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The Yucheng Post

Yucheng Post = yú chéng yí = 盂城驿 Say "yoo-we-chuhng yee"

Yucheng Post The Yucheng Post. S. Harnsberger photo. Click photo for a Yucheng Post Slideshow

The Yucheng Post and museum is one of Gaoyou’s most significant historic sites. The post, also know as the Mengcheng Post (孟mèng=great), is the complex of buildings where postal carriers on the ancient post system changed horses, rested, ate, and transferred the mail. It is the largest and best preserved example of an ancient courier station in China, and can be found just out side the southern gate of Old Town near the Grand Canal. The post is defined by the distinctive Drum Tower3 (鼓gǔ=drum, 楼lóu=tower) that stands out among the one story buildings that surround it, making it a local landmark.

Although Gaoyou was a stop on the postal system since 221 BC, the Yucheng Post was built much later. It was during the Ming Dynasty that Huang Keming, who had jurisdiction over the Gaoyou area, established the Yucheng Post. The date was the 8th year (AD 1375) of the reign of Honwu (1368-1399).

Gaoyou’s location made it an ideal place for a post station. Since the Song dynasty, the city has been a junction for traffic, transport, and post office communication. A prime reason is the city’s location adjacent to the Grand Canal, which connects the Chinese capital Beijing and the city of Hangzhou, 1100 miles to the south in the province of Zhejiang. For thousands of years the Grand Canal has been an important artery for travel on the inland waterways.

Because the Yucheng Post was adjacent to the Grand Canal, the imperial special messengers could not only change horses, but utilize boats and ferries, which were at their disposal. These resources differentiated the Yucheng Post from other post offices with it being much larger, and offering a broader range of services. The Gaoyou post station not only functioned as post office as one might think of it today, it also was a place for ambassadors and other official travelers to rest and recuperate. Since the station lies at the Grand Canal, and is near Gaoyou Lake, it was also a junction for grain transport. Another function of the post office station was to facilitate prisoner transportation. The prisoners, who may have been on a long journey to other regions, were placed overnight in temporary detention cells.

The Yucheng Post complex contains more than 80 buildings of various types, covering an area of over 1.3 hectares (3.2 acres). After its construction in 1375, it had over 200 workrooms, with 200 people working at the station. Included in the complex were dozens of workrooms, rest rooms, 14 kitchens, three large and several small depots, one honor temple, 20 stables, three drum towers, an honor gate as well as boat landing docks on the Canal. One hundred thirty horses and 18 boats were available for the couriers to use. The Yucheng Post Station continued to grow and develop over the years, adding buildings as needed to support its mission.

The architecture of the post is exquisite. The fine woodcarvings fully reflect both the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty, and the rich substance of the folk custom and local culture in northern Jiangsu.

The post stations were once important state institutions in China. The stations themselves and the postal ways or routes between stations were under strict national protection. These postal ways were considered important veins for communication, and were closed to common people. Those who dared to block the post routes, or interfered with the couriers, received the death penalty.

The life of a rider or messenger at the post office was very hard. In a time without modern communication, the mail carriers’ carried their messages around the clock, from one place to another. In addition, if the message was of great importance each special messenger had to ride at least 400 kilometers (248 miles) a day. With military messages, secrecy was also a concern. The post office rider thus could not take any breaks along the way. In each post office station, the messenger exchanged his exhausted horse for another. In this way, secret military messages could be carried around the clock.

Disastrous fires have heavily damaged the Yucheng Post several times. Nevertheless, with its role as a vital link in the post system, it was rebuilt each time.

Large-scale repairs and expansion were carried out in 1890. After the founding of the Republic of China in 1911 the post was abandoned as modern means of communication developed. A two-year refurbishment project started in 1993, with the most important buildings being rebuilt to their original state. In 1995, the Yucheng Post was opened as the only post museum in China, and is now one of China's major cultural relic protection units.

People who visited Gaoyou have described the Yucheng Post Museum as fascinating, and highly recommend a visit. I know I won’t miss it on my next visit.

Resources for “The Yucheng Post”

A book available for purchase at the China Post office in Gaoyou, Gaoyou - A Famous Historical and Cultural City; Author and publisher unknown.

Gaoyou Municipal Government page on the website www.gaoyou.gov.cn http://www.gaoyou.gov.cn (12/05 Note: The Gaoyou Government website has changed since this page was written. There is no longer an English language page)

A page titled "Poststation in Gaoyou" on the German language website de.chinabroadcast.cn http://german.cri.cn/21/2003/12/23/1@2974.htm

Translations

  1. Yucheng Post (盂yú=jar, 城chéng=city, 驿yí=post)

  2. Mengcheng Post (孟mèng=great)

  3. Drum Tower (鼓gǔ=drum, 楼lóu=tower)

 

Copyright 2009 - Charles Day