New Old Beijing: A City of Walls Past and Present

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  • (1) Beijing Walls and Fortress Towers (rebuilt ca 1400)(2) Guang’an Men

  • (2) Guang’an Men Castle Entry Tunnel (15th Cent)

  • (3) Beijing Walls and Fortress Towers (rebuilt ca 1400) (reviewed)

  • (4) Guang’an Men Castle Entry (15th Cent) (reviewed)

  • (5) Silihe Compound (1960) – Party and State Admin. HQ “Palace”

  • (6) A New Gatecastle Complex, Fengshui sketch (1978 )
    (can you guess where?)

I here beckon the reader to survey a passage of grim images. Black, (grey in Kodachrome), heavy in shadow or rising as cliffs, tunneling the vicarious processioner through one underpass afeter another, they nonetheless convey I think the historical imagination of Beijing as a city-in-history. Though built at bookends of a 600 year span, they echo each other, are artfully (expensively) menacing in much the same way. Still perceptibly. And despite their brutal heaviness, and thematic lock, they communicate I think what Beijing once embraced as “plan” or internal integration.

But that last assertion raises questions of presupposition. If these structures bespeak coherence, why should this be? Is the similarity of “voice” a mere accident? But let us raise the philosophical anty yet one dimension more. Should a “capital” city of unique political and cultural position (as) the imagined axis of empire be expected to display an aesthetic of planning distinctly superior to (exempted from) the chaotic surroundings of the purely commercial urbs? Should it look and feel like a coherence discoverable no where else to the same degree? Should their monuments display, for all to see, and in places where all CAN see, the masonic habits of a specific culture?

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