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City Wall & City Gate in China

In ancient China, few cities existed without a city wall. The city wall and the city gate have a close relationship with the city's establishment. The city wall, surrounding the residential area, is the most basic constituent of a city. Beijing's city wall is a masterpiece owing to its grand verve and spirit. It is not only the brick deposit for defense, but also a great ancient project embodying the beautiful physique of Beijing. It is a symbol of the time when humanity made a step towards civilization.

Since Beijing is the ancient capital of China, the city wall has always been the brightest focal point of the dynasts. The history of Beijing's city wall probably originates from the later period of the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC). At that time, there were two kingdoms in Beijing, namely Yan and Ji. Early in 1045 B.C., Yan built up the city wall (now located in the northwest of Beijing). From then on, the history of Beijing's city wall culture was initiated and was hereafter also subject to vicissitude and new development along with the historical evolution. The well-founded ancient city wall in Beijing was built in Zhongdu, the capital city of the Jin Dynasty (265-420), which is the rudiment of the present Beijing.

The old Beijing's city gate and city wall, basically rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was composed of four cities including the Forbidden City as the core, the palace wall in the periphery, the inner city and the outer city. The inner city has nine city gates (in turn from east to west: Dongbian Gate, Guangqu Gate, Zuo'an Gate, Yongding Gate, You'an Gate and Guang'an Gate), whereas the outer city has seven city gates (Xuanwu Gate, Fucheng Gate, Xizhi Gate, Desheng Gate, Anding Gate, Dongzhi Gate, Chaoyang Gate and Chongwen Gate).

The city wall of Beijing has an extremely rich character. The exterior of the city wall has a different gradient and the wall bricks are trapeze-shaped, while the inner sidewall is slightly steeper than the outside sidewall. The city wall is equipped with a horse-route for going up to and down from the city wall. There is also an archer's tower on the city gate. The battlements were built on the edge of the inside wall with a square hole in the lower part side used for water drainage. The outside edge was built with a crenel, the square hole in the lower part of which was used for defense.

Of the entire ancient city wall in Beijing, the parts that can still be seen were built in the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. No trace remains of the city walls from very early times. Zhengyangmen, the city wall from the Ming Dynasty, is the biggest, most complete, firmest and most splendid part of the city wall in Beijing. It is also called 'Qianmen' due to its location in front of the imperial palace.

Each city gate has a different function. For instance, Chaoyangmen is used for grain to pass through, Chongwenmen is for wine, Xuanwumen is for the prisoner van, Fuchengmen is for coal and so on. The main function of the city wall is military defense, and it played an extremely vital role in guarding the stable city life and promoting city development. The city wall in the capital is not merely a fortification, but also a symbol of a dominant centre, dignity and heavenliness, a political, economical and cultural center and the link reuniting the regional culture. These all give the cultural connotation of the city wall and city gate in Beijing.

Many city walls in Beijing have been torn down in the process of urban construction after the founding of the People's Republic of China. Only a few vestiges are available for people to visit so that they can recall their Chinese cultural heritage. Therefore, it is all the more significant to visit the city wall and city gate during a Beijing trip.