Nanjing has city walls. Has had them for a very long time. Of course the city has grown far byond them in the last few thousand years. Think of that a moment. There’ve been people here since prehistoric times. Okay fine, Winnipeg’s had people hanging around that far back too. But there’s been an honest to god city here for a millenium. Maybe I’m wrong on the dates there, but seriously. It’s old.
Yesterday I went walking on the walls of Nanjing starting at Qing Liang Men. It was sunny and warm and quite pleasant. In that stretch of wall the inside is a hill while there’s a small river outside. I don’t know how much restoration’s been done to the wall but there are railings and lights I imagine weren’t original features. I walked along it (after mistakenly climbing atop the gate part which is separated from the rest by iron and barbed wire). The wall itself is sundered next to the gate for a road to go through and over a bridge. The wall is thick. Not as thick as Xian’s on which cars could easily pass each other, but thicker than most walls I’ve seen. You could pack a lot of insulation in there if it weren’t made of bricks. I followed the wall to where it unceremoniously ended, then considered scrambling down the steep hill to the junkyard below. I didn’t have any huge desire to become one with the trash though, so I turned around instead.
One of the main differences between this wall and Xian’s is the arrangement. Xian was out on a plain with (as far as I can remember) no major landscaping issues. So it went ahead with a simple square layout. It was Changan, the freaking centre of the world so why not be completely right-angled about things? Nanjing’s walls follow nature more. Built on the inside of Xuan Wu lake (Xuan Wu is one of the four mythical beasts that people aren’t sure exactly what it is. We’ve got those too: quick what does a manticore look like?) and the inside of this little river but encompassing this hill excluding that mountain. Much more haphazard. It reminds me more of the Great Wall than of Xian’s wall, really. Except for the gates. Those we never saw in the Chang Cheng.
The other day with Zhang Guo Xian we went to a different gate. Outside there was a man with a bicycle leaned against the wall and a grey coat hanging from some unseen hook. He was in his 40s-50s, wearing a green cabled sweater and walked in a weaving pattern separating the air before him. No, does that convey it properly? It’s like he was walking through beaded curtain after beaded curtain, lifting each one up so he could pass through unmolested. He walked like this for several minutes clearing out imaginary space for his work. And his work was some intricate Qi Gong. Not Taiji stuff which is slow and dancelike, but something you could see being used in a fight, were it sped up a bit. Very low, like he’d be punching people in the ankles a lot. I lost track of him while Zhang Guo Xian was talking. And then he was gone.
With Xian’s wall you can look across the whole city and get that sense that if you can’t see the wall opposite you it’s your own poor eyesight’s fault. When Aileen and I walked that wall (a quarter of it anyway) I felt like it was an Imperial kind of place. Demanding respect. This wall in Nanjing doesn’t do that as it winds here and there. There’s nowhere you feel like you could see across the city even if you tried. Too many hills and trees and such between. And besides where would you look? There’s nowhere it feels the wall has to be.
It always seemed weird how the Great Wall was built on the tops of all the hills it passed through. I suppose it’s so the besiegers couldn’t get the high ground and see what was going on behind it, but geez, what an engineering headache. And backache for all those poor dead workers. And then it couldn’t stop a yang rou chuar guy from getting through and letting the rest of the horde in after.aileen city walls great wall history nanjing qi gong tai ji the hangman xian xuan wu lake zhang guo xian