For­bid­den City walls get­ting ma­jor re­pairs

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By WANG KAIHAO in Bei­jing wangkai­hao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Af­ter cen­turies, walls that once pro­tected mighty em­per­ors are be­gin­ning to show their age. The walls of the an­cient im­pe­rial cen­ter of power that is now the Palace Museum in Bei­jing have weak­nesses like loose bricks and bulging, crack­ing sur­faces.

On Satur­day, the museum, also known as the For­bid­den City, be­gan a restora­tion project to keep the walls from col­laps­ing.

“Peo­ple usu­ally think the walls are much more solid than our wooden palace ar­chi­tec­ture,” said Shan Jix­i­ang, di­rec­tor of the museum. “How­ever, the re­sult of our de­tailed in­ves­ti­ga­tion has told us they are not.”

Ex­perts re­cently fin­ished a sur­vey on the con­di­tion of the 3,437 me­ters of wall. It shows hid­den haz­ards: Some sec­tions have been hol­lowed out over time, and are sag­ging. Grass and tree roots that have in­fil­trated gaps pose an­other ma­jor threat to their sta­bil­ity.

The western walls have sus­tained the most dam­age, Shan said. A 233-meter sec­tion on that side has been cho­sen as the first tar­get for ren­o­va­tion. Plans for the rest are pend­ing.

The orig­i­nal work on the For­bid­den City dates to 1420. Its walls are around 9.3me­ters high and 8.55 me­ters thick. They have an earthen core, pro­tected by outer bricks.

His­tor­i­cal records show there were sev­eral ma­jor restora­tions in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, fol­low­ing heavy rain­storms or earth­quakes. In 1988, a sec­tion of the north wall col­lapsed.

In 1999 and 2000, the museum un­der­took a pre­ven­tive main­te­nance project, but it mainly fo­cused on the sur­faces. Shan said re­stor­ers are look­ing in depth this time. New, high­tech tools like ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar are be­ing used.

“We want to thor­oughly cure the ‘ill­nesses’,” he said.

Zhao Peng, a museum en­gi­neer who is lead­ing the restora­tion project, said his team will stick to tra­di­tional Chi­nese con­struc­tion meth­ods, but he also ac­knowl­edged ex­pected dif­fi­cul­ties.

“In some cases, it would be eas­ier to use new bricks than reusing ma­te­ri­als in the wall to fix the prob­lems,” he said. “But the prin­ci­ple of min­i­mum in­ter­ven­tion in the restora­tion of cul­tural relics de­mands that we re­use as many orig­i­nal bricks as pos­si­ble.

“It’s thus a chal­lenge to de­vise a plan to com­bine and match old and new ma­te­ri­als,” Zhao said. Any new ma­te­ri­als used must con­form to the look of the ex­ist­ing brick, he ex­plained.

Shan said he ex­pected the whole project cov­er­ing all en­dan­gered sec­tions to be com­pleted by Oc­to­ber 2020, when the For­bid­den City cel­e­brates its 600th birth­day.

JIANGDONG/ CHINA DAILY

Work­ers take mea­sure­ments on Satur­day as they pre­pare for restora­tion of the walls of the Palace Museum in Bei­jing.

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