The Yueyang Tower stands on the west gate of the Yueyang city wall, facing the Junshan Island in the distance, and linking the Yangtze River to the north and the Xiangjiang River to the south. Standing on the tower, one can gaze at the distant view of the mists and ripples of the Dongting Lake, with boats sailing on the vast lake. Yueyang Tower is listed as one of the Three Great Towers in China, along with the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan and the Prince Teng Pavilion in Nanchang. It has long enjoyed the reputation of being the “first tower under heaven”, since the Dongting Lake is known as the “first water under heaven.”
It is said that the site was originally an inspection platform for the general Lu Su of the Wu Kingdom (222-250AD) to train his naval troops. In the fifth year of Emperor Qingli’s reign in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Teng Zijing renovated the Yueyang Tower and invited his good friend Fan Zhongyan, a well-known writer, to compose an essay. In Fan’s essay, Remarks of Yueyang Tower, he not only described the wonderful scenery, but also wrote the famous lines of “one should be the first to bear hardship, and the last to enjoy comforts”, indicating his concerns for the country and people. His words won the tower great fame, and have been deeply rooted in the Chinese people’s mind from generation to generation. After numerous renovations, the current structure was rebuilt in 1867 in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The Yueyang Tower has its special architectural features. Its main building has three stories and is 15 meters in height, with four huge nanmu pillars supporting the whole building, twelve round log columns supporting the second floor, and another twelve catalpa pillars supporting the roof. Constructed of wood with interlocking brackets that require no nails, the main building is as steady as a monolith. Its roof looks like a general’s helmet, grand and unique. On the right side of the main building is the Thrice Drunken Pavilion, named after a legend describing Immortal Lu Dongbin who got drunk here three times. On the left side is the Fairy Plum Blossom Pavilion. It is said that a flagstone was excavated during the Emperor Chongzhen’s reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The lines on the stone resemble withered plum blossoms and were regarded as hand drawings of immortals; thus called the area Fairy Plum Blossom Pavilion. Housed in the tower is a wooden screen written by famous calligrapher Zhang Zhao of the Qing Dynasty. Fan Zhongyan’s remarks of Yueyang Tower are inscribed on the screen, which remind visitors of his famous lines.