The Badaling Great Wall, selected as one of Top 10 Things to Do in China, is located near the city of Yanqing, in Yanqing County, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) northwest of Beijing. It is the section of the Great Wall situated just west of the Juyong Pass section, the latter being the putative westernmost section of the Great Wall that was fortified under the supervision of General Qi Jiguang during the reign (CE 1572-1620) of the Wanli emperor, Emperor Shenzhong. However, in ancient times, Juyong Pass and Badaling were considered two parts of one whole, i.e., the Juyong Pass of ancient times consisted in reality of two passes: one in the south, called Nan Kou (but often referred to simply as Guan, or "Pass"); and one in the north, Badaling.
The Badaling Great Wall
The conundrum, therefore, of why the Badaling Great Wall was seemingly not included in the great Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty fortification project that was undertaken by General Qi is that it was indeed part of that immense project, as part of the fortification of Juyong Pass. Moreover, other sources fix the Ming Dynasty fortification of Badaling Great Wall to the year 1571. This is roughly the year in which the Great Wall fortification was completed by General Qi. In 1572, according to the historical record - the general was assigned other duties.
Badaling Great Wall was the first section of the Great Wall to be opened to the Chinese public as a tourist site, when it was inaugurated as such in 1957, though it received few visitors - even Chinese visitors - until the 1980s. Not surprisingly, this section of the Great Wall, lying at such a strategic position immediately north of the capital city, has been well maintained throughout the ages.
Therefore it required little material, but perhaps more cosmetic renovation before it was made accessible to the public. Given Badaling Great Wall's proximity to Beijing, it is also no surprise that this section of the Great Wall is not only the most frequented of the "8 Beijing sections" of the Great Wall, but also the most frequented of all of the sections of the Great Wall.
It was here that President Nixon, in 1972, as the guest of China's Vice Premier, Li Xiannian, visited the Geat Wall as part of Nixon's historic trip to China, on the heels of the thaw in relations between China and the West. It was orchestrated by President Nixon's National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. One wonders why Chairman Mao himself, or at least the Premier, Zhou Enlai, did not personally present the Great Wall of China to President Nixon, but perhaps that would have been too rapid a thaw.
President Ronald Reagan visited the Great Wall at Badaling Section (Photo source from the web.)
Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist party and therefore leader of the People's Republic of China from 1949 until his death in 1976, once made the following comment regarding the Great Wall: "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man", a challenge that is difficult to interpret without knowing at least the chronological context in which it was made. It might have been a straightforward attempt to encourage the Chinese people to visit the Badaling Great Wall, in the hope that this would provide income for restoring yet other sections of the Great Wall.
This was unlikely given its capitalist flavour, although this is precisely what Deng Xiaoping initiated in 1984 under the slogan "Love China and Rebuild the Great Wall." However, two years later, the handsome sum of $2.7 million USD had been raised, both within and without China, for the purpose of reconstructing the Great Wall. Or, it might have been part of an effort to strengthen a sense of nationalist pride (more likely, especially if it occurred during the Cultural Revolution), but we'll just have to leave this to historians to sort out.
"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man"
Numerous other international dignitaries visited the Badaling Great Wall in the years following China's opening under the wise leadership of Deng Xiaoping, including Britain's leader at the time, Margaret Thatcher. The Great Wall Museum at Badaling has a photo gallery showing the many national and international dignitaries who took up Chairman Mao's challenge.
Note that China's other national hero of a generation earlier, Dr. Sun Yat-sen - who was instrumental in replacing China's last Imperial dynasty, the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, with the Republic of China (1912-1949) - once paid an official visit to Badaling Great Wall. It was long before Chairman Mao made his famous challenge. A stele inscribed with Chairman Mao's "manlihood challenge" stands at the entrance to the Badaling Great Wall.
In addition, the nearby Great Wall Panoramic Amphitheater shows a short, highly-recommended 15-minute film that previews the highlights of the Badaling Great Wall that is a must-see for those who wish to know what to look for before they begin their tour of the Badaling Great Wall.
The Strategic Significance of the Badaling Great Wall
The Badaling Great Wall is not just another among many sections of the Great Wall; it is a historically ancient strategic natural pass, lying in a valley (eventually renamed Pass Valley, for obvious reasons. It was used by marauding tribes from the north to invade China, such as the Jürchens (who later changed their name to the Manchus before seizing power and forming the Qing Dynasty) and the Mongols, and many others before them, such as the Xiongnu and possibly the Huns.
Badaling was first constructed as a primitive wall during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty. It was cobbled together from whatever bits of material that was available locally, from stones to tree trunks to stamped earth to sun-dried mud bricks held together with dried grass in order to defend against marauding horsemen from the north.
Naturally, a wall so primitive required frequent repairs in order to provide an adequate defense of the motherland. When the Ming Dynasty emperors, beginning with the reign (CE 1402-1424) of the Yongle Emperor, Emperor Taizong), moved their capital from Nanjing in present-day Jiangsu Province to Beijing one of the first priorities was to remake the Great Wall. This was an immense project that was eventually put under the supervision of General Qi Jiguang, as indicated above.
The first Ming emperor to undertake the refortification of the Badaling Great Wall was the Hongzhi Emperor, Emperor Xiaozong, who reigned from 1487 to 1505. The next Ming emperor to devote his attention to the refortification of Badaling Great Wall was the Jiajing Emperor, Emperor Shizong, who reigned from 1521 to 1566. But it was during the reign of the Wanli Emperor, as indicated above, that a complete restoration of the Great Wall was undertaken. It extended from the coastal site of Shanhai Pass near the Gulf of Bohai to Juyong Pass north of Beijing, near the border of an earlier Mongolian Empire which today corresponds to the border area between Hebei Province and Inner Mongolia.
The latest "fortification" (restoration) of the Badaling Great Wall was completed in 1957, just prior to its opening, and represents a modest restoration, as indicated above, of the Ming Dynasty refortification. This was surely one of the factors behind the UNESCO World Heritage committee's 1988 decision to recognize the Badaling Great Wall as a World Cultural Heritage Site. It is a well-preserved Ming Dynasty monument that represents a direct link to China's Imperial past.
Badaling's strategic significance has been recognized down through the ages. On one of his campaigns to the northeastern part of the empire, Emperor Shi Huang Di, aka Emperor Qin of the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty, China's first Imperial dynasty, enroute from his capital, Xi'an (formerly known as Chang'an), passed through Badaling. In ancient times, Badaling served as the gateway to nearby Juyong Pass.
A 40-kilometre-long sloping valley, itself a natural pass, connects Badaling Great Wall and Juyong Pass, near Nan Kou. Therefore the valley came to be known as Pass Valley. Moreover, Badaling commands the highest point in the sharply sloping Pass Valley, which ancient Chinese literature refers to as the most strategic point in the surrounding terrain.
A couple of ancient sayings illustrates pointedly the relationship between Badaling and Juyong Pass: "To look down at Juyong Pass from Badaling Great Wall is like watching water being poured into a deep well", and "The strategic vantage point of Juyong Pass does not lie in the village of Guan (i.e., the village where Juyong Pass is situated), but in Badaling".
The first Mongol hordes that attempted to invade China tried to seize Badaling, but were repulsed, thanks to Badaling's famously superior strategic position. Whenever the troops of the Ming generals proceeded beyond the Great Wall in order to preemptively attack the Mongol warlords who continued to plague the empire, it was through Badaling that they marched. The Han Chinese rebel leader, Li Zhicheng, who managed to sack Beijing in 1644, causing the last Ming Dynasty emperor to commit suicide before Li's army, in turn, was defeated the same year by the Jürchens cum Manchus who then established the Qing Dynasty.
Li reached Beijing via Badaling curiously, the Manchus only managed to "breach" the Great Wall because another Han Chinese leader, Wu Shan Gui, the Ming Dynasty commander in the north, secretly surrendered to the Manchus in 1644. He further demonstrated his traitorous resolve and treachoury by instructing the opening of the Shanhai Pass, the easternmost section of the Great Wall situated near the Gulf of Bohai and located immediately south of Manchuria thereby allowing the Manchus to slip into China without firing a shot.
According to the book, “The Night Talk in Chang'an,” (present-day Xi'an), published during the Ming Dynasty, Badaling is the nexus where numerous roads meet. Therefore, from Badaling's vantage point, one can go in any direction. Indeed, the name Badaling itself literally means "a hill from whence one can go in 8 directions" ("8 directions" being an ancient Chinese metaphor for "all directions and places"). As an old Chinese proverb regarding the strategic significance of Badaling goes, "if but one man guards the pass, ten thousand of the enemy cannot get through it." Indeed China's turbulent history seems to have borne out the truth of this ancient proverb.
In more recent times, the Dowager Empress Cixi, fled the Eight Powers Allied Forces in 1900 for her role in the widespread violence against Westerners throughout China.It included missionaries, school teachers and others who were what one today would designate as strictly non-combattants, or innocent civilians. The Dowager Empress fled through Badaling. To the east of Badaling stands a 7-metre-long, 2-metre-high rock said to be the spot where the Dowager Empress turned and looked wistfully back towards Beijing and the life of luxury that she was being forced to leave behind. The rock in question has been aptly dubbed "Looking-to-Beijing Rock".
General Description of the Badaling Great Wall
The Great Wall of Badaling Section
The supporting base structure of the double-sided wall at Badaling consists of immensely large stone slabs - "glued" in place with the help of a special mortar whose chief active ingredient is ash - and with the usual brick rampart built atop the supporting base. The slighly modified-triangle shaped supporting base of the wall measures roughly 6.5 metres (about 20 feet) in width at its base and about 5.8 metres (about 16 ½ feet) in width at its top where the rampart sits. The rampart provides enough room, it is said, for five horsemen to ride abreast and is fortified on the inside by means of stamped earth mixed with gravel, resulting in a very solid construction.
The average total height of the wall at this section, including the outer wall of the rampart (see the description below) is 7.8 metres. The supporting base is constructed with a drainage system that prevents the accumulation of rain - and flood water, thus reducing the likelihood that the wall could be washed away in inclement weather, or during floods, an important consideration, given that the wall stretches across a valley.
The Badaling Great Wall is 3.7 kilometres (2.3 miles) in length, strategically dotted with 19 diases, or towers of various types (see the detailed description below) and extends across Pass Valley, then snakes its way up undulating peaks on either side of the valley to the summit on either side. The mountain on the eastern side is both higher and steeper than the mountain on the western side, but it offers better macro views of the surrounding terrain. At their highest points, some of the peaks stand at an altitude of over 1000 metres above sea level.
It is this stretch of the Badaling Great Wall that reveals the overwhelming majesty of the Great Wall of China as it must have looked in its Ming Dynasty heyday. The wall is exquisitely formed with snaking and undulating geometric lines, dotted with square or rectangular tower blocks with crenelatted ramparts.
A crenellated wall consists of solid sections (merlons) that alternate with deep gaps (crenelles) that reach from the top of the wall to its midsection, roughly, created for the purpose of "firing" a weapon. It is akin to the "rooks" ("castles") of a finely crafted chess set, if not the crenellated ramparts of a European castle whose design may well have been inspired by the crenellated ramparts of the Great Wall.
The rampart that sits atop the supporting base is constructed of large - rectangular bricks. The 2-metre-high outer brick wall of the rampart (i.e., the part which faces north) is crenellated with small holes (square or rectangular gaps in the brick wall) near the base of the brick wall that served a dual purpose; as a means for shooting arrows and as a spyhole that kept the observer's body concealed out of harm's way. On the inner side of the outer brick wall runs a 1-metre-high, raised parapet.
To access the rampart, steps were built at strategic points on the inner face (southern side) of the wall, but with a very steep slope in order to save on construction materials. Soldiers were expected to be in good physical form and their stepping surfaces were paved with massive stone blocks. Some of these blocks measure 2 metres in width and weigh hundreds of kilos each.
For the sake of tourists, - though purists are seldom happy with such modernizations, - a cable car has been built at the main entrance to the Badaling Great Wall. Visitors who could not otherwise take up Chairman Mao's challenge now have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps, literally, of some of the planet's most famous personalities.
Moreover, the surface of the parapet at Badaling is probably the most pedestrian-friendly of all of the sections of the Great Wall. As this is the most famous section of the Great Wall which lies so close to the nation's capital, it was important to make it accessible to as many people as possible, irrespective of physical abilities.
A Detailed Description of the Individual Elements of the Badaling Great Wall
The Badaling section of the Great Wall consists of two pass cities. One is the eastern pass city, Juyong Outer Town formerly simply called Guan "Pass", which is an important outpost of the Juyong Pass. The other is the western pass city - Bei Men Shuo Yao, or the "The Lock and Key of the Northern Gate", a name that refers to the generals who defended northern China. The pass city of Bei Men Shuo Yao seen today was built in 1505 and is among the most well-known passes along the Great Wall. There is a story about this pass city which explains its peculiar name.
During the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, the government signed a peace treaty with the Liao (CE 907-1125) Dynasty government. The Liao Dynasty ruled over what was called the Khitan Empire, comprising Manchuria, Mongolia and part of China proper. Its inhabitants collectively called the Liao Tartars. The Song Prime Minister, Kou Zhun, was sent by the emperor to defend Damingfu (located just north of Beijing).
One day a Liao envoy passed Damingfu and, seeing Kou Zhun, inquired in astonishment, "What is the Prime Minister of the Song government doing here?!" Kou Zhun replied matter of factly. "Now that there are no urgent or important problems in our central government, I come here as the lock and key to the northern gate of my country. Except for me, no one can fulfill this crucial mission." Henceforth, the term "Lock and Key to the Northern Gate" would be taken to be a reference to that succession of brave generals who defended northern China.
Near present-day Badaling Railway Station stands a huge, magnificent castle. It was formerly a turnoff point from the main route, hence the name - the former commanding office of the famous "Lock and Key of the Northern Gate" pass city outpost. In ancient times, there were three senior guards stationed here, supported by 800 regular soldiers.
Displayed near the entrance to Badaling Great Wall are five pieces of ancient iron cannons, made in 1638 and representing the most advanced heavy weaponry of the Ming Dynasty. The largest among the five weapons is a 2.85-metre-long, 105 mm caliber cannon, with a huge cache of 105 mm caliber cannon shot.
On the body of the cannon are inscribed the following Chinese characters: "To the Divine General Commissioned by the Emperor". The cannon was moved here in 1958 from Zhangpu, about 10 kilometres east of Badaling. The other four cannons are much smaller, and are also displayed with hundreds of their cannon shells that were unearthed in the area, in 1957. All of these ancient weapons and their ammunition were made in Ming Dynasty China.
Badaling is generally considered the most archtypical and imposing portion of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. The outer part of the rampart wall is made of large, rectangular rampart bricks, as is the parapet or walking surface. The outer (facing the enemy) rampart walls are between 1.7 and 2.0 metres in height, and crenellated. The entire rampart sits so snugly atop the supporting wall that not even a blade of grass can grow in the space that separates the two. This amazing feat, combined with the wall's ingenious water discharge system, reflects the enviable talent of ancient Chinese architects and engineers.
The city dais, aka wall dias, is a platform structure with battlements on its top. It served a dual purpose: as a watchtower and as a platform from which to defend the wall during enemy attacks. There is a wall dias for every 500 metres of wall, again emphasizing the strategic importance of the Badaling stretch of the Great Wall. The platform on top of Badaling's Pass City gate is a typical city dais.
Also called a watchtower, the watch dais is usually a rectangular, two storeyed structure built as an integral part of the rampart. The ground-level storey of a watchtower served both as a depot for weapons and as an active defensive structure.
It has numerous small portholes through which arrows can be shot or spears jabbed at would-be scalers of the wall. The upper storey contains battlements, peepholes and yet more portholes for archers, as well as a set of beacon towers (see the separate description of beacon towers farther below) for sending out warnings. Located at regular intervals, watchtowers were a very important defensive component of the Great Wall.
War daises were blockhouse-like, multiple-storeyed structures built at regular intervals along the Great Wall. A war dais was also a depot for ammunition and food. According to historical records, hundreds of war daises (as well as hundreds of watch diases) were erected between Shanhai Pass and Badaling, under the supervision of General Qi Jiguang.
In all, there are over 1200 watch daises and war daises erected between Shanhai Pass and Juyong Pass, which we now know included Badaling, though the initial plan was to construct 3000.
When a battle would break out, the soldiers could take advantage of the elevated position of the war dais to shoot arrows, fire cannons, cast large rocks, etc., down upon the attackers. A war dias was typically manned by 60 soldiers with enough food, drink and gunpowder to survive a month-long seige.
Each set of beacon towers (a beacon tower is a large, relatively squat, slightly conical, silo-like affair. The shape is similar to the modified-hourglass shaped "smokestacks" of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the U.S., but with the top half removed.
It was an integral part of a war dias (blockhouse), where the beacon towers were always placed at the commanding point of the local terrain, otherwise their flame could not be seen. The set of beacon towers was a crucial element of the Great Wall's defensive works, with a war dias and its set of beacon towers situated every 5 to 10 li (1 li = ½ kilometres).
Each blockhouse housed a set of 5 beacon towers. The greater the size of the attacking force, the greater the number of beacon towers that would be lit. In addition, cannons, which could immediately capture the attention of the crews of the neighboring war diases, were fired together with the lighting of beacon towers.
For example, the firing of a single cannon round accompanied by the lighting of a single beacon tower signalled an attack by 100 enemy soldiers, the firing of two cannon rounds together with the lighting of two beacon towers signalled an attack by 500 enemy soldiers, while an attack by 1000 enemy soldiers would spark the firing of three cannons and the lighting of three beacon towers.
A signal from one set of beacon towers would set off replicative signals by neighboring beacon towers, and, depending on the magnitude of the threat conveyed by the signal, the signal would either be confined locally, or spread far. By day, beacon towers emitted only smoke, while by night, they produced flames.
The beacon tower had to be large enough to produce a lot of smoke or flame, as the case may be, hence its enormous size. This highly effective early warning system had been in use in China ever since the Zhou (BCE 1027 - CE 221) Dynasty, another tribute to age-old Chinese ingenuity.