Walls Invisible….


Unwalling the Chinese City: Hints from Shinkyo, but Not Easily Applied…

Yet still a provocation to and for the New China, where walls were everywhere. In that latter venue the psychological problem of walls and gates was never entirely solved, with consequences that bear reflection.

It is in the nature of pre-“modern” city walls that defense versus a nameless “outsider” comes at the price of demoralizing or imprisoning (psychologically) the beleaguered population within them. This was – or had been – no more or less so for the major cities of N. China than for elsewhere, but the impact would only have deepened as urban non–planning protracted, while elsewhere moving ahead to clear away the blinfness. We see price of this in the endless self-repeating line of gloomy crenellated (castellated) gate towers sitting atop mortared grey-brick palisades in the urban architecture of dynastic “China”, glowering, featureless and imperturbable from without, but equally so from within. Still very much there even after the guns of 1900 signaled that the time for such barricading had passed. True, atop the inner line of these towers one discovers, as everywhere else, the perhaps arrogant gaiety of “pagoda” (multiple eaved) rooftop dougong (cross-bracket) timbering crowned with gaudy yellow or green fired clay tiles. But to pass beyond them or through was to (quite literally) travel through Darkness (tunnel shadow) sometimes three or more times before reaching the civilian or commercial districts. What the first fotos of such passage convey is of a kind of temporary passage through the Valley of Death…. for caravanseries or vendors pulling wagons t market by horse or donkey – but almost never crossed by idle strollers, even foreign ones.

Probably the only publicists to find cheer in the slowness of the decline were (and still are) the preservationists, who correctly foresaw that demuralizing tout court would leave no structure inside the now denuded glacis invulnerable to being next on the list for dismantling. (UNESCO was not yet there to aid them… not in Mao’s China anyway…)

Yet even when the euphoric assault on the Old Perimeter began, it could not uproot so many centuries of accumulated structural paranoia – embedded/ sheltered in the concentric rings of palace complexes that refused right of way to any master plan for zoning or transportation. In one way or another, and in the face of persisting dismay on the part of Beijing’s huge carpetbagger population, a stopline was deemed appropriate beyond which no further intrusion into that ring of Byzantine play-palaces and lodges was to be allowed: he line by now a famous one, where the Tiananmen “Keep” blocks passage through or along the obvious axis for replanning along the N-S corridor.

All of which helps not just to explain why Japan’s “new city” plans for Changchun looked then and still even today like a lunge into the future, before that future itself became hemmed in.

The Cinese Circumvallation: Claustrophobia as the Price of Intimidation
Xi’an Today as a Living Museum…

Photos of Xi_an Circumvallation, Xi'an
This photo of Xi_an Circumvallation is courtesy of TripAdvisor

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