The GreatWall, like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal(1) in India and the HangingGarden of Babylon(2), is one of the great wonders of the world.
Starting out in the east on the banks of theYalu River in Liaoning Province, the Wall stretches westwards for 12,700kilometers to Jiayuguan in the Gobi desert, thus known as the Ten Thousand LiWall in China. The Wall climbs up and down, twists and turns along the ridgesof the Yanshan and Yinshan Mountain Chains through five provinces——Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansuand two autonomous regions——Ningxiaand Inner Mongolia, binding the northern China together.
Historical records trace the construction ofthe origin of the Wall to defensive fortification back to the year 656 B.C.during the reign of King Cheng of the States of Chu. Its construction continuedthroughout the Warring States period in the fifth Century B.C. when ducalstates Yan, Zhao, Wei, and Qin were frequently plundered by the nomadic peoplesliving north of the Yinshan and Yanshan mountain ranges. Walls, then, werebuilt separately by these ducal states to ward off such harassments. Later in221 B.C., when Qin conquered the other states and unified China, EmperorQinshihuang ordered the connection of these individual walls and furtherextensions to form the basis of the present great wall. As a matter of fact, aseparate outer wall was constructed north of the Yinshan range in the HanDynasty(206 BC——1644 BC.), which went to ruinthrough years of neglect. In the many intervening centuries, succeedingdynasties rebuilt parts of the Wall. The most extensive reinforcements andrenovations were carried out in the Ming Dynasty (1368——1644) when altogether 18 lengthy stretcheswere reinforced with bricks and rocks. it is mostly the Ming Dynasty Wall thatvisitors see today.
The Great Wall is divided into two sections,the east and west, with Shanxi Province as the dividing line. The west part isa rammed earth construction, about 5.3 meters high on average. In the easternpart, the core of the Wall is rammed earth as well, but the outer shell isreinforced with bricks and rocks. The most imposing and best preserved sectionsof the Great Wall are at Badaling and Mutianyu, not far from Beijing and bothare open to visitors.
The Wall of those sections is 7.8 meters high and6.5 meters wide at its base, narrowing to 5.8 meters on the ramparts, wideenough for five horses to gallop abreast. There are ramparts, embrasures,peep-holes and apertures for archers on the top, besides gutters with gargoylesto drain rain-water off the parapet walk. Two-storied watch-towers are built atapproximately 400-meters internals. The top stories of the watch-tower weredesigned for observing enemy movements, while the first was used for storinggrain, fodder, military equipment and gunpowder as well as for quarteringgarrison soldiers. The highest watch-tower at Badaling standing on a hill-top,is reached only after a steep climb, like "climbing a ladder toheaven". The view from the top is rewarding, hoverer. The Wall follows thecontour of mountains that rise one behind the other until they finally fade andmerge with distant haze.
A signal system formerly existed that servedto communicate military information to the dynastic capital. This consisted ofbeacon towers on the Wall itself and on mountain tops within sight of the Wall.At the approach of enemy troops, smoke signals gave the alarm from the beacontowers in the daytime and bonfire did this at night. Emergency signals could berelayed to the capital from distant places within a few hour long before theinvention of anything like modern communications.
There stand 14 major passes (Guan, in Chinese)at places of strategic importance along the Great Wall, the most importantbeing Shanghaiguan and Jiayuguan. Yet the most impressive one is Juyongguan,about 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing.
Known as "Tian Xia Di YI Guan" (TheFirst Pass Under Heaven), Shanghaiguan Pass is situated between two sheercliffs forming a neck connecting north China with the northeast. It had been,therefore, a key junction contested by all strategists and many famous battleswere fought here. It was the gate of Shanghaiguan that the Ming general WuSangui opened to the Manchu army to suppress the peasant rebellion led by LiZicheng and so surrendered the whole Ming empire to the Manchus, leading to thefoundation of the Qing Dynasty. (1644-1911)
Jiayuguan Pass was not so much as the"Strategic pass Under the Heaven" as an important communicationcenter in Chinese history. Cleft between the snow-capped Qilian Mountains andthe rolling Mazong Mountains, it was on the ancient Silk Road. Zhang Qian, thefirst envoy of Emperor Wu Di of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C-24 A.D),crossed it on his journey to the western regions. Later, silk flowed to thewest through this pass too. The gate-tower of Jiayuguan is an attractivebuilding of excellent workmanship. It has an inner city and an outer city, theformer square in shape and surrounded by a wall 11.7 meters high and 730 metersin circumference. It has two gates, an eastern one and a western one. On eachgate sits a tower facing each other. the four corners of the wall are occupiedby four watch towers, one for each.
Juyongguan, a gateway to ancient Beijing fromInner Mongolia, was built in a 15-kilometer long ravine flanked by mountains.The cavalrymen of Genghis Khan swept through it in the 13th century. At thecenter of the pass is a white marble platform named the Cloud terrace, whichwas called the Crossing-Street Dagoba, since its narrow arch spanned the mainstreet of the pass and on the top of the terrace there used to be three stonedagobas, built in the Yuan Daynasty(1206-1368). At the bottom of the terrace isa half-octagonal arch gateway, interesting for its wealth of detail: it isdecorated with splendid images of Buddha and four celestial guardians carved onthe walls. The vividness of their expressions is matched by the exquisiteworkmanship. such grandiose relics works, with several stones pieced together,are rarely seen in ancient Chinese carving. The gate jambs bear a multi-lingualBuddhist sutra, carved some 600 years ago in Sanskrit(3), Tibetan, Mongolian,Uigur(4), Han Chinese and the language of Western Xia. Undoubtedly, they arevaluable to the study of Buddhism and ancient languages.
As a cultural heritage, the Wall belongs notonly to China but to the world. The Venice charter says: "Historical andcultural architecture not only includes the individual architectural works, butalso the urban or rural environment that witnessed certain civilizations,significant social developments or historical events." The Great Wall isthe largest of such historical and cultural architecture, and that is why itcontinues to be so attractive to people all over the world. In 1987, the Wallwas listed by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site.
1. the Taj Mahal in India 印度的泰姬陵
2. the Hanging Garden of Babylon 巴比伦的空中花园
3. Sanskrit 梵语
4. Uigur 维吾尔语
Whatstrikes one first in a bird's -eye view of Beijing proper is a vast tract ofgolden roofs flashing brilliantly in the sun with purple walls occasionallyemerging amid them and a stretch of luxuriant tree leaves flanking on eachside. That is the former Imperial Palace, popularly known as the ForbiddenCity, from which twenty-four emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties ruledChina for some 500 years——from1420to 1911. The Ming Emperor Yong Le, who usurped the throne from his nephew andmade Beijing the capital, ordered its construction, on which approximately10,000 artists and a million workmen toiled for 14 years from 1406 to 1420. Atpresent, the Palace is an elaborate museum that presents the largest and mostcomplete ensemble of traditional architecture complex and more than 900,000pieces of court treasures in all dynasties in China.
Located in the center of Beijing, the entirepalace area, rectangular in shape and 72 hectares in size, is surrounded bywalls ten meters high and a moat 52 meters wide. At each corner of the wallstands a watchtower with a double-eave roof covered with yellow glazed tiles.
The main buildings, the six great halls, onefollowing the other, are set facing south along the central north-south axisfrom the Meridian Gate, the south entrance, to Shenwumen, the great gatepiercing in the north wall. On either side of the palace are many comparativelysmall buildings. Symmetrically in the northeastern section lie the six EasternPalaces and in the northwestern section the six Western Palaces. The Palacearea is divided into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Palace. Theformer consists of the first three main halls, where the emperor received hiscourtiers and conducted grand ceremonies, while the latter was the livingquarters for the imperial residence. At the rear of the Inner Palace is theImperial Garden where the emperor and his family sought recreation.
The main entrance to the Palace is theMeridian Gate(1), which was so named because the emperor considered himself the"Son of the Heaven" and the Palace the center of the universe, hencethe north-south axis as the Meridian line going right through the Palace. Thegate is crowned with five towers, commonly known as the Five-Phoenix Towers(2),which were installed with drums and bells. When the emperor went to the Templeof Heaven, bells were struck to mark this important occasion. When he went tothe Ancestral Temple, it was the drums that were beaten to publicize the event.
Beyond the Meridian Gate unfolds a vastcourtyard across which the Inner Golden Water River runs from east to west. Theriver is spanned by five bridges, which were supposed to be symbols of the fivevirtues preached by Confucius——benevolence,righteousness, rites, intelligence, and fidelity(3).
At the north end of the courtyard is athree-tiered white marble terrace, seven meters above the ground, on which, oneafter another, stand three majestic halls; the Hall of Supreme Harmony(4), theHall of Complete Harmony(5), and the Hall of Preserving Harmony(6).
The Hall of Supreme Harmony, rectangular inshape, 27 meters in height, 2,300 square meters in area, is the grandest andmost important hall in the Palace complex. It is also China's largest existingpalace of wood structure and an outstanding example of brilliant colorcombinations. This hall used to be the throne hall for ceremonies which markedgreat occasions: the Winter Solstice, the Spring Festival, the emperor'sbirthday and enthronement, and the dispatch of generals to battles, etc. Onsuch occasions there would be an imperial guard of honor standing in front ofthe Hall that extended all the way to the Meridian gate.
On the north face of the hall in the center offour coiled-golden dragon columns is the "Golden Throne", which wascarved out of sandalwood. The throne rests on a two-meter-high platform with ascreen behind it. In front of it, to the left and right, stand ornamentalcranes, incense burners and other ornaments. The dragon columns entwined withgolden dragons measure one meter in diameter. The throne itself, the platformand the screen are all carved with dragon designs. High above the throne is acolor-painted coffered ceiling which changes in shape from square to octagonalto circular as it ascends layer upon layer. The utmost central vault is carvedwith the gilded design of a dragon toying with pearls. when the Emperor mountedthe throne, gold bells and jade chimes sounded from the gallery, and clouds ofincense rose from the bronze cranes and tortoises and tripods outside the hallon the terrace. The aura of majesty created by the imposing architecture andsolemn ritual were designed to keep the subjects of the "Son of theHeaven" in awe and reverence.
The Hall of Complete Harmony is smaller andsquare with windows on all sides. Here the emperor rehearsed for ceremonies. Itis followed by the Hall of Preserving Harmony in which banquets and imperialexaminations were held.
Behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony lies ahuge marble ramp with intertwining clouds and dragons carved in relief. Theslab, about 6.5 meters long, 3 meters wide and 250 tons in weight, is placedbetween two flights of marble steps along which the emperor's sedan was carriedup or down the terrace. It is the largest piece of stone carving in theImperial Palace. Quarried in the mountains scores of kilometers southwest ofBeijing, this gigantic stone was moved to the city by sliding it over aspecially paved ice road in winter. To provide enough water to build the iceroad, wells were sunk at very 500 meters along the way.
The three halls of the Inner Palace arereplicas of the three halls in the front, but smaller in size. They are thePalace of Heavenly Purity(7), the Hall of Union(8), and the Palace of EarthlyTranquility(9).
The Palace of Heavenly Purity was once theresidence of the Ming emperors and the first two of the Qing emperors. Then theQing Emperor Yong Zheng moved his residence to the Palace of Mental Cultivationand turned it into an audience hall to receive foreign envoys and handled thestate affairs. The promotion and demotion of officials were also decided inthis hall. After the emperor's death his coffin was placed here for a 49-dayperiod of mourning.
The Palace of Union was the empress's throneroom and the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, once a private living room for theempress, was partitioned. The west chamber served religious purposes and theeast one was the bridal chamber where the newly married emperor and empressspent their first two nights after their wedding.
The Imperial Garden was laid out during theearly Ming dynasty. Hundreds of pines and cypresses offer shade while variousflowers give colors to the garden all year round and fill the air with theirfragrance. In he center of the garden is the Hall of Imperial Peace, a Daoisttemple, with a flat roof slightly sloping down to the four eaves. This type ofroof was rare in ancient Chinese architecture. In he northeastern corner of thegarden is a rock hill, known as the Hill of the Piled-up Wonders, which istopped with a pavilion. At the foot of the hill are two fountains which jet twocolumns of water high into the air. It is said that on the ninth night of theninth month of the lunar calendar, the empress would mound the hill to enjoythe autumn scene. It is also believed that climbing to a high place on that daywould keep people safe from contagious diseases.
The six Western Palaces were residences forempresses and concubines. They are kept in their original way for show. The sixEastern Palaces were the residences for them too. But now they serve as specialmuseums: the Museum of Bronze, the Museum of Porcelain and the Museum of Artsand Crafts of the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the northeastern-most section ofthe Inner Palace are the Museum of Traditional Chinese Paintings and the Museumof Jewelry and Treasures where rare pieces of imperial collections are ondisplay.
Now the Forbidden City is no longerforbidding, but inviting. A visit to the Palace Museum will enrich thevisitors' knowledge of history, economy, politics, arts as well as architecturein ancient China.
1. the Meridian Gate 午门
2. the Five-Phoenix Towers 五凤楼
3. benevolence, righteousness, rites,intelligence, and fidelity 仁、义、礼、智、信
4. the Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿
5. the Hall of Complete Harmony 中和殿
6. the Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿
7. the Palace of Heavenly Purity 乾清宫
8. the Hall of Union 交泰殿
9. the Palace of Earthly Tranquility 坤宁宫
TheTemple of Heaven is located in southern Beijing. It is included in the UNESCOworld heritage list in 1998. With an area of 2.7 million square meters, it isthe largest of its kind in the country. Built in 1420, the 18th year of thereign of Ming Emperor Yongle, the temple was where emperors went to worshipheaven for good harvests.
The temple consists of two parts——the inner altar and outer altar. The mainbuildings are in the inner altar, on the north-south axis. At the southern endare the Imperial Vault of Heaven(1) and the Circular Mound Altar(2). On thenorthern end are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests(3) and the Hall ofImperial Zenith(4). The structures at both ends are connected by a360-meter-long walk. There is also the Hall of Abstinence(5) inside the WestHeavenly Gate in which the emperor fasted for three days and bathed beforeprayer.
The temple's main building is the Hall ofPrayer for Good Harvests, where the emperor prayed for good harvests. The roundhall, 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, has triple eaves and acone-shaped deep blue tile roof crowned with a gilded knob. Surrounding thehall is a six-meter-high spacious circular stone terrace on three levels, eachedged by a balustrade of carved white marble.
The Circular Mound Altar is one of the moreimportant buildings and is a three-tier white stone terrace enclosed by twowalls. Geometrically designed, the altar has a taiji rock at the center of thetop terrace. If you stand on the rock and speak in a normal voice, your voicewill sound louder and more resonant to yourself than to others around you,because the sound waves reflected by the balustrades are bounced back to thecenter by the round wall .
The Imperial Vault of Heaven, the place to laythe memorial tablets to the heaven is to the north of the Circular Mound Altar.It is very similar in structure to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests but issmaller. The Vault, made of brick and timber, is 19 meters high and 15.6 metersin diameter. It is surrounded by a circular wall of polished brick with anopening to the south. This is known as the Echo Wall(6) and is 3.72 metershigh, 61.5 meters in diameter and 193 meters in circumference. If a personwhispers close to the wall at any point, his voice can be heard distinctly atany other point along the wall.
Around the Hall of Abstinence are two imperialditches and they are circled by a 163-bay walkway. The Abstinence Bronze ManPavilion and Time and Memorial Tablets Pavilion are at he Celestial Terrace ofthe main hall. To add the solemnity of the occasion, the bells in the two belltowers at the northeast end were struck when the emperor prayed for goodharvests.
1. the Imperial Vault of Heaven 皇穹宇
2. the Circular Mound Altar 圜丘坛
3. the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests 祈年殿
4. the Hall of Imperial Zenith 皇乾殿
5. the Hall of Abstinence 斋宫
6. the Echo Wall 回音壁