It’s autumn. And while the perceived wisdom in Beijing is to head northwest to visit Xiangshan in order to see the mountainside turning red, your favourite blogger decides instead to head northbound for Badaling for a morning’s trek, where red leaves are also to be seen in all their magnificence.
Now, regular blog-fans will know that Badaling is hardly on my list of favourite places to visit. But if the truth be known, it has certainly changed a lot (for the better) since I first made my way there all of five years ago. For a start, the main road has now been made a near-pedestrian-only zone, while buses now park on the other side of the Great Wall – a ten minute walk away from the main entrance, that is.
Badaling has also been spruced up a great deal, with well kept flower beds, clean streets and more local eateries than you’ve had hot dinners.
But it’s not the Great Wall that I have come to visit today. Well, not in so many words, that is. Ten minutes walk from the Wall in the opposite direction to the bus station (close by what was the old bus station, but what is now the car park shuttle bus station) lies the Great Wall Museum. And what a find it turns out to be.
Don’t worry that you won’t be able to find it. There are plenty of “Great Wall Scenin Area” maps that show where you have to take a right fork some 300 metres after leaving the Wall, heading west.
Previous visits to Badaling had all been made on a Monday – not a clever idea if you are planning on visiting the museum! But today, my brain cells are in gear. It is Tuesday!
Well, in case you have just landed on earth from another planet... or worse still, you haven’t read my previous blog on the subject … the Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China. Its main aim was to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.
Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; and these, later, were joined together and made bigger and stronger, and are what are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall.
The most famous bit was built from 220–206 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, but since then, the Great Wall has been rebuilt and enhanced; and now the majority of the existing wall dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
If you’re not expecting much from this museum, then think again. Although it has free entry, a great deal of thought and effort has gone into it, and unlike so many other museums in China, the quality of the English signposting is pretty impressive.
And it’s not just about the Wall itself. There are loads of other things unearthed along the route of the Great Wall. For instance, there are cabinets filled with Bu and Dao coins from the Warring States Period;
not to mention “Set bells”, also from the Warring States Period;
as well as a collection of bronze daggers.
Now, while some parts of the Wall north of Beijing (ie near to the tourist traps) have been extensively renovated, there are many other locations where the Wall is in total disrepair.
Parts were destroyed because they stood in the way of ‘essential’ construction. And it is estimated that 22% of the Ming part of the Great Wall has already disappeared, while over 1,900 km of wall have totally vanished.
Of course there are numerous maps and displays that tell you that the Great Wall stretches from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The Qin Great Wall was built by the first unified multi-ethnic feudal state in Chinese history; while the Han Great Wall was the longest in length.
The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building during the Spring and Autumn period (between the 8th and 5th centuries BC). For some reason – that is not explained – there is a selection of “photos” of the building of Hadrian’s Wall and the Wessex fortifications in the UK, as well as Norman stone castles in France. OK, I know that the Chinese invented practically everything, but photography over a thousand years ago? Wow, am I impressed, or what!
Each little display gallery opens out onto another, via a series of corridors – all well laid out and interesting to even an old cynic like me!
Some of the objects on display are definitely reproductions, and sometimes we are told this; but as often as not we are left guessing if this is the real thing or not. But I wonder if that really matters to the average visitor. Somehow I think not.
Here, for instance, is a pair of bronze mirrors, 'dating back to the Tang dynasty'.
Here are some iron caltrops – simple defensive devices that always land with a spike pointing upwards however they land on the ground. These ones were from the Ming Dynasty, and unearthed at the Great Wall at Huoyanshan Camp, Yanqing.
There’s also a single holed iron blunderbuss with ridges (from the Ming Dynasty) which was unearthed in Zhangjiakou, Hebei…
… as well as iron swords from the same period unearthed in Dongzhuangzi and Jimingyi
Unlike the earlier fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. Up to 25,000 watchtowers are estimated to have been constructed on the wall.
During the 1440s–1460s, the Ming also built a so-called "Liaodong Wall". Similar in function to the Great Wall, but more basic in construction, the Liaodong Wall enclosed the agricultural heartland of the Liaodong province, protecting it against potential incursions from the north and northwest. Whilst stones and tiles were used in some parts of the Liaodong Wall, most of it was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.
Under the Qing rule (which followed the Ming dynasty), China's borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia was annexed into the empire, so construction on the Great Wall was discontinued. However, the so-called Willow Palisade, following a line similar to that of the Ming Liaodong Wall, was constructed by the Qing rulers in Manchuria. Its purpose, however, was not defence but rather migration control.
One of the nice things about this museum is that it has loads of photos of the Great Wall – not just from this locality, but from along its entire length. Here, for example, is part of the Wall at Dandong in Liaoning.
And this is the Great Wall at Mutianyu, not that far from Badaling (though more difficult to get to).
There’s even a comparative photomontage of the Badaling section in summer, autumn and winter…
… and there are plenty more Wall photos gracing the entire museum.
Other memorabilia from the Wall include this rather sweet coiled dragon from the ridge of the cordon at Jiayu Pass (though we are told this is actually a reproduction).
There’s also a rather imposing statue of Qi Jiguang (1528-88) who was born in Dengzhou, Shandong province in the Ming Dynasty. He was a famous general in the war against Japanese pirates and was regarded as a national hero. He started his 40 years military career at the age of 17 by succeeding his father as the Assistant Garrison Commander of Dengzhou. He is said to have invented the hollow watch tower.
Here’s a model of the gatehouse of what has become known as the First Pass in the world, located in Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province. It was the key passage between the northeast and central China, and was built in 1381. The complete defensive system consists of the external compounds, the wing compounds, the guard compound and surrounding walls, towers, a fortress, watch towers and beacon towers.
Apart from defence, other purposes of the Great Wall included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, and signalling capabilities (using smoke or fire).
This is what the beacon towers looked like in practice.
There was also a well developed postal system consisting of delivery stations and posts for military communication, as is shown in this Western Han dynasty sketch of an envoy bringing gifts to the troops.
These sticks (well the originals, that is) were used as a register of troops guarding Pingwang Qingdui, during the Western Han dynasty.
By the Ming dynasty, large sections of the wall were being built with bricks, rather than rammed earth, since they made a stronger wall, whilst also being easier to transport.
No doubt with a view to inspiring the millions of tourists that would come to visit in future generations, some of the bricks were decorated with motifs – such as this one which has a pattern of clouds and a dragon.
There’s also a model of a brick kiln showing how the bricks were fired …
As already mentioned, the Great Wall combined preparation in peacetime, the use of military force in wartime, farm production and defence, and provided material support for the strategic defence system by integrating a life of production and combat.
During the Han dynasty in the Juyan region, the Great Wall cut off the connection between the Hun and the Qiang people and blocked the Hexi Corridor – an important passage connecting the central and western regions. With soldiers as its major labour force, the military farm provided for the needs of the garrison troops.
Along the great divide there also sprang up a series of markets that served to enable commerce between people who lived on either side of the Wall. Here are ruins at Yumen Pass of what was seemingly a market place.
Now, we’ve all heard of the Xi’an warriors, haven’t we? But I, for one, was totally unaware of similar types of tomb figurines such as this mock-up of the Western Han tomb No 4 in Yangjiawan, Xianyang, Shaanxi.
It apparently demonstrates that the cavalry were used as an independent phalanx. During the reign of Emperor Wudi of the West Dynasty, nearly 200,000 cavalrymen from both the Hun and the western Han took part in key battles.
The last gallery is dedicated to folk tales of the Great Wall.
Well, I say ‘Folktales’ but it really concentrates on just one… Cai Wenji known as Yan, was a female poet in the late Eastern Han Dynasty and it appears she was well versed in music. But as bad luck would have it, she was taken prisoner by the southern Huns during the tumults in the late Han Dynasty and stayed with them until Cao Cao ransomed her for a high price 12 years later. (Maybe he reckoned she was past her prime by then!)
Here's a miniature of Cai Wenji returning to her home … awwwhhhhh!
Well, you’ve seen by now that the museum has gone out of its way to show everything it possibly can about the Great Wall.
Why, there are even pretty pictures of the Wall in the gents’ loo so that one can admire the spectacle as one is enjoying a pee. (And what’s more, the loo is pristine, too, so if you are caught short while visiting the Wall, I’d recommend you detour to the museum rather than waiting in LONG lines at the public conveniences right in the middle of the town.)
The whole journey to Badaling from Beijing takes just over an hour; and there is certainly no shortage of buses for your return journey – each one filling up and leaving before another one is waiting immediately after. Remember, if you pay cash on the bus it will set you back a ‘whopping’ 12 kwai, whereas if you use your bus card it is ‘only’ 6. With free entrance to the museum, and maybe 4 kwai to get to the bus station at Deshengmen, that’s a pretty good half day excursion for around 20 RMB!
To get to Badaling, take the subway to Jishuitan on Line 2, and then walk eastwards to the Deshengmen, where you can take an 877 or 899 or 919 (but go for the longest queue, as this will ensure you get the fastest bus, as opposed to some of the buses that make stops along the route!). You could also take the suburban rail line S2 from Xizhimen (BJ North station) which will take you an hour and seven minutes and you get off at the fifth station.