Beijing’s Vanished City Wall

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If you visited Beijing in 1950s, you would have seen the most beautiful and greatest walled capital city anywhere in the world! 24 km inner city wall, 28 km outer city, plus the walls for the imperial city and the forbidden city itself, four layers of the walls added up to the length of 60km with 16 huge gates, built in 1553.

Beijing City Wall Map

Beijing City Wall Map

Like the Great Wall of China, Beijing’s ancient city fortifications were also the massive military defense works dotted with gates, towers and circled by the city moats. Today almost all the city walls around Beijing have been demolished and left with very few relics to be remembered.

The old Beijing, probably the most splendid capital at that time in the world, now only live in our dream. Having some basic knowledge of its old city wall helps you better appreciate the modern and fast developing Beijing on your Beijing tour.

Heap of excrement beside a city wall and a man with a wheelbarrow in the background. Photo by Frank Nicholas (American) on April 30, 1915.

Photo by Frank Nicholas (American) on April 30, 1915.

Photo by Frank Nicholas (American) on April 30, 1915.

Heated Debate in 1950s over the demolition of the city fortifications
In 1957, after the “Beijing City Construction General Proposal Draft” was officially put forward, there had been some debates and discussions on whether the city wall should be demolished. The noted Chinese architect – Liang Sicheng (20 April 1901 – 9 January 1972 ) was a leading advocate for keeping the walls.

In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance army torn apart the west section of the wall near Yongding Gate for the makeshift railway.

In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance army torn apart the west section of the wall

In 1900, the Eight-Nation Alliance army torn apart the west section of the wall

Liang said “Dismantling one gate tower is like cutting one piece of my meat; demolishing a section of the city wall like ripping off my skin”. He once proposed a romantic and practical proposal.

He suggested the building of a new city on the west of the old Beijing city with the old city turned into a huge living museum.

The southeast of Yongding Tower gate in 1901

The southeast of Yongding Tower gate in 1901

He also wanted to build the 40km long city wall ( inner city wall and outer city wall ) into a dimensional loop city park. On the top of the 10-meter wide city wall, built with flower beds planted with lilac, roses and more bushes; placed with round chairs.

At a summer dusk, it is a nice place for thousands of people to cool down and take a break; in autumn, stand on the top and have a panoramic view of the city; corner towers can be tailored to house exhibition rooms, reading rooms, tea booths, a unique dimensional loop city park in the world!!

Photo by Donald Mennie ( England ) in 1920.

Photo by Donald Mennie ( England ) in 1920.

But the central government broke the dream at that time favoring the economic development and city reconstruction. unofficially reported that once Chairman Mao standing on the Tiananmen Tower said that he would like to see more chimneys in the city.

Liang said that in 50 years people would regret about the dismantlement of the city fortifications in Beijing.

Beijing Ming Dynasty City Wall Relics
Now there are only scattered preserved or restored sections of the city wall in Beijing with the longest part known as the Ming Wall Relics Park.

The remnant city wall is about 1.5km in length, which has been transformed into a public park. The Ming Wall Relics Park is composed of two parts: the wall relics itself and the southeast corner tower of the former inner city in Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Ming Wall Relics Park

Ming Wall Relics Park

The Arrow Tower and Zhengyang Gate south of Tiananmen Square have escaped the demolition.

In the north of Beijing’s central axis, Deshengmen Tower is also a good testament to the massive city fortifications in Beijing.

Arrow Tower south of Tiananmen Square

Arrow Tower south of Tiananmen Square

The glories of Old Beijing lasted into the twentieth century, hope you can still enjoy having the dream and experience the marvels of the past beauties of Beijing that would have been the most beautiful capital city in the world.

06611Tip:  Hassle-free Beijing Guided Tours
If you don’t want to go the do-it-yourself route and prefer the hassle-free escorted tours,  here are some options for guided tours to Beijing:

Beijing Highlight Day Tour from US$59 P/P
(Tiananmen + Forbidden City + Mutianyu Great Wall)
Beijing Classic City Tour from US$65 P/P
(Tiananmen + Forbidden City + Temple of Heaven + Summer Palace)
Beijing Excursion Tour from US$59 P/P
(Mutianyu Great Wall + Ming Tomb)
Beijing Hutong Highlight Tour from US$59 P/P
( Hutong + Rickshaw)

Mutianyu Great Wall Half Day Tour from US$55 p/p
Hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu Great Wall Day Tour from US$69 p/p

Mutianyu Great Wall Layover Tour from US$65 p/p
Beijing Highlight Layover Tour from US$75 p/p

Any questions, just drop a line.

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