk Factory, the same characters as engraved on the well rim, so it is proven that the two shall not be a couple but relatives.”
Zeng Beihai thought the couple version of the well origin should be a misinterpretation. “It has been too many years. People of the neighborhood are either withered away or have moved, leaving fewer people knowing the origin of the well.”
But Zeng feels Bailing Well still can be counted as a lucky one as there are reliable records about it. For several dozen old wells around Pingjiang Road, there are few records. A few of them have engraved characters on the well rim which may help people looking for further records, but for others, there is merely no clue at all. Many of them have no one knowing their origin at all.
Chen Ge, the Party secretary of Daoqian Community, shares this regret. There are 128 registered wells in Daoqian Community, and the community has carried out many activities to protect these wells. Yet the number of wells that have reliable origins can be counted on one hand.
“Some of the wells were dug by private families and didn’t have dramatic stories. But if we could know how and why they were dug, we can peek into the living standard of these people and how the society they lived in might look like,” said Chen Ge.
Even though these old wells may not be precious heritage, still they are a part of history and were part of people’s lives. “Many wells stands for a part of history of the city,” said Chen Ge. There is a twin well at the crossing of Jianjinqiao Lane and Xizhijia Lane. On its rim is engraved “Daoyang Citizen Commune.” Tracing this clue, people can find old documents explaining this commune. In the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic Era, the government has weak control over the people and municipal facilities were left neglected, causing trouble and inconvenience for local people. Some business people organized themselves to form 27 ‘Citizen Communes’ for the purposes of paving roads, building bridges, digging wells and the like.
Gong Hugen is a volunteer and old well protector. He started the maintenance service of wells in 1993. “Some old wells suffered damage, severe or not, from the development of the city, such as residents of a community removing wells under administrative orders and construction works,” said Gong Hugen. He also mentioned that many wells lost identity as their rims were stolen, such as the Lotus Well at Dashitou Lane, the Zhinue Spring Well at Dongbei Street, and a 100 year old nameless well at Cangjie Street.
Zeng Beihai contributed another reason why some wells lost their identities. Some wells were repaired in the past, and people engraved the reparation records over the older engraved records. As a result, even with engraved records on the well rim, there is a possibility that the well’s history is older than that.
As wells once were a vital part of lives in the old city area of Suzhou, representing a unique culture, the protection of old wells means more than daily maintenance, dredging and reparation; a preservation of their histories weighs much heavier. Many communities in the old city area of Suzhou are trying all means possible to preserve city history by identifying old wells.
In mid-November, Daoqian community launched a new well protection project: rubbing engraved characters and patterns on well rims. Chen Ge said they should do this before the engraved characters and patterns are abraded. The rubbings will be filed with photos of each well and their records accordingly.
Niujia Lane Community has also practiced well protection for three years, with their action ranging from dredging to filing. They numbered all 24 wells in the community and recorded the depth, width and the stories of each of them. Taking ell No. 21 as an example, community staff visited many senior residents in the neighborhood to explore the story behind the well. From the stories collected, they learnt that the well was built in 1937 by the owner of Taihe Flour Factory. The community staff are now reading local old documents and trying to confirm or figure out the details in the neighbors’ stories.
“There are 24 old wells in our community and only two of them have written records. We don’t know the origin of all other wells. So what we need to do now is to explore the stories behind each of them,” said Zhang Yingying, the Party secretary of the community. Zhang also feels that well protection requires not only funding support, but also professionals and more helping hands. People who are more qualified than community staff will work better. Zhang said if there could be a department set up to focus on this task, the well protection should be better performed.