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Line 2 – Xizhimen (西直门)

Xizhimen was a gate in the Beijing city wall whose importance was second only to Zhengyangmen. Originally, it was named Heyimen in the Yuan Dynasty, becoming Xizhimen in the Ming Dynasty.

Xizhimen literally translates as West Straight Gate. Together with Dongzhimen (East Straight Gate) these two gates led straight to the Imperial palace in the Forbidden City.

This inner city gate was also known as the Water Gate, since mineral water for emperors was fetched from a spring outside Beijing and sent to the palaces through this gate before sunrise. It was demolished in 1969.

Xizhimen is one of the most crowded stations on the entire Beijing metro, with well over 170,000 transfers made every day between lines 2, 4 and 13.

One of Xizhimen station’s murals, ‘Yanshan and the Great Wall’, was made by Zhang Ding in December 1984. He was revered as the “Great Artist” of China in the 20th century and participated in the design of the national emblem of the People’s Republic of China. He was also a Tsinghua University professor and former Dean of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The Xizhimen murals were created in the early stages of thereform and opening up and it is said that premier Deng Xiaoping personally reviewed the drafts.

Zhang Ding organized a creative team, all of whom were outstanding painters of Chinese landscape painting at the time. They included Long Rui, Jiang Baolin , Wang Yong, Zhao Wei, Zhao Zhunwang , and Chen Ping. The team worked in Badachu in the western suburbs of Beijing, renting a guest house belonging to the People's Liberation Army. They were not allowed to go home or do anything else. They would live in the guest house and concentrate on their creation for over three months.

One problem they had to face early on was that everyone's pen and ink style was different. If everyone drew an area of the mural, there would be a sense of division in the final worek. The solution for the creative team was not to draw a complete scene for each person, but to draw one category. So Rulongrui painted themountains and rocks, Jiang Baolin was responsible for the forests and trees, Wang Yong painted architecture and so on. This way, the basic unity of brushwork, and the unity of the landscape painting was ensured.

The mural is 69.9 metres long. It uses 50×50 cm epoxy tiles and a total of 852 pieces are assembled to form the complete picture.

The Yanshan or Yan Mountains (燕山) make up a major mountain range north of Hebei Province. Beijing itself is located at the northern tip of the North China Plain, near the meeting point of the Xishan and Yanshan mountain ranges.

The eastern stretch of the Great Wall of China, including Badaling in northern Beijing and the Mutianyu Great Wall in Huairou county, can both be found on the Yanshan.

After nearly four decades, the murals which line the walls of the three stations are slowly falling apart.  They were painted with acrylic paint on ceramic tiles. Acrylic pigments were very useful new water-resistant pigments at the time, but people did not know enough about their durability. The colours in them have darkened with age, but worse, a number of the tiles are either broken or missing. As the original moulds for the murals have been lost, it is now impossible to bake new tiles to replace the missing pieces. It appears that the murals were never maintained after they were installed, and the shockwaves, caused by faster trains, have caused most of the damage.

(This photo was taken before the installation of platform gates on Line 2 in 2018.)

‘Da Jiang Dong Qu (A Picture of the Great River Going East)’ - also by  Zhang Ding - on the opposite side of the station is missing five of its tiles. This mural is 71 metres long and 3 metres high, and was made up from 840 pieces. In addition, a red iron door was installed in the middle of the mural, and five tiles that connect with the door have all been damaged, leaving a part of the entire mural missing.

However, a restoration programme is currently underway at the three Line 2 stations; Jianguomen was first to have its murals restored, and Xizhimen and Dongsishitiao should have their murals upgraded by the middle of 2021.

Da Jiang Dong Qu (大江东去) by Su Shi is a famous example of Ci Poetry from the North Song Dynasty. ‘Charm of a maiden singer’ was made into a TV drama in 2003.“West of the ancient fortress appears Red Cliff, where General Zhou won his early fame When the Three Kingdoms were in flame.”


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