The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications built by a number of emperors to protect the northern borders against nomadic tribes. At one time the wall stretched from Shanhaiguan on China's east coast through a variety of terrains including mountains, plateaus and desert to Lop Nur in the North West of the country. Today a lot of that wall has disappeared but parts are still being rediscovered, its current length is approximately 4,500 miles.
Although walls have existed in China since the 9th century BC, they were used extensively during the Warring States Period between the 5th century and 221 BC, although it wasn’t until the unification of China by Qin Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China that the connection of the various walls was carried out to form a unified defensive system. Qin Shi Huangdi unified China not just politically but also economically by standardizing the Chinese units of measurements, the currency and the Chinese script. He also developed an Irrigation System and an extensive network of roads and canals connecting the provinces in order to improve trade, and he carried out a major development of the Great Wall.
The original wall was constructed mainly of rammed earth, the same methods are used in China today, posts would be placed in the ground, and planks would be positioned and held in place by the posts. Earth would then be placed between the planks and well compacted by pounding.Branches would be laid at stages as a layer as the wall was built up in order to act as a binder. The work force included soldiers, prisoners and peasants who were taken from all over the country and relocated where they would toil for the rest of their lives, millions died in the process and it is thought that one person died for every metre of length that the wall stretches, giving the wall the name of the long grave yard.
The next great building session was carried out by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The first of the Ming Emperors was Hongwu who became emperor in 1368. Before that the country was ruled by the Mongol or Yuan Dynasty but a peasant revolt removed them. The leader of the revolt became emperor and adopted the name Hongwu. He started some of the building work on the wall but it was his son Yongle, who was to become one of the greatest emperors, who carried that on. Yongle moved the capital from Nanjing in the south to Beijing and started fortifying the great wall due to his fear of attack. It was during the Ming period that the modern wall was built stretching from Dandong on the Korean border to Jiayuguan at the end of the Spice Route in the Gobi desert.
The main purpose of the wall was to impede and deter any potential invaders by also serving as a psychological barrier. It also enabled the quick deployment of soldiers through the rugged terrain. Standing 30 feet (9.14 metres) high and 10 feet (3 metres) wide it was one of the greatest engineering feats of all time using the most up-to-date technology with regard the manufacture of bricks to the drainage channels that would direct water to the outfall on the inside of the wall to prevent the enemy from being able to lasso the guttering and prevent water supply to plants which would provide cover to attackers. The wall enabled troops to be stationed at regular intervals who could signal if an enemy was approaching and could summon help. To this end they used smoke signals during the day and fire signals at night, these were relayed from one watchtower to another; using this system messages could be rapidly sent over great distances. The watchtowers were built at regular intervals along many stretches of the Great Wall. They would also have beacon towers in front of the walls to warn of any advancing army and towers where the garrison could sleep and provide additional protection. There would also be Storehouses and barracks so that any additional troops rushed to the spot to meet an attack could be provisioned. Gates would be placed and manned to control access and egress. The wall served China for several hundred years and was breached only once in 1644 when a Chinese General opened the gates to allow the Manchu to enter after the emperor took his love as a concubine. This brought about the replacement of the existing dynasty with the Qing Dynasty that was to rule China until the 20th century.
Today the Wall can be visited at a number of places, the most popular ones being at Badaling and Mutianyu, which can be visited from Beijing.Access to the wall at Mutianyu is via a cable car. Badaling provides the choice of two routes, a steep and a shallow one, depending on fitness ability.These sections - built around 500 years ago - have undergone extensive renovations by the Chinese government over the last few decades and to gear it up to tourism. Today The Great Wall is a world heritage site and China is aware of its importance as a heritage and tourist attraction and is ensuring that it is maintained.
Situated in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex. It has lavishly decorated ceremonial halls and royal palaces that impress even by today’s standards.
Construction took place between 1406 and 1420 by the Yongle Emperor, when he moved the capital back to Beijing from Nanjing and made the Forbidden City the seat of the Ming Dynasty. In 1644 the Ming Dynasty was overthrown to be replaced by the Qing Dynasty which ruled until the Emperor PuYi was removed in 1912, although he was to remain in the city as a virtual prisoner until his expulsion in 1924. In 1925, the Forbidden City was converted to the Palace Museum, containing a collection of artwork and artefacts from the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Twenty four emperors ruled China from inside the palace, seldom venturing outside. At its height, as many as 9,000 people lived there including the royal family, concubines, servants and eunuchs, purely for the convenience of the Emperor.
Measuring 960 by 750 metres in size, (the equivalent to over 20 football fields) the Forbidden City consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 rooms: It is believed that this number was once 9,999. The City is surrounded by a six-metre deep, 52 metres wide moat and a 7.9 metres high wall, which is 8.62 metres wide at the base. At each of the four corners of the wall are towers with intricate roofs. Each side of the city wall has a gate; the most famous is the main Meridian Gate at the south. Inside the walls the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court or Front Court, which includes the southern sections, was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court or Back Court includes the northern sections, and was the residence of the Emperor and his family; this was used for the day-to-day affairs of state.
The most important buildings are situated on the central north-south axis. These include the Gate of Supreme Harmony which leads to the main square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rising from the square has two elaborate ceremonial ramps containing bas-relief carvings. The northern ramp is carved from a single piece of stone weighing around 200 tonnes. The southern ramp is made from two stone slabs joined together. Three halls stand on top of the terrace. These are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The largest and most important is the Hall of Supreme Harmony which rises 30 metres above the level of the surrounding square and is the largest surviving wooden structure in China. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here, although during the Qing Dynasty it was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony, a smaller, square hall, used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. Behind this is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies. All three halls contain an imperial throne; the largest and most elaborate one is in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard, is the Inner Court, this was the home of the Emperor and his family. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes. At the centre of the Inner Court are three halls. These are the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity. Smaller than the Outer Court halls, the three halls of the Inner Court were the official residences of the Emperor and the Empress. Behind the Inner Court lies the small Imperial Garden which contains a number of elaborate landscaping features. This then leads to the north gate of the palace, the Gate of Divine Might. To the east and west of the three main halls are a series of self-contained courtyards and minor palaces. It is here that the Emperor's concubines and children lived and which are now used to display the artefacts and treasures.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Temple of Heaven is not a single building but a complex located in the southern end of central Beijing. Constructed between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle (who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City - See article above). The temple was used by the emperor to make offerings to the heaven and to prey for a good harvest.
The Temple of Heaven was originally known as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, but this was changed during the reign of Ming Emperor JiaJing (1522-1567), who built separate complexes for the earth, sun and moon.
Occupying an area of 273 hectares (676 Acres) The Temple of Heaven lies on a central north-south axis and is surrounded by gardens. The gardens are used for exercising, practicing tai chi, jian zi, wu shu, singing and dancing. They are also used for flying kites and playing musical instruments, board games and badminton. The gardens contain numerous trees with some of the cypress trees being several hundreds of years old.
The complex consists of a number of buildings which include walkways, pavilions and halls. The halls are now being used as a museum to exhibit artifacts and tell the story of the complex. The three main buildings are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a round (symbolic of the Heaven) 38 meters tall and 30 meters in diameter. It stands on a round foundation built with a three-tier marble terrace. The triple-eave hall has a three-story, cone-shaped roof in blue glazed tiles crowned with a gilded knob. The building, as it is today, was commissioned by Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong in 1751 and is held together purely with joints as no nails are used.
A circular wall of polished bricks known as the Echo Wall encloses the Imperial Vault of Heaven. This is similar to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, although smaller in size; it is made of bricks and timber and is surrounded by white marble railings. It was used to place memorial tablets. The Circular Mount Altar, is south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and is where the emperor would make offerings to the heaven and to prey for a good harvest.
During the Second Opium War (1856 to 1860) the temple was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance and then again in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, when it was used as the Alliance force's command centre in Beijing. The occupation resulted in serious damage to the buildings and the garden and the theft of the temple artifacts. The subsequent years resulted in neglect which led to the collapse of several halls. The temple was turned into a park and opened to the public in 1918. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. In 2005 - 2006, it underwent a major renovation which cost 6 million United States dollars.
Situated 13 Km northwest of central Beijing, the Summer Palace is one of the largest, (2.9 Sq Km) best preserved, and most interesting royal gardens in the world. Chinese gardens are made up of four things, Flowers and Plants, Water (three quarters of the Summer Palace is open water), Rocks and Architecture. Although it is called a palace it is not in fact a single building but includes scores of buildings, such as temples, halls, pavilions and towers.Despite having many different garden and architectural styles, the Summer Palace is harmonious and visually pleasing.
Historically, as a garden, it dates back to the 12th century.Towards the end of the 13th century, the founder of the Mongol dynasty in China Emperor Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan) ordered the construction of canals to transport water from the Western Hills to the site of what is now the Summer Palace in order to improve his water supply. There he enlarged the lake (now called KunMing Lake) to act as a reservoir.
Emperor Qianlong started to construct the gardens of the Summer Palace in 1750 for the 60th birthday of his mother. His designers reproduced the styles of various palaces and gardens from around China:A task that took 15 years to complete.
In 1860, the Anglo-French Allied Forces invaded Beijing and set fire to many of the buildings within the Summer Palace. – This was a result of the opium wars which dates back to 1840 when first the British, then other countries wanted to be able to trade with China. China took these countries ambassadors hostage, which resulted in a force capturing Beijing and the subsequent destruction and theft from the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City.
Dowager Empress CiXi restored the gardens and embarked on a development programme over the ten years from 1888, work that was to reconstruct and enlarge the Summer Palace. In 1889 it became the primary summer palace. On completion, CiXi renamed it ‘The Garden of Peace and Harmony'.
In 1898 the Boxer Rebellion erupted, this was an anti-foreign movement in China and was encouraged by the Empress CiXi, as a means of driving foreigners from China. After the rebellion had been put down by the Western Powers in 1900 they embarked on a series of reprisals resulting in most of the Summer Palace being destroyed. This resulted in CiXi having to flee although she was allowed back and in 1903 rebuilt the Summer Palace to what we see today.In 1911 after China’s Revolution brought an end of Imperial Rule, the Palace was opened to the public.
On visiting the Palace visitors on tours tend to use the East Palace Gate. During imperial times the centre gate was for the sole use of the emperor and empress while family & court officials use the side gates. Lions are situated at the gate as they are seen as guardians and act to ward off evil spirits.
Passing through an archway visitors come to the Emperor's administration area which comprises of a number of buildings. The main one is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, built in 1750; it was burned down in 1860 by the Anglo-French allied forces, but was reconstructed in 1888 by CiXi. The columns made from the NanMoo Tree from South West China are made from single tree trunks.
In front of the building is a Sculpted bronze beast called a Kylin, it has a dragons head, tail of a lion, horn of a deer and hoof of a cow. Also around the Palace are found dragons, which unlike in the West, are seen as benevolent and are revered as bringers of rain. Dragons are the symbol of the emperor, and all of his personal possessions such as cloths, plates, buildings have dragons on it; although the Emperors dragons have five claws, while all others have four.
In Chinese Architecture the structure is based on the principle of balance and symmetry. Generally buildings are made of timber with curved roofs to ward off evil spirits.At the edge of the roofs are mythological creatures which also denote the importance of a building - the more creatures the greater the importance. The main structure is positioned on the axis while Secondary structures are positioned as wings on either side
There are many other structures of significance with the Palace; the 'Long Corridor' is a covered walkway 726 metres long that runs along Kunming lake. Built by QianLong so his mother could walk by the lake when it was raining, it is the longest walkway in any Chinese garden.It begins at the Invite-the-moon Gate in the east and is divided into 200 sections and ends at the Master Stone Pavilion in the west. It has over 14,000 traditional Chinese paintings of scenes from South China on the beams and crossbeams.
Rising up from the lake is the 60m high Longevity Hill, which was created during the excavating of the lake.On the hillside are a series of buildings forming a separate palace complex which is entered from the lake by the ceremonial archway or from the Long Corridor. The entry to the complex is via a small courtyard and at the back of the courtyard is the Hall that Dispels the Clouds, which CiXi would use only on her birthday, for the remainder of the year the building was closed.
Further up the hill is the Pavilion of Buddhist Fragrance, the octagonal, wooden pavilion is the highest and largest building in the Summer Palace. The 40-meter-high tower is built on a 20 meter high stone terrace half way up the Hill making it visible for many miles. Originally it was planned as a nine level pagoda but QianLong changed this during the construction to seven levels. Destroyed by the Japanese when they invaded it was rebuilt as a four storey building due to financial restrictions.
The thing that the Palace is most famous for is the 36 metre long Marble Boat, built in 1755 to replicate the boats which QianLong used during an inspection to Southern China. It was destroyed in 1860 but rebuilt by CiXi in 1893.
The palace is also famed for its bridges and these include the Jade Belt Bridge, also known as the Camel's Back Bridge, an 18th century pedestrian bridge made from stone and marble.The clearance of the arch was set to accommodate the dragon boat of QianLong.
Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1990; the Summer Palace projects the air of harmony between the different elements and styles; giving it the title of the “Garden of Gardens”.
The Ming Tombs cover an
area of 80 square kilometres, situated in a valley bordered on three sides by
the Yanshan Mountains. Located about 50 kilometres from Beijing, it contains
the tombs of the 13 of the 16 Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as well
as a number of tombs of concubines and eunuchs. Construction started in
1409 and ended when the Ming Dynasty collapsed in 1644.
The first Ming Emperor
was Hong Wu (1368-98) who was succeeded to the throne by his grandson Jian Wen.
Within a few years, Jian Wen was deposed by his uncle who was to become the
Emperor Yong Le. It was he who moved the
capital from Nanjing to Beijing and constructed the Forbidden City.
In 1409 Yong Le selected
the area, and construction of his Mausoleum began in the area that was to
become the Ming Tombs. Yong Le (also known as Zhu Di) was to become the first
Emperor to be buried there, although all the remaining Emperors were then
buried in that location. According to burial rules and customs during the early
Ming Dynasty, an imperial mausoleum was for the Emperor and the Empress, although
later the Emperors were buried with their consorts.
The last Ming Emperor to
be buried there was Chong Zhen. He
committed suicide by hanging himself following his overthrow by a peasant
rebellion in 1644, and was buried in the tomb of his concubine consort. The tomb was later declared an imperial
Visitors to the site
would enter through a large marble archway, leading to the main Great Palace
Gate, consisting of three passageways.
The next building along
the route is the Steele Pavilion. Inside
the pavilion is a 6.5 meters high stele resting on the back of a stone tortoise
weighing 50 tons. The stele was named Tablet of the Divine Merit and Sage
Virtue of Changling of the Great Ming. On the front is a 3,000-word inscription
and on the reverse is a poem by Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty. The
stele tells of the renovation of the Ming tombs by Emperors Qian Long and Jia
Qing of the Qing Dynasty.
Once through the
pavilion, the Sacred Road (or Spirit Path) stretches towards the tombs. Along
both sides of the path are 18 pairs of stone animals and human figures each
being carved from a single piece of white marble. The Sacred Road built in
Changling times later became the pathway of the entire Ming necropolis
connecting with all the other Ming tombs.
At the end of the Sacred
Road is the Lattice Gate with its three archways. It is also known as the Dragon and
Phoenix Gate. Through that is the Seven-Arch Stone Bridge leading to a zigzag
path to the Changling tomb, the tomb of Emperor Yong Le (1360-1420) and his
empress Xushi. Changling Tomb was the
first mausoleum built in the Ming Tombs. It is also the largest and
best-preserved of the thirteen of the Tombs. Three of the Ming tombs are open
to visitors: Changling, Dingling and Zhaoling; although during the author’s
visit only the underground tomb of the Dingling could be visited.
The Changling tomb
complex consists of a number of buildings. The stone gateway leads to the Gate
of Eminent Favour leading past burners and into the Hall of Eminent Favour.
This grand hall is made of a rare type of hardwood known as Phoebe nanmu. The
hall covers an area of 1,956 square meters. The columns of the hall are single
nanmu tree trunks 12.5 meters tall. In
the centre of the hall is a statue of Yong Le which has display cabinets around
it displaying a selection of artefacts.
Behind the Hall of
Prominent Favour is a set of five glazed pottery altar sacrificial vessels into
which many tourists throw money, which is said to bring them luck. The building behind this is known as Minglou
(the Soul Tower), which contains a stele inscribed with the name of the Emperor.
Behind this is a tomb mound where the Emperor and Empress were buried.The tomb of the Emperor
and Empress is located below the earth mound, which would have been accessed
via the Spirit Tower. The mound is surrounded
by a wall, the purpose of which isto protect the tomb but
also to retain the earth used for the tomb mound.
The Ming Tombs were
listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, together with the tombs of
the Qing Dynasties.
Jade Buddha Temple
Dating from 1882 the Jade Buddha Temple (also known as the Yufo Temple) contains two jade Buddha statues brought to Shanghai from Burma. The statues were given to the Abbot HuiGen after a visit to Tibet and Burma.On his return to Shanghai he built a temple with funds that had been donated for that task. The statues remained there until the uprising of 1911, which brought an end to imperial rule. The temple was destroyed during the revolution but was reconstructed on the same site during the period 1918 - 28, in the style of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279).The statues were saved from the original temple and were brought back to the new one in 1928 when the new temple was completed
The statues are carved from white jade; one is the sitting Buddha which is 1.9 metres high encrusted with jewels and portrays the Buddha in meditation at the moment of enlightenment. The other is the reclining Buddha which is just under a metre long; it lies on a redwood bed and represents the Buddha at the moment of his death. The temple also has another reclining Buddha which is four metres long and was brought to the temple in 1989 from Singapore.
Apart from being a Temple it is also a Chan (Zen) Buddhist monastery, it consists of a number of main halls which are open to the public, these being the Tianwang Dian Hall which contains the statues of ferocious looking deities known as the four celestial kings; the Daxiong Baodian Hall which has three large gilded Buddha statues: the Buddhas of the past (Bhaisajya-guru), present (Sakyamuni) and future (Maitreya) surrounded with eighteen gilded Luohan statues. The third is the Jade Buddha Tower which houses the Sitting Buddha, no photographs of that are allowed; it has two courtyards and at the sides are the Kwan-yin Dian Hall, the Amitabha Dian Hall, the Zen Tang Hall, and the Recumbent Buddha Hall where the Reclining Buddha is located. The temple contains many other statues and artefacts, not all of which are on display, while the walls are line with around 7,000 Buddhist sutras.
From the outside the temple is quite plain looking but inside it contains many beautiful items which make it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Shanghai.
The Terracotta Warriors are located in Xi’an which is in the Yellow River Basin area of central-northwest China. Known originally as Chang'an (meaning the eternal city), Xian stretches back for more than 3,000 years. It was the eastern end of the famous Silk Road and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of the ancient Chinese and the capital of 13 dynasties for over 1,000 years.
The Terracotta Warriors were created by the Emperor Qin Shihuang who united China for the first time in 221 BC after defeating six other states and creating the Qin dynasty which was to give its name to China. The most notable achievements for Qin were the construction of the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army, both of which caused immeasurable suffering for those involved in their construction.
Qin’s fear of his own death and his fear of the souls of those he had killed resulted in his searching for the elixir of immortality and the construction of a life size terracotta army to protect him from the souls of those who he had mercilessly executed. The figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations are replicas of what the Imperial Guard looked like in those days. All are handmade and were assembled in parts. Each warrior bears its own unique facial expression, suggesting that live models were used. In addition, the complex contains figures of officials and musicians, all of which were originally colourfully painted.The main vault contains 6,000 life sized terracotta warriors with many more in additional pits in the complex.Four years after the complex was sealed, during an uprising which brought an end to the Qin dynasty in 206 BC, many were broken.The whole site was covered with wooden beams held up by the walls between the columns of soldiers, although with the deterioration and collapse of the wooden beam supports, more damage was done.
The site was discovered in 1974 during the digging of a well when some pottery relics were found.Archaeologists determined their origin and began excavating the site, which resulted in the construction of a museum being approved in 1975. The complex was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as a world heritage site.
Qin is believed to be buried under an earth mound about 1 mile from the Terracotta Warrior site.The mound is thought to have been a 170m high (488ft), square pyramid approx 350m long.Archaeologists have yet to excavate it as the Chinese government will not allow excavation until they have the ability to preserve its’ contents; for as soon as it is opened anything in it will start to deteriorate. Ancient writings hint that Qin's mausoleum may contain a wealth of treasures, more striking and precious than anything previously found.
The Ci’en Temple is situated to the south of the centre of Xi’an, and contains the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, one of the oldest Pagodas in China dating back to the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-906) Dynasties.
The Ci’en Temple was constructed between 581 and 618 and was originally known as the Non-Leak Temple. In 647 the temple was expanded to include 1,897 pavilions, halls and rooms by Prince LiZhi in memory of his mother and renamed to the Grand Mercy and Favour Temple.
Shortly after its completion it became the centre for the translation of many Buddhist Sutras (Texts) by Xuanzang, one of China’s most famous monks. Xuanzang is known for his 16 years of travelling in India to collect Sutras and taking them back to China. In 652 the Great Wild Goose Pagoda was constructed to commemorate his return and to house the Sutras, statues and relics he had brought back. Many of the sutras and statues brought by Xuanzang can be seen in the buildings and within the Great Hall of the Buddha are statues showing three incarnations of Shakyamuni (The Buddha).
Xuanzang planned to build the pagoda in stone but this had to be changed to one built of mud and brick due to the difficulty in obtaining stone and the cost that would have involved. Built with 5 storeys, this collapsed shortly after completion but was rebuilt between 701 – 704 with an additional 5 storeys. After its completion it became the custom for candidates who had passed the Imperial examination to become officials and climb to the top and inscribe their names.
The temple was destroyed during the conflict that led to the downfall of the Tang Dynasty and was rebuilt to its present form during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The pagoda today is 210 feet (64 metres) high and consists of 7 storeys. This resulted following its destruction and subsequent rebuilding after an earthquake in 1556. Each storey is square in plan with its walls being battered (slanting inwards) to provide greater resistance to earthquakes.
The Pagoda got its name due to the architectural style being based on the Wild Goose Pagoda in India but was called the Big (Great) Wild Goose Pagoda to distinguish it from a smaller temple with the same name.