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Badaling Great Wall

The Badaling Great Wall is located near Yanqing County, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) northwest of Beijing. It is the section of the Great Wall situated just west of the Juyongguan Great Wall (or Juyong Pass), 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.

Badaling Great Wall Badaling Great Wall

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 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.

Quick Facts About Badaling Great Wall

  • Name in Chinese: Bādálǐng Chángchéng 八达岭长城
  • Opening Hours: 6:30-19:00 (April-June, September-October); 6:00-19:30 (July, August); 7:30-18:00 (November-March)
  • Ticket Price: 40 RMB/person (April-October), 35 RMB/person (November-March)
  • Cable Car: 100 RMB/one-way, 140 RMB/round-trip
  • Location: Yanqing District, Beijing

How to Get to Badaling Great Wall

By direct tourist bus: from Deshengmen bus station, take Bus No. 877 to Badaling Great Wall. It leaves from 6:00 to 12:30 with a cost of 12 RMB.
By S2 train: arrive at Huoying (霍营) metro station by metro line 8 or line 13 and then walk from Exit G4 to Huangtudian (黄土店) Railway Station. From Huangtudian, take S2 train and get off at Badaling Railway Station with a cost of 8 yuan and taking about 1 hour. The train leaves every 83 minutes from Huangtudian from 7:46 to 21:04.

Badaling Great Wall Map

Badaling Great Wall Map

Celebrities and Badaling Great Wall

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.

It was here that President Nixon, in 1972, as the guest of China's Vice Premier, Li Xiannian, visited the Great 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.

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, Mr. 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 "manhood challenge" stands at the entrance to the Badaling Great Wall.

Badaling Great Wall in summer Badaling Great Wall in summer

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

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 Dynasty (BCE 221-207), 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.

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.

Badaling’s Reconstruction History

Badaling was first constructed 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, 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.

Naturally, a wall so primitive required frequent repairs in order to provide an adequate defense of the motherland. When the Ming Dynasty emperors 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.

Unrepaired Great Wall Broken and Unrepaired Great Wall

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, who reigned from 1572 to 1620, 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'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.

Some Interesting Facts about the Badaling Great Wall

The slightly modified-triangle shaped supporting base of the Great Wall at Badaling measures roughly 6.5 meters in width at its base and about 5.8 meters 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 meters. 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 currently opened 3.7 kilometers (2.3 miles) long to the public, strategically dotted with 21 watchtowers, or towers of various types 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 meters above sea level.

Pedestrian-friendly Badaling Great Wall Pedestrian-friendly Badaling Great Wall

A crenellated wall consists of solid sections (merlons) that alternate with deep gaps 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 meters in width and weigh hundreds of kilos each.

For the sake of tourists, a cable car has been built at the main entrance to the Badaling Great Wall. Moreover, the surface of the parapet at Badaling is probably the most pedestrian-friendly of all of the sections of the Great Wall.

Highlights of the Badaling Great Wall

Pass City

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 Suo Yao, or the "The Lock and Key of the Northern Gate", a name that refers to the generals who defended northern China.

Juyongguan Great Wall Juyong Pass (Juyongguan Great Wall)

Turnoff City

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.

Ancient Cannon

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.

Ramparts

Badaling is generally considered the most archetypical 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 meters 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.

City Dais

The city dais, aka wall dais, 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 dais for every 500 meters 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.

Watch Dias

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.

Watchtower and Beacon Tower Watchtower and Beacon Tower on Badaling Great Wall

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 Dais

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 dais) 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 dais was typically manned by 60 soldiers with enough food, drink and gunpowder to survive a month-long siege.

Beacon Tower

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.

Badling Great Wall in winter Badling Great Wall in winter

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 dais and its set of beacon towers situated every 5 to 10 li (1 li = ½ kilometers).

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.

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.

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