The “Wild Great Wall” of Funing: A Showcase of Great Wall Architecture
A Showcase of Great Wall Architecture
The Great Wall section runs through Funing County, Hebei Province is merely a “wild” part of the Wall, but through the eyes of photographer Li Zhanyi, it can be seen as a masterpiece of ancient architecture.
To be precise, the section of the Great Wall passing through Hebei Province is most highly concentrated on the border in the northern section of Funing County, which is governed by Qinhuangdao City. More than half the county’s area consists of mountainous terrain, and these mountains are interconnected by over 100 kilometers of the Great Wall built in Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The Wall here is usually referred to as the “Wild Great Wall”, the reason for which is that, other than photographers like us, virtually no one ever sets foot here.
Harmony with the Terrain
The Funing Great Wall, with a total length of about 142.5 kilometers, runs from east to west through four different small towns (Zhucaoying, Shimenzhai, Suizhong, Daxinzhai). What’s most amazing to me is that, other than the restorations of the Jiumenkou Great Wall Bridge, located in Suizhong Town, which was developed as a tourism resource, all other parts of the Wall throughout the area have undergone no restoration whatsoever.
The most distinctive structures of the Jiumenkou Great Wall are the city bridge and “Mother and Son Towers”. At this point the Wall drops from a cliff to the valley below; the b bed of the river is lined with granite slabs interconnected by iron tenons, then granite serves as a foundation for the bridge, which extends between the watch towers on either b bank of the river. The “Mother and Son Towers” were built on the wide, open area to the southwest of the J Jiumenkou City wall, and are named so as one is smaller than the other, the smaller tower constructed in an arced half-moon shape, leaning against the east side of the larger cylindrical tower.
The towers are a separate structure from the Wall, not connected to it in any way, located at a distance of about one kilometer away from the Jiumenkou Fort. Scholars believe that the structure’s main purpose may either have been as a venue for assigning tasks to military leaders posted at the pass, or as a place from where battlefield orders would be given. Chinese architecture scholar and Vice Director of the Great Wall of China Association Luo Zhewen, upon inspection of the structure, noted that the
When compared to most of the better known sections of the Great Wall, that which runs through Funing County, Hebei Province is merely a “wild” part of the Wall, but through the eyes of a photographer, it can be seen as a masterpiece of ancient architecture. Photographer Li Zhanyi spent four years treading through the mountains here, along which the Ming Dynasty Great Wall spans over 100 kilometers, and shows us each of the different styles of architecture that it encompasses.
“Mother and Son Towers” are a unique architectural format among the terraces of the Great Wall, with this being the only such example.
Most of the Jiumenkou Great Wall rolls across mountains of 500 meters or less in elevation, and in most places the wall stands tall and broad, but it gets much more narrow and dangerous as it stretches outward toward the horizon. The styles of the wall and its watchtowers, with different heights and sitting atop different types of terrain, are very widely varied as well.
The Great Wall running through Dongjiakou, in the northeast part of Zhucaoying Town, with an elevation of about 600 meters, is a threadbare stretch of brick wall. From the eastern tower it abruptly drops almost straight downward, as it reaches toward a slope at the base of the mountain into a dangerous gully below. From a distance, it looks as though the wall is simply hanging down the face of the cliff.
To the west of Banchangyu Village, also part of Zhucaoying Town, I came across a section of the Great Wall that was built atop boulders. The wall drops from a point of Jianggoulazi Mountain
800 meters above sea level, plummeting 400 meters downward, then suddenly ends. Surrounding the wall, across the slope and the ridge of the mountain, a large number of boulders are scattered. Some of them are even bigger than the watchtowers connecting the wall, including the towers that are about ten meters both wide and tall.
The boulders are separate from one another, resembling a disarrayed Stonehenge arrangement, but as they are all connected by the wall, the overall effect is that of continuity and momentum. Later, with the help of two youths who had accompanied me on my journey, I got a close look at a Great Wall watchtower of the Pingdingyu Great Wall on the plateau at the top of Xishan Mountain’s cliff. This tower had also been constructed atop a strange rock, its foundation made from granite, and the spot where the stone connected with the base was so tightly carved that, when I tried to stick a coin in the crack, I couldn’t find a single spot where the coin would fit.
But there were more surprises. Near Banchangyu Village there was also a deep valley, from the bottom of which to the top of the cliff there was a direct drop of over 100 meters, but even over such a sheer precipice the wall continued from ledge to gulley. There were even four watchtowers sitting along the cliff, which when viewed from the valley below made my head swim.
Near the village there is also a collection of natural stone pillars, each about ten meters in height and straight as a tree trunk. The Wall runs right along the edges of the pillars, with almost no room for footholds. On the west side of the pillars is a mountain with an elevation of over 800 meters, running from east to west, and standing on the east side looking down, no path can be seen. This is because the stone pillars are much taller than the watchtowers, so when the towers were made, the builders used the pillars in place of the wall. These watchtowers, since they were built straight on the face of the mountain, making them inac- cessible to most people, combined with their solid foundations, have been immaculately preserved for hundreds of years.
The Three “Classes” of Walls
On the west edge of Banchangyu Village there is a section of wall that runs down a very steep slope, on the interior of which there are squareshaped brick platforms, with stairs leading up constructed by their side. These square platforms were where soldiers stood guard over the Great Wall, their usage similar to that of battlements, but the platforms are all at straight angles, each one lower down the slope than the last. There is a drop between each platform of about 1.9 meters, so there is no way to walk between them. If someone wishes to move to the next platform down, he must follow the pathway beside it. Each step of the pathway is made from a single piece of stone, carved about 50 centimeters in height. The steps are very evenly
leveled, but since no one has used or tended them in so long, the cracks between the steps are now overgrown with weeds.
Once you arrive at the summit and pass by the watchtower on the edge of the cliff, the wall shoots straight down the western side of Jianggoulazi Mountain, then continues along the West Mountain in Banchangyu, before disappearing into the distant mountains. The mountains through which the Wall runs have many clustered peaks, with dramatic fluctuations in height. Looking down from above, the watchtowers nestled among the mountains appear very closely packed. To the southwest of Banchangyu Village, the hills become significantly gentler, making the area much more susceptible to attack, so within the range of about 700 meters here, a total of 12 watchtowers were constructed, with an average distance between them of less than 60 meters.
The Funing Ming Great Wall, fashioned of brick, has an even and smooth finish on both the interior and exterior sides. Some of my archaeologist friends have told me that the wall here is mostly built with an outer shell of brick on either side, which is filled with gravel or clay, then this is covered with brick or stone to form a foundation, and running along the sides there are also gutters and drains to keep rainwater from seeping into the body of the wall. After I heard this, when I came to a particularly run-down part of the wall I checked to see for myself, and noticed that there was indeed gravel and clay showing through where bricks were missing. Looking at fractures in the surface I also noticed that some parts had three layers of brick, which is apparently a “first class” section of the Funing Great Wall.
Local archaeologists studying the Funing Great Wall have divided its side-walls into three different
classes. The first class features long slender stones uses as the foundation on either side of side-walls, covered with a layer of brick. The high, thick walls here typically protect passes and areas that are especially prone to attack. Where the wall runs at its widest, four horse carriages can travel on it side by side.
The second class side-walls have a layer of brick or stone on the outside, while inside quarry stone is used. The tops of the walls and the watchtowers are all made of brick. The third class side- walls were made using dry masonry, with natural stone materials often being collected from the near vicinity. In the more precipitous locales this method is particularly prominent. Although the walls are rather low, since they were built on the tops of very dangerous mountains, where sometimes the stones are unstable, thus unprepared would- be trespassers may meet their demise either by losing foothold or by rolling stones from above.
Most of the grey bricks used to build the walls were produced locally. In 2002 archaeologists discovered over 60 Great Wall brick kilns in Banchangyu, and performed thorough excavation of two of them. The brick kilns were over four meters in width and almost as great in depth, and on the floor of the kilns were over 2,200 grey bricks that had already been fired and were arranged in neat rows, as if awaiting the return of the kiln’s owner.
Great Wall Relics Scattered throughout the Mountains
As an architectural heritage having remained intact through many wars, the Great Wall running through Funing has witnessed hundreds of years of military history. I’ve visited Chengziyu Village of Zhucaoying Town, a location of the Ming Great Wall, on numerous occasions, and on the wall in the north of the village you can still see the ruins of arsenals and armory towers. The ruins somewhat resemble the stone arched bridges of today, being half submerged in earth.
In September 1984, a local villager named Kan Yujiang discovered a set of bronze breech-loading swivel guns among the ruins.
There were 3 swivel guns and 24 small breech- loading cannons, along with steel shafts and ammunition. To use the weapons, black gunpowder would be inserted into the shaft, then pellets would be placed through the mouth of the weapon; after the stock was fixed in place, the fuze could be ignited and the gun fired. These hand cannons were a revolutionary invention in warfare, and swivel gun and small breech-loading cannon can only be found in this part of China. They are currently on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. Throughout the area, including the villages of Banchangyu, Naziyu and Huachangyu, weapons such as stone cannons and stone projectiles are also often found.
Along the edge of the walls there are large numbers of sculptures and tablets recording events. When I went to the Great Wall at Shibeigou (“Stone Tablet Valley”) in Taiying Town, I climbed a watchtower, where discovered an engraving above the battlements bearing the words “May all men and horses be safe”. The characters are scrawled disorderly, so my guess is that the builders wrote the phrase on a whim, possibly in expression of their desire for peace.
I recalled that when the local Department of Cultural Relics was investigating the Great Wall, they also discovered a total of 29 tablets recording the structure’s completion, as well as texts engraved on cliffs, and brick and stone carvings. The tablets included detailed information such as the time, location and scale of the walls and watchtowers that had been built, along with the names of the officers responsible for the tasks, the names of the work unit and workers, and even the names of the architectural structures used in the watchtowers.
In addition, cliff carvings were also found, which described the very specific amounts of rations to be allotted to the border troops, as well as the date of birth of Qi Jiguang, a renowned border general and the leading constructor of the Ming Great Wall, and over a dozen poems dedicated to him carved on the cliffs of Tianma Mountain and Beiniu Peak. But to me the most valuable find are the designs of sculptures and patterns carved into the bricks of the battalements and arched doors of watchtowers; I’ve been to most
parts of the Great Wall throughout China, including Gansu, Beijing and Hebei, and never before have I come across carvings and designs such as those found here.
Most of the watchtowers along the Funing Great Wall have doorways made of stone, with a foundation at the bottom, atop which the door frame is built, then at the bottom of the frame is a hexagonal slab, and then above this is an arched door. The carvings on the arched door are in bas-relief, and each is unique: some feature pre- cious vases with flowers in them, some vine-entangled flowers, others depict different types of beasts and animals, or traditional Chinese symbols of auspiciousness. The arched door of a watchtower to the northwest of Dongjiakou is carved with the words “loyalty and devotion for our homeland”.
I’ve been told that the patterns on the arched doors here were carved in quarry before being sent to the constructing spots for assembling. Stone work such as this is mostly seen in places with high demand for architectural quality. But regardless of where these towers are built, the materials and style are the same, with a foundation at the bottom, then a tower, and a lookout post on top. Within the tower there are stone steps and a passageway leading up to the lookout post, but the passageway is not like the staircases we see today, it jumps up very high and steeply.
At the Naziyu Great Wall in Zhucaoying Town, I’ve been to a watchtower that was particularly well preserved; it sits atop a cliff
500 meters tall, and its foundation is made from a single slab of rock, upon which stone slabs are laid. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that all of the stone slabs were exactly 2.48 meters in length, 40 centimeters thick and 60 centimeters wide, and the faces of the slabs had been carved by hand. One time as I was walking past a fallen watchtower, I saw several of these long stone slabs scattered across the ground, each of the faces clearly hand-carved. As for how exactly these stone slabs were transported there remains a mystery.
Today, these walls and towers made of grey brick and stone have long since lost their purpose of protection from northern nomadic invaders, leaving behind only a tangible look at the past.
Located in Taiying Town, Funing County, the entire Shibeigou Great Wall was constructed with brick, with a base made of stone. Although most parts of the Wall are in good condition, one can hardly ignore the traces of age and warfare.
To accommodate local terrain, the eastern part of Funing Great Wall emerges from the land in various forms. In certain sections, the Wall drops drastically along the mountain range, as if hanging off the cliff, forming an imposing view.
The Great Wall stretches westwards from Pingdingyu, passes through Banchangyu and finally reaches the Jiangoulazi Mountain, where a dozen of peaks line the sky, with the highest 837 meters, while others about 700 meters. The height of the mountains here fluctuate drastically and atop them stand a dozen of watchtowers, blended into the local topography, forming an impenetrable defensive system.
The Yiyuankou-naziyu section of the Great Wall is a part that bears both magnificence and delicate grace because its battlements are inlaid with golden stone slabs. When seen from the sky, the Wall appears as if a golden ribbon is waving in the wind.
There are two types of hollow watchtower on the Funing Great Wall: the square-shaped, both ten meters tall and wide, and the rectangle-shaped, eight meters wide and ten meters tall. Today, there are 56 well-preserved and 138 moderately preserved watchtowers in Funing.
In plain and hilly areas, with low elevations and gentle mountain slopes, the long-deserted Wall has become the playground of village herds.
Villages adjacent to the Funing Great Wall developed originally from fortresses along the Wall. Due to the isolation of these areas, local villagers continue to follow the old-fashioned rural lifestyle passed down from their ancestors.
For centuries, the Funing Great Wall built with densely clustered gravel maintains its original appearance. Lying at the foot of the mountains where it stands, a modern coastal city stands in sharp contrast to its aging neighbor.