Thursday, January 01, 2009

You Can't Bike On This City Wall

One of the absolute coolest things we have done here in China is bike the city wall in Xi'an (click here for the story). Beijing too had a city wall dating back many hundreds of years. Notice the use of the word "had." Today, all that remains are a few gates here and there and a stretch of wall in the southeast corner of the city.

What happened to all of those guard towers? Were they destroyed in wars long ago? Well, yes...But then they were subsequently rebuilt and fortified. Were they smashed and burned by the Anglo-French forces? Sure, there were some foreign incursions into the center of old Beijing.

The biggest culprit, though, was not politics, but rather the economy and China's own push toward modernization. At least this is the impression I got when walking through the exhibits inside the Qianmen, the most important remaining piece of Beijing's wall. And how exactly did I get this impression? According to the displays, many of the gates met their demise in the 1960s, which is precisely when, I believe, the second ring road was constructed right over where the wall used to stand. So it seems that China's leaders themselves put out the call to raze the wall.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the second ring road is an important and useful piece of modern Beijing's transportation system. That said, I can't help but feel a little bit sad that such a grand piece of China's history has been lost forever...

~Steve

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