Yellow Crane Tower

The Yellow Crane Tower, located in Wuhan, Hubei province of China, is one of the three famous towers in south China. Another two are the Yueyang Tower in Hunan and the Pavilion of Prince Teng in Jiangxi. The Yellow Crane Tower has a history of 1,700 years, and there are many interesting stories about the great poets and the Yellow Crane Tower.


In AD 223, amid the chaos of war of the Three Kingdoms Period, Sun Quan of the Wu State held Echeng of Hubei Province, namely, today’s Wuchang District of Wuhan City.

One day, Sun Quan came to the riverside for an inspection. He saw the place faced the river with a hill at the back, making it a strategic site easy to hold but hard to attack. Thereafter, he decided to build a city against the hill so that the state could be ruled by military force and thrive. The stone city that Sun Quan built was named Xiakou. It was indeed a strategically located military fortress. On the hill in the southwest of the city, Sun Quan had a lofty tower built to serve as an observation post. That is to say, the Yellow Crane Tower originally served a military purpose.

Yellow Crane Tower
Today Yellow Crane Tower

Legend of the Name

The Yellow Crane Tower has a long history and is famous far and near. Many people may wonder how the Yellow Crane Tower got its present name. Were there really yellow cranes in the history?

It said that in ancient times, an old man surnamed Xin sold wine for a living. One day, an old Taoist priest in rags came to the wine house. He asked Xin for wine. Xin was always ready to help others, so he let the old Taoist priest drink his wine for free. After that, the old Taoist priest returned to the wine house every day. Then came a day, when the old Taoist priest said, “I have drunk your wine for a year. Today I’ll give you a gift.” Saying that the old Taoist priest picked up an orange peel from the floor and drew a crane on the wall. The orange peel was yellow, so the crane that he drew was also yellow. The old Taoist priest said to Xin, “As long as you clap your hands, the crane will jump off the wall and begin to dance and add to the fun of your customers” With the yellow crane, attracting many customers to patronize the wine house, Xin’s business got better and better. Ten years later, the old Taoist priest came to the wine house again. He took out a jade flute and began to play a tune. The yellow crane flew away with the old Taoist priest on its back. Xin, in order to express his gratitude for the old Taoist priest, built a tower and named it Yellow Crane Tower.

Certainly, this is just a beautiful story. According to experts, the Yellow Crane Tower (Huanghe Tower) got its name not from the immortal but from the hill on which it was built. In the Three Kingdoms Period, the tower stood on top of Huanghu Hill. In ancient times, Hu is synonymous with He, so Huanghu Hill was also referred to as Huanghe Hill. The tower built on top of the Huanghe Hill naturally became the Yellow Crane Tower.

Yellow Crane Tower
Yellow Crane Tower

Historical Characteristics

The Yellow Crane Tower, first built in the Three Kingdoms Period, dates back to more than 1,700 years ago, in the history, due to wars, natural disasters, and other reasons, the Yellow Crane Tower was destroyed many times, and rebuilt time and again. The Yellow Crane Tower of different dynasties had different characteristics.

  • The Tang Yellow Crane Tower adopted a courtyard style, ingenious and elegant. The Song Yellow Crane Tower was the most magnificent. It was built atop the walls, and its roof was covered with yellow glad tiles, making it an embodiment of grandeur.
  • The Yuan Yellow Crane Tower had a very special structure. The main tower featured the style of South China. In its front was a viewing platform in the style of North China. The two parts were connected with a bridge, symbolizing the then rulers good wishes of blending Northern and Southern cultures.
  • By the Ming Dynasty, the Yellow Crane Tower was built in a more mature pattern. We often talk about pavilions, terraces, and towers. Pavilions are resting places in gardens; terraces are open platforms; towers are lofty buildings in the centers of gardens and they are also the most prominent landscapes in gardens. Pavilions, terraces and towers, together with memorial archways, waterside pavilions, windowed verandas, and corridors, form a complete garden landscape. The Ming Yellow Crane Tower had already achieved such a pattern and size.
  • The last ancient Yellow Crane Tower was reconstructed in the Tongzhi reign of the Qing Dynasty. Unfortunately, that Yellow Crane Tower was destroyed by fire in the 10th year of the Guangxu region of the Qing Dynasty.
  • The Yellow Crane Tower we see today was rebuilt in 1984. It follows the pattern of the Qing Yellow Crane Tower but the number of layers is increased by two. The whole tower is square-shaped. The high and magnificent base and the overlapping layers make the tower steady, dignified, and impressive. The Yellow Crane Tower is supported with a total of 72 pillars. The 60 roof-ridges rise up in the air layer by layer, looking like the spread-open wings of cranes. All the upturned roof-ridges are decorated with dragon-headed, fish-tailed chiwen. Legend has it that chiwen is a son of the dragon and belongs to water by nature. The roof-ridges are decorated with chiwen because people hope that the tower will not be destroyed by fire again.
Ming Dynasty the Yellow Crane Tower
Ming Dynasty the Yellow Crane Tower

Today, the Yellow Crane Tower still keeps a valuable bronze top. It was on top of the Yellow Crane Tower in the Qing Tongzhi reign. Made of bronze, it is pyramidal at the top, gourd-shaped in the middle, and lotus-shaped at the base. It is also the only relic of the Qing Dynasty still preserved in the Yellow Crane Tower.

Story with the Great Poets

It was not until the Tang Dynasty, when more and more men of letters ascended the Yellow Crane Tower and wrote a lot of poems and essays, that it gradually became a strongly cultural viewing tower.

the Poet Cui Hao

Cui Hao was a poet of the Tang Dynasty. At the time he was still a little-known poet. When visiting the Yellow Crane Tower, he wrote a seven-characters regular verse as follow:

Yellow Crane Tower – Cui Hao
Long ago a man rode off on a yellow crane,
all that remains here is Yellow Crane Tower;
Once the yellow crane left it never returned,
for one thousand years the clouds wandered without care.
The clear river reflects each Hanyang tree,
fragrant grasses lushly grow on Parrot Island.
At sunset, which direction lies my hometown?
The mist covered river causes one to feel distressed.


The poem, written in simple, lively words, took advantage of the scene to express emotions. The misty river was associated with infinite nostalgia to convey a sad and desolate feeling. Cui Hao’s “Yellow Crane Tower” is known as the most beautiful seven-character regular poem.

Beautiful poem?
However, according to experts, the seven-character regular poems stress antitheses, rhymes, and tone patterns. In this sense, this is a “faulty” poem. Then what on earth made futurity admire “Yellow Crane Tower” so much?

The first four lines do not comply with usual rules, both the tone pattern and the antithesis are wrong. The phrase “yellow crane” is repeated three times on end, which is against the rules. And one of the lines has three level-toned characters at the end. In other words, the line ends with three level-toned characters. The three characters “Kong you you (without care)” are all level-toned characters, which is unacceptable in a seven-character regular poem.

While this poem makes as a result of reading smoothly. From the beginning to the end, it employs plan and usual words and is not affected at all. This is the poem’s biggest feature. So that, in “Three Hundred Tang Poems ” it is placed at the top of seven-character regular poems.

Yellow Crane Tower – Cui Hao
Yellow Crane Tower – Cui Hao

the Poet Li Bai

It’s said the Yellow Crane Tower about which many famous poems were written, made Li Bai, the great poet of the Tang Dynasty, unable to write one. Why’s that?

One day in the first year of the Kaiyuan reign of the Chinese Tang Dynasty on the Yellow Crane Tower standing by the Yangtze. Li Bai, the great poet was leaning on the railing and looking into the distance. Seeing the billowy river, Li Bai felt refreshed in spirit and was in the exalted poetic mood. He happily spread the paper, ground an ink stick, picked up a writing brush, and was ready to write a poem. Suddenly he noticed a few lines of small characters on the wall. They were a poem written by a man named Cui Hao. Li Bai read the poem several times and pondered the words. After a while, Li Bai shook his head. He thought the poem was so well written that all his feelings were expressed to an extreme. Li Bai seemed unwilling to submit to Cui’s literary talent and said, ‘’I wish I can smash the Yellow Crane Tower with one punch, I hope I can send the Parrot Island sprawling with one kick. The scene is there, but I am unable to describe it because Cui Hao already wrote an unsurpassable poem on the wall.” Then Li Bai laid down the writing brush and left the Yellow Crane Tower in sadness without writing a poem.

After this, li bai became more interested in the Yellow Crane Tower. Later Li Bai who would not submit ascended the Yellow Crane Tower many times and wrote at least 16 poems about the Yellow Crane Tower in his lifetime.

The famous “Seeing off Meng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower” is one of them. These short lines made the Yellow Crane Tower even more famous all over the world.

Seeing off Meng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower – Li Bai
My old friends said goodbye to the west, here at Yellow Crane Tower,
In the third month’s cloud of willow blossoms;
The lonely sail is a distant shadow, on the edge of a blue emptiness,
And I see is the Yangtze River flowing to the far horizon.


Seeing off Meng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower – Li Bai
Seeing off Meng Haoran for Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower – Li Bai

According to incomplete statistics, more than 1,700 poems were written about the Yellow Crane Tower in the Tang and Song dynasties alone. The Yellow Crane Tower still houses a rare block-printed book of the Ming Dynasty. It collected a number of poems about the Yellow Crane Tower, including those of Cui Hao and Li Bai.

All in All

People say, all good landscapes in the world must be complemented with the elegant building; these two things must be recorded with beautiful poems and essays. Thanks to the literary anecdotes and beautiful poems and essays, the Yellow Crane Tower has become well-known far and near. These beautiful poems are still celebrated today, carrying the gene of traditional Chinese culture and complementing with the majestic Yellow Crane Tower, they are passed down through generations.

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