Xifengkou: the Un­der­wa­ter Great Wall

China Scenic - - EXPLORE - By Zuo Lin­gren Pho­to­graphs by Wu Lixin and as cred­ited

In 1975, a dam went up span­ning the Luanhe River, a ma­jor trib­u­tary feed­ing into a wa­ter­shed pri­mar­ily cov­er­ing the Bashang Plateau, the Yan­shan Moun­tains, and He­bei Plains, and form­ing a nat­u­ral bound­ary di­vid­ing He­bei Province’s Kuancheng and Qianxi coun­ties. Built in Pan­ji­akou Vil­lage, the dam cre­ated the Pan­ji­akou Reser­voir which sub­merged the Xifengkou sec­tion of the Great Wall, run­ning along the Luanhe River and the Yan­shan Moun­tains. The au­thor and pho­tog­ra­phers have re­turned to this lo­ca­tion mul­ti­ple times since 2007, in an ef­fort to doc­u­ment lo­cal re­ac­tions and sto­ries sur­round­ing the Xifengkou’s sub­mer­gence and to bet­ter un­der­stand the true face of this un­der­wa­ter Great Wall.

Due to its dis­tinct mil­i­tary ob­jec­tives, the Great Wall is fun­da­men­tally com­prised of sep­a­rate seg­ments, with the Xifengkou Great Wall seg­ment (the col­lec­tive name for Ming-era por­tions of the Great Wall built from the east of Pan­ji­akou to Xifengkou) hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly wind­ing and me­an­der­ing foot­print as it traces the ridge­line of the eastern Yan­shan Moun­tains, run­ning into the Luanhe River and sud­denly plung­ing down into the steep river val­ley.

Orig­i­nat­ing along the south­west­ern edge of the In­ner Mon­go­lian Plateau, the Luanhe River is the most im­por­tant wa­ter­shed of north­east­ern He­bei. Up­stream, the Luanhe River is slow-mov­ing and marshy, with a wide, shal­low riverbed and abun­dant graz­ing lands; in its mid­stream, the river cuts through the Yan­shan Moun­tains and ex­pe­ri­ences a sig­nif­i­cant drop in el­e­va­tion, the gen­tle cur­rent of the up­per reaches turn­ing into tor­ren­tial rapids; fi­nally, hav­ing passed through the Yan­shan Moun­tains, the al­lu­vial of the down­stream Luanhe gives way to the He­bei Plains, which form one of the most im­por­tant agri­cul­tural re­gions of Bei­jing and the sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Fol­low­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), China’s rulers be­gan large- scale con­struc­tion of the Great Wall at the Yan­shan Moun­tains. The Ming Great Wall was di­vided into Nine Gar­risons; with the Pan­ji­akou-xifengkou seg­ment of the Wall ad­min­is­tered by the Ji Gar­ri­son (the an­cient fort of Ji was lo­cated at what is present-day San­tun­y­ing, in Qianxi County, He­bei).

Of all the Ming Great Wall sec­tions, the Ji Gar­ri­son seg­ment was the most de­fen­sively firm and mag­nif­i­cent in ap­pear­ance. Con­cur­rently, the Luanhe River Basin at the Xifengkou Wall be­came the most strate­gi­cally im­por­tant

mil­i­tary de­fen­sive perime­ter of Bei­jing (Ming’s cap­i­tal), with the Ji seg­ment’s Pan­ji­akou and Xifengkou for­ti­fi­ca­tions lo­cated at two crit­i­cal moun­tain passes that, at that time, were the pri­mary choke point for forces travers­ing the bor­der be­tween the Cen­tral Plains and North­east China. From their in­cep­tion, the for­ti­fi­ca­tions at Xifengkou and Pan­ji­akou were sub­jected to the rav­ages of war—as well as un­end­ing cor­ro­sion by wind and rain— un­til, fi­nally, the struc­tures were ul­ti­mately sub­merged fol­low­ing cre­ation of the Pan­ji­akou Reser­voir.

When I trav­eled with a friend to con­duct in­ter­views at the Pan­ji­akou Reser­voir one sum­mer evening in 2007, our lo­cal guide, Jia Changyue (Old Jia), in­vited us to his home, which was ac­tu­ally a sim­ple house­boat com­prised of a large float­ing ves­sel. The house­boat, hav­ing been firmly an­chored along a sec­tion of the Great Wall, had long been the res­i­dence of his fam­ily. This sec­tion of the Wall is unique in that it forms a path lead­ing di­rectly down into the rear of the house­boat up from the moun­tain ridge; as it passes the house­boat, the wall seg­ment is nearly level, be­fore it seems to sud­denly plunge head­long be­low the sur­face of the reser­voir—thus form­ing the “un­der­wa­ter Great Wall” of lo­cal fame.

Point­ing to the sur­face of the reser­voir, Old Jia in­formed us that his orig­i­nal house lies rest­ing un­der­wa­ter. Pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of the Jia fam­ily had lived in Pan­ji­akou Vil­lage— named as such be­cause it had been built to sup­port Pan­ji­akou Fort—at the foot of the Great Wall. At the end of the 1970s, hy­draulic engi­neer­ing changed the des­tiny of Old Jia’s home for­ever, when a dam was erected about ten kilo­me­ters south of the vil­lage, cut­ting off the rapid cur­rent of the Luanhe River and caus­ing Pan­ji­akou Vil­lage to dis­ap­pear.

Res­i­dents of old Pan­ji­akou Vil-

lage re­ferred to their sec­tion of the Great Wall as the “Eight Tow­ers”; “Eight” as the sec­tion, be­gin­ning at the low­est gate­way and end­ing at a high point, con­tained a com­bined to­tal of eight watch­tow­ers. As the prin­ci­pal com­po­nent of the Great Wall, watch­tow­ers were used to sur­vey en­emy troop move­ments, gar­ri­son sol­diers, and store pro­vi­sions. To­day, the sev­eral watch­tow­ers of Pan­ji­akou have be­come the hall­mark of its “Un­der­wa­ter Great Wall” land­scape.

Early the next morn­ing, we set out be­fore day­break to climb the Great Wall seg­ment be­hind Old Jia’s home. Upon step­ping out­side, we be­gan to shiver from the cold air blow­ing in off the reser­voir. The sur­face of the lake was a crys­tal clear dark blue, and it is sur­rounded by three an­gu­lar moun­tains, on which stand­ing sev­eral watch­tow­ers in their soli­tude. Built from grey- green clay bricks and piled loess soil, one can feel the firm­ness of the ma­te­rial even by ca­su­ally pick­ing up a bro­ken piece of brick. De­spite ex­pe­ri­enc­ing 500 years ex­posed to the el­e­ments, the lime mor­tar con­tin­ues to hold the Wall’s bricks to­gether: though the seg­ment of the Great Wall be­hind Old Jia’s home is di­lap­i­dated, its form re­mains mostly in­tact—one can still see many ar­row slits watch­ing over the Luanhe River val­ley be­low.

The sun be­gan to emerge over the moun­tains to the east as we climbed to the high­est of the watch tow­ers, dust­ing a gold re­flec­tion over the sur­face of the reser­voir, which was filled with net cages brought out by early-ris­ing fish­er­men. Above and be­low us, the Great Wall wove in and out of view around the moun­tain peaks; the Xifengkou and Pan­ji­akou de­fen­sive forts were sub­merged in the val­ley be­low, while the Great Wall passes through the reser­voir to cre­ate an un­par­al­leled spec­ta­cle. Here the Great Wall has an ap­pear­ance of a great dragon who has stuck his head into a crys­tal palace, as his tail lies coiled around the sur­round­ing moun­tains. The older vil­lagers re­tain mem­o­ries of the “Eight Tow­ers” and the city gate; yet, through a div­ing pho­tog­ra­pher’s skilled lens, the re­mark­able scenery of this sec­tion of the great wall has been re­vealed once more.

Un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher Wu Lixin has sim­i­larly held a deep fas­ci­na­tion for the un­der­wa­ter Great Wall. Wu has al­ways had a deeper love for ex­plor­ing the un­der­wa­ter world than land-based scenery; he’s con­ducted mul­ti­ple un­der­wa­ter photo shoots since March 2007. I met up with Wu dur­ing one such shoot in 2009, fol­low­ing him as he ex­plored the Great Wall un­der­wa­ter.

The many gate­houses and watch­tow­ers of the Xifengkou Great Wall have al­ready been sub­merged for more than 20 years at this point, so find­ing de­tailed re­sources on the mat­ter can be dif­fi­cult. For­tu­nately, Old Jia and other lo­cals were able to re­call de­tails of the former Great Wall for us. A photo of Pan­ji­akou

A Re­mote Sens­ing Im­age of Pan­ji­akou Reser­voir and Xifengkou Great Wall Area

In 1977, days be­fore the en­tire dis­man­tling of Pan­ji­akou Vil­lage, a vil­lage of­fi­cer asked a pho­tog­ra­pher to take a panorama photo of his soon-to-van­ish home­town.

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