13 June 2019

Chinese fortification: an overview of parts and terminology — Part 1: The wall

A recent discussion in the comment section of my previous blog post has sparked my interest in learning more about Chinese fortification (that and marathoning Shadiversity's Castles! YouTube video series). To my surprise, despite having some of the most well-known fortifications in the world such as the Great Wall of China, Chinese fortification is very little understood, and researching for information proved more difficult than my anticipation due to various reasons. Chief among the reasons is the large-scale movement to demolish old city walls in the 1920 to 1950s as China tried to modernise (in fact there are only three places with authentic and relatively intact major city walls: Pingyao, Jingzhou, and some parts of Xi'an), meaning that many historical sites, along with the knowledge about their designs, were wiped out. Modern historians also tend to overlook military history, so many design features on the surviving walls are either misunderstood, misnamed, or forgotten altogether. It doesn't help that many available information are diluted for tourist consumption, and tour guides certainly don't make good historians!

For most of its long history, China was ruled by a centralised bureaucratic government and had a highly nationalised military establishment. As China's centralised government could mobilise more resources and form cohesive defence strategy on a grand scale, Chinese fortification strategy focused on building up an interconnected network of fortified settlements, military fortresses, outposts, chokepoints, postal/relay stations, watchtowers, and most importantly, the Great Wall. As such, Chinese people generally did not build fortified private residence in the manner of European medieval castle (barring a few notable exceptions, such as the late Ming-high Qing period House of the Huangcheng Chancellor), and the state would've actively discourage such practise.

Due to the emphasis on protecting the settlement, fortified wall became the centrepiece of Chinese fortification. A wall was the last line of defence against the attackers, and very often the first line as well. Thus it is no surprise that Chinese people became the world's greatest wall builders. Virtually all cities and towns in China, as well as a significant numbers of villages, were walled. In contrast, Chinese fortification layout tend to be very simple. The vast majority of Chinese walled cities were nothing more than settlements surrounded by a wall and a moat, with the main city gate almost always placed facing the south.

Parts of a Chinese fortification
Basic layout of a Chinese city gate, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
1) The Wall
This part will provide an overview on various components that can be found on a Chinese city wall, as well as their names. Note that the italicised names below are likely modern terminology. The original names were either lost, or I am unable to find them.

Cheng (城, lit. 'Fortified wall')
Aerial view of the city wall of Xi'an.
The wall was the single most important component of Chinese fortification. Chinese people built their walls and foundations out of rammed earth, sometimes mixed with sand, gravels, rubbles and ceramic debris, as well as reinforced with wooden piles, granite blocks or brick pavement. From Tang and Song Dynasty onwards, most walls were also lined with the unique Chinese blue bricks (which give Chinese walls their bluish-grey hue), and bound with equally unique limestone-glutinous rice paste mortar mixture. The resulting walls were extremely tall and thick, and nearly impervious to all but the heaviest of siege cannons.

A miniature model showing the cross-section of a Chinese wall.

Zi Cheng (子城, lit. 'Child wall')
Zi Cheng refers to the wall of the inner city, and by extension the inner city itself.

Luo Cheng (羅城, lit. 'Rounding wall')
Luo Cheng refers to the wall of the outer city, and by extension the outer city itself. A large Chinese walled city could have more than one Luo Cheng.

Yi Cheng (翼城, lit. 'Wing wall')
Yi Cheng refers to the extra wall section extending from the Luo Cheng that encloses the suburb of a city. As a city grew in size, sometimes the wall of Luo Cheng separating the outer city and the suburb would be demolished, and Yi Cheng became the new Luo Cheng.

Yi Cheng can also refer to twin satellite fortresses that flank a main fortress from two opposite directions.

Ya Cheng (牙城, lit. 'Fang fort')
Ya Cheng refers to a citadel built inside the inner city that houses the private residence of a military commander, in particular a Tang Dynasty Jie Du Shi (節度使), as well as the facilities for his associated guards, officers and personal army. After the downfall of Tang Dynasty and the abolishment of Jie Du Shi institution, the citadel came to be known as Ya Cheng (衙城, lit. 'Government office city') and was used to house various government buildings instead.

Man Zhou Cheng (滿洲城, lit. 'Manchu city')
Old photo of the Manchu garrison city of Qingzhou.
Man Zhou Cheng, also known as Man Cheng (滿城, lit. 'Manchu city'), Qi Cheng (旗城, lit. 'Banner city') and Zhu Fang Cheng (駐防城, lit. 'Garrison city'), refers to a walled "city within a city" built during Qing period to serve as military garrison and to segregate Manchu people/Manchu bannermen from Han Chinese population.

Most of these cities were destroyed during Taiping Rebellion and Xinhai Revolution.

Han Cheng (捍城, lit. 'Guarding wall') and Hu Cheng (護城, lit. 'Protection wall')
Han Cheng at the base of one of the gates of Taizhou city wall. It should be noted that the wall is partially sunken under modern pavement, so it appears to be slightly shorter than it really is.
Han Cheng and Hu Cheng are special wall features unique to the city wall of Taizhou, sometimes known as "Southern Great Wall of China". Han Cheng refers to a small auxiliary wall, about two metres in height, built at the base of the outer side of the main wall, while Hu Cheng refers to its slightly taller counterpart built at the inner side. Both are designed to reinforce the main wall against frequent river flood that plagued the region.

Yi Zi Cheng (一字城, lit. ''One' ideograph wall')
Scale model of the famous Diaoyu Fortress. Wall section marked with a white arrowhead is the southern Yi Zi Cheng of the fortress.
Yi Zi Cheng refers to a wall section that extends away from the main wall to a nearby river, or sometimes even into it. A special fortification feature almost unique to Southern Song period during the Mongol invasion of China, Yi Zi Cheng serves to safeguard the city/fortress's access to nearby water (allowing the city/fortress to be supplied through the river). It also prevents the enemy from surrounding the city/fortress from all sides, or simply circumvent the city/fortress and attack somewhere else.

1.1) Wall Facilities
Deng Cheng Ma Dao (登城馬道, lit. 'Wall-scaling horse route')
Deng Cheng Ma Dao of the city wall of Nanjing.
Deng Cheng Ma Dao, or simply Ma Dao (馬道, lit. 'Horse route'), refers to the facility that allows the defending troops to access the battlement at the top of the wall, typically incorporating both stairway and ramp. It is also known as Shang Cheng Deng Dao (上城蹬道, lit. 'Wall-accessing stairway').

Nu Qiang (女牆, lit. 'Woman's wall')
Battlement on top of Shenyang city wall.
Also known as Die (堞) and less commonly Pi Ni (睥睨, lit. 'Peek'), Nu Qiang refers to the parapet built at the edge of a wall. It can refer to both crenellated battlement and uncrenellated parapet.

Yu Qiang (宇牆)
Yu Qiang on the city wall of Xi'an during winter.
Yu Qiang is a subtype of Nu Qiang that is built at the inner edge of a wall for safety.

Nu Tou (女頭, lit. 'Woman's head')
A merlon of the city wall of Kaifeng.
Nu Tou is the Chinese term for merlon. It is also known as Duo (垛) and Die (堞).

Step tapered merlons on the Song period city wall of Zhaoqing.
Early Chinese merlons were generally step tapered. However, increased intensity of siege warfare during Southern Song period quickly exposed the weaknesses of step tapered merlon: it provides less coverage and is vulnerable to the sophisficated stone throwers fielded by Jin armies. As a result, the design was abandoned and replaced by rectangular merlons.

Duo Kou (垛口)
A Duo Kou (empty space between two merlons) on the Great Wall of China. The white-coloured chalk mark on the right merlon was used to record the name of the troop that guarded that specific Duo Kou.
Duo Kou is the Chinese term for crenel. It is less commonly known as Nu Kou (女口).

Ping Tou Qiang (平頭牆, lit. 'Flattop wall')
Uncrenellated battlement on the ancient town wall of Sanhe, Anhui.
Ping Tou Qiang refers to a rare type of battlement that has loopholes but no crenellation.

1.2) Towers and Bastions
Di Tai (敵臺, lit. 'Opposing platform')
A tower-type Di Tai of the city wall of Taizhou.
Di Tai is a broad term that refers to any fortified tall structure that usually comes with flat roof and battlement, which includes wall towers, bastions, and stand-alone towers not connected to any wall. During Song period it was also known as Nu Tai (弩臺, lit. 'Crossbow platform'), although that name fell out of use.

Di Tai can be further categorised into two types based on its construction: Shi Xin Di Tai (實心敵臺, lit. 'Solid opposing platform'), which is solid and thus has no internal space, and Kong Xin Di Tai (空心敵臺, lit. 'Hollow opposing platform'), which has rooms that allow troops to fight from within it. Generally speaking, tower (i.e. taller than its adjacent walls) tend to be hollow, while bastion (i.e. same height as its adjacent walls) tend to be solid. However, exceptions do exist.

Ma Mian (馬面, lit. 'Horse-face').
Great bastions of the city wall of Pingyao.
Ma Mian is a Chinese term that specifically refers to a rectangular bastion. It is also known as Zhi (雉) and Ying Lou (硬樓, lit. 'Hard tower').

Di Tuan (敵團, lit. 'Opposing round')
Rounded corner bastion at the southwest corner of Xi'an city wall.
Di Tuan is a Chinese term that specifically refers to a round tower or roundel/rounded bastion. It is also known as Tuan Lou (團樓, lit. 'Round tower').

Jiao Tai (角臺, lit. 'Corner platform')
Rectangular corner bastion at the northwest corner of the city wall of Xi'an.
Jiao Tai refers to a Di Tai (whether a tower or a bastion) built at the junction of two walls.

Kong Jun Tai (控軍臺, lit. 'Army commanding platform')
A Kong Jun Tai adjacent to the northwest corner bastion of the rebuilt city wall of Datong.  
Also known as Wang Jun Tai (望軍臺, lit. 'Army lookout platform'), Kong Jun Tai is a stand-alone tower built close to a Jiao Tai. It is the Chinese equivalent of Albarrana tower.

1.3) Superstructures
Cheng Pu (城鋪, lit. 'Wall shack')
A Cheng Pu on the top of one of the bastions of the city wall of Pingyao.
Cheng Pu, also known as Wo Pu (窩鋪, lit. 'Shack'), is a temporary or permanent shelter built on top a city wall or inside the city that primarily functions as accommodation for city watchmen. Permanent version of Cheng Pu, commonly built on bastions, also serve secondary functions as watchtowers and weapon storerooms.

Qi Cheng Pu (騎城鋪, lit. 'Wall-riding shack')
Despite being labelled as Qi Cheng Pu, this illustration seems to depict a normal Cheng Pu. Image taken from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'. 
Qi Cheng Pu, also known as Qi Cheng Zou Ma Pu (騎城走馬鋪, lit. 'Wall-riding, horse-walking shack'), is a special type of Cheng Pu designed for narrow wall with insufficient space for normal Cheng Pu, yet doesn't have bastions. It is essentially a "bridge tower" built on a wall (the wall-walk or chemin de ronde serves as the "bridge"), with a sufficiently large arched gateway to allow defending troops to pass through the tower unhindered. Since the ground floor of the tower is taken up by the gateway, actual living quarters are only located at the first floor and above.

To date, there are no surviving Chinese fortifications that can be identified as Qi Cheng Pu.

Di Lou (敵樓, lit. 'Opposing tower')
A guard tower standing on top of one of the bastions of the rebuilt city wall of Datong.
Di Lou can refer to any fortified building (whether temporary or permanent) built on top a wall to protect the defending troops, although in general usage the term is associated almost exclusively with the permanent version, while temporary and semi-permanent defensive structures are refered to as Zhan Peng instead (see below). A permanent Di Lou is also known as Jian Lou (箭樓, lit. 'Arrow tower').

A permanent Di Lou can be distinguished from a Di Tai by its sloped roof and awning, and the fact that it is built on top of a wall or bastion, rather than directly integrated into the wall.

Jiao Lou (角樓, lit. 'Corner tower')
Massive corner tower, essentially fused into the bastion below it, that once guarded the southeast corner of the city wall of Beijing.
Jiao Lou refers to a Di Lou built on the top of a corner bastion. Since corners are the second most vulnerable part of a rectangular fortress after the entrance (as they cannot be supported by friendly troops on the wall on either side), Jiao Lou tend to be heavily fortified, often rivalling the main gate tower of a city.

Que Tai (鵲臺, lit. 'Magpie platform')
Que Tai refers to a raised platform, effectively a secondary wall complete with its own battlement (usually of the Ping Tou Qiang variety) that is usually built on top a primary wall or near the bank of a moat. Originally designed to be an alternative to crenellated battlement to better withstand stone thrower bombardments, walltop Que Tai gradually fell into obsolescence as with the advent of taller, stronger walls and tougher battlements.

1.4) Loopholes and Embrasures
Yan (眼, lit. 'Hole')
Square-shaped Duo Yan (垛眼) on the battlement of the Dajin Ge Pavilion of Shanghai.
The Chinese term Yan (眼, eye), when used in this context, refers to various loopholes of a fortification. When referring to a specific type of loophole, extra descriptive words can be simply added before the character Yan. For example, Duo Yan (垛眼, lit. 'Merlon hole') refers to the observation hole on a merlon; Jian Yan (箭眼, lit. 'Arrow hole') refers to arrow loop; Chong Yan (銃眼, lit. 'Gun hole') refers to gun loop; Da Jiang Jun Chong Yan (大將軍銃眼, lit. 'Great general gun hole') refers to large gun loop designed to accommodate Da Jiang Jun Pao (大將軍砲); and Fo Lang Ji Chong Yan (佛狼機銃眼, lit. 'Frankish engine gun loop') refers to medium-sized gun loop for breech-loading swivel gun.

Tian Jing (天井, lit. 'Sky-well')
Close-up of the battlement of the Mutianyu Great Wall section, showing a Duo Yan and two Tian Jing. This image is photoshopped slightly to edit out the tourists.
Tian Jing is one of the few loopholes not called a Yan in Chinese. It refers to a loophole opened at the base of a parapet in-between two merlons to allow stones or other harmful liquid (boiling oil, boiling feces, molten iron etc.) to be dropped/poured onto enemy troops at the base of the wall.

Xuan Yan (懸眼, lit. 'Hanging hole')
Battlement at the rooftop of a guard tower on the Great Wall, equipped with Duo Yan, Xuan Yan and Tian Jing.
Xuan Yan refers to a loophole opened at the base of a parapet in-between two crenels that originally served similar purpose to Tian Jing. Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) later improved the design by adding a vertical groove below the loophole, thus allowing the loophole to command the foot of the wall.

Left: Improved Xuan Yan on the Great Wall with a vertical groove, viewed from outside. Right: Looking down through the Xuan Yan.

Jian Chuan (箭窗, lit. 'Arrow window')
Rows of Jian Chuan on the tower of Zhengyang Gate of Beijing.
Jian Chuan is another type of loophole not called a Yan in Chinese. It refers to the large loophole of an enclosed (i.e. roofed) structure such as Di Lou and Di Tai. Despite its name, weapons other than arrow can also be shot out from Jian Chuan.

Generally speaking, Jian Chuan of a Di Lou are equipped with window hatches, while Jian Chuan of a Di Tai are not.

Cang Bing Dong (藏兵洞, lit. 'Troop-concealing cave' or 'Armament-concealing cave')
Several Cang Bing Dong.
A bastion of the city wall of Jingzhou, with visible loopholes in the wall accessible by Cang Bing Dong.
Cang Bing Dong is the Chinese term for casemate.

An Men (暗門, lit. 'Dark door')
Baimajing sally port on the flank of a bastion of Jingzhou city wall. The brick-sealed door was so well-hidden that it was only discovered in 1999 and reopened in 2017.
An Men is the Chinese term for sally port.

1.5) Hoardings
Zhan Peng (戰棚, lit. 'Battle shed')
Hoardings (highlighted) on Weng Cheng and bastions, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Zhan Peng is the Chinese term for hoarding—temporary or semi-permanent defensive structure built on top of the rampart of a wall, tower, or bastion. It is an unwalled structure (similar to a ramada) with a solid roof made of three foot thick clay mixed with coal, then covered in drenched felt blankets and cowhides to better resist artillery bombardment and fire. In place of the wall, a series of wooden panels known as Xuan Ban (懸板, lit. 'Hanging plank') or Chui Zhong Ban (垂鐘板, lit. 'Drooping bell plank') can be attached to a rail just below the roof to provide protection. Although marginally less protective, Chinese-style hoarding with removable panels has many advantages over ordinary hoarding with fixed walls.

Zhan Peng also comes with floor opening known as Ta Kong Ban (踏空板, lit. 'Misstep plank') that allows the defenders to drop stones and pour burning oil onto enemy below, a feature also presents in European-style castle hoarding and machicolation.

Unfortunately, the taller and thicker Chinese walls, while nearly impervious against direct fire, also present a much larger target for indirect fire weapons, making Zhan Peng particularly vulnerable to stone throwers and gunpowder weaponry. This led to Zhan Peng being phased out relatively early in favour of more permanent Di Lou.

Chuan Lou (串樓, lit. 'Strung tower')
Chuan Lou referst to a type of semi-permanent terraced longhouse built atop a city wall, making full use of the massive size of Chinese walls and their spacious wall-walks/chemins de ronde. It combines the functions of hoarding, guard post, and barrack into one, and allows soldiers to be directly billeted on the wall.

While once relatively common in Ming period Southern China, in particular Guangzhou, Hunan, Jiangxi and Guizhou, no Chuan Lou has survived to the present day.

Bai Lu Wu (白露屋, lit. 'White dew hut')
Drawing of a Bai Lu Wu, from 'Zhan Shou Quan Shu (《戰守全書》)'.
Bai Lu Wu is a small dome-shaped bamboo or willow hut, large enough for a single occupant, built on the roof of Zhan Peng. It serves as a temporary shelter for city watchmen, as well as storage space for firefighting equipment.

Crenel shutter
Drawing of a Xuan Lian in action (left) as well as its construction (right). From 'Zhan Shou Quan Shu (《戰守全書》)'.

Drawing of a Pi Lian (left) and a Xuan Hu (right), from 'Zhan Shou Quan Shu (《戰守全書》)'.
Chinese people also made use of crenel shutter—temporary wooden structure erected during wartime to cover and defend a crenel as well as the troops behind it. Common types of crenel shutters include Xuan Lian (懸簾, lit. 'Hanging curtain'), which uses soaked cotton blanket as cover, Pi Lian (皮簾, lit. 'Leather curtain'), whichs uses carabau hide as cover, and Xuan Hu (懸戶, lit. 'Hanging window'), which uses a wooden shield as cover.

Hu Cheng Zhe Jian Jia (護城遮箭架, lit. 'Wall-protecting, arrow-covering frame')
Two Hu Cheng Zhe Jian Jia, from 'Zhan Shou Quan Shu (《戰守全書》)'.
Hu Cheng Zhe Jian Jia is a special type of crenel shutter that mounts the cover (see above) slightly farther away from the crenel, thus allowing the defending troops to safely lean out from the crenel to attack enemies at the base of the wall.

Bu Man (布幔, lit. 'Cloth curtain')
Drawing of a Bu Man on a pole, from 'Wu Bei Zhi (《武備志》)'.
Bu Man is a large protective curtain made of multiple layers of thick clothes (or alternatively, multiple layers of nets) that hangs from a wooden pole. The pole can be mounted on the wall to give the defenders an extra layer of protective screen.

Mobile version of Bu Man is known as Mu Man (木幔).

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  1. Great article as always

    1. Thanks for the support. The article is still WIP at the moment though. Stay tuned for future update.

  2. Great article. As a Chinese myself, I've always been amazed by these fortifications. I think it's not exaggerated to say that the Chinese were one of the greatest fortification builders in medieval and early modern times. And it's not just limited to the Central Plains. In southwestern China you have rather well-preserved Southern Song mountain fortresses that once formed an interconnected defense system against the Mongols. And in southeast China you have the rather special-looking round Hakka fortified residences called Tu Lou. I've also seen a fortified Hmong settlement in southwestern China in a certain TV program (forgot its name though). The streets of that city were constructed like a maze, often with sharp turns and cul-de-sac, so that even if the enemies manage to enter the city, it would be very difficult for them to find their ways. And not to mention that on almost every wall beside the streets there are loopholes for arquebus and other firearms, which make this place perfect for an ambush.

    1. I'd say Chinese were definitely at the front row, by the sheer size of their walls if nothing else, but Europeans and Indians built some crazy good fortifications too. Concentric wall for example are simply genius.

    2. Why didn't the Chinese build concentric walls? Does it have to do with the rammed earth construction?

    3. Nothing to do with rammed earth. Chinese fortified cities were settlements and economic centres first and foremost, and city population outgrew the wall limit fairly often, so city walls were frequently demolished and expanded, or entirely new walls erected to enclose the old city. Given the size of a Chinese city, adding a concentric wall cost a lot, the space between two walls went to waste, and it inconvenient the population.

      Moat wall (Yang Ma Qiang/羊馬墻 & Hu Xian Qiang/護險墻) and crescent fort (Yue Cheng/月城) were Chinese applications of the same concept. They don't enclose the entire city though.

      (BTW, moat walls inconvenient herders that wanted to water their livestock in the moat and were sometimes vandalised/demolished by them)

    4. oh, thanks for the reply, very informative. Oh yeah, I can imagine concentric fortifications being quite a difficulty as a city ring defense for economic centres. I meant round towers (at least the brick exterior?), my mistake! It seemed like the rectangular or square city towers were standardized during the Ming/Qing whilst Europe start adopting circular city towers more and more in response to cannon siege warfare.

      I am guessing it has also to do mainly with economic factors for the reason?

      Btw, it's interesting I've never heard about the inconvenience or even usage of the moat for herders.

    5. Chinese people used a combination of rectangular and rounded bastions during Song Dynasty. But rectangular bastion became the norm during Ming-Qing period. In the first place, the majority of China's enemies weren't that big on cannon warfare, and Chinese wall was more resistant to cannon anyway.(when the Manchus did show up with advanced cannons, Chinese people tried to adopt angled bastion/star fort instead of rounded bastion).

      The South-west corner of Xi'an city wall still has a rounded bastion. I will update the post in the near future.

      BTW, Chinese people actually developed some kind of proto-angled bastion in the LATE 14th CENTURY.

    6. That's quite strange. In the 14th century there are literally no reasons for its appearence(and its defensive qualities will be simply inferior).

    7. Angled bastion can eliminate dead zone/blind spot of the wall, which is always welcomed.

    8. Even 4-5 thousand yr old Egyptian fortreses(Buhen) did it just fine with protrouding bastions, the very same way chinese city walls do it.

      Star fort was born out of necessity to achieve the same effect in a world full of numerous and readily availible siege artillery.
      I.e. where both walls and heavily sloped parapets with thrir huge dead zones(which replaced vertical battlements) had to survive incoming fire.

      14th century is 1.5-2 centuries too early...

    9. Some princibles that worked for star fort also work for pre-gunpowder fortifications. In particular, the corners of a square or rectangular fortress are its weak spots, since the attackers can focus their attack on one single tower, and that corner tower cannot be supported by adjacent walls/towers. It make sense to build corner bastions into a more acute angled shape to limit the area that attackers can concentrate.

    10. what would the advantages of a square shaped bastion/tower be over a round one? Would it be that you build it into an angle?

    11. @Wakawakwaka
      Square-shaped tower has less "dead zone" than round tower, i.e. when enemy troops hide at the base of the wall, more defenders can shoot at them from a square tower than a round one.

    12. was the reason why round towers were preferred in Europe because they were harder to sap?

    13. Yes, and round tower is also more resistant to siege weapons.

    14. but I don't think you can have angled bastions/towers on round towers though

    15. @wakawakwaka
      You can stack a round cavalier on top of agled bastion, I suppose.

    16. What about something like this indian fort ? I mean it has a sloping round towers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tughlaqabad_Fort#/media/File:Ghiyath_aldin_tughluq_tomb_from_tughluqabad.JPG

    17. @wakawakwaka
      Hmm? I can't really tell anything out of the ordinary for that fort...

    18. the towers are sloped and it is round. it looks like a cone with the point chopped off. But it doesn't seem to be as sloped or as effective as a trapezoid sloped tower.

    19. @Wakawakwaka
      The sloped surface makes it harder for the attackers to mount a ladder, but it's a pretty common feature otherwise.

  3. This is truely very well research article of Chinese fortifiation, quite rare among foreign or Western world. Thanks for your effort.

    I hope author you can also introduce to foreigners that China also have stand-alone castles other than "fortress". There are many 土樓/圍屋 look quite similar to European and Japanese castles. Tibetan style mountain castles also look quite similar to European castles, which also has transmitted to China Proper(漢地) during Qing dynasty. Tibet maybe is not considered "Chinese" by some Westerners due to political reason but they are still part of China/Chinese now.
    Some examples:

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words. For the most part this series of articles are meant to discuss the various parts and components of a fortification, so they can equally apply to walled cities and smaller forts and castles.

  4. More castle-style 土樓 and 藏式城堡:

    Some buildings in 頤和園(which were already burnt down by "invaders") also look like castle:

  5. 塢堡 which has emerged in China since Han dynasty probably is castle-like fortification and ancestor of 土樓. There are some building models excavated from Han dynasty tombs which probably are models of 塢堡, they also look quite similar to castles.

    1. Do you have link for potential miao or yi fortification if it still exist? I know about Qiang and nakhi watchtowers but not the fortification of thoses people.

    2. I found the video that I was talking about. It was indeed Miaowangcheng (Literally "King Miao's city), located in Tongren in Guizhou province.


  6. Did the northern yuan dynasty have similar development?

    1. I bet not. Being a nomadic people, the Mongols mostly relied on their mobility to evade potential enemies, as opposed to building cities and other stationary defenses.

  7. Thank you very much for your efforts in explaining all the features of Chinese fortifications! I'm looking forward to see more.
    Chinese fortifications are indeed not understood at all as far as my experience goes, especially in the West. Yet massive stone walls like the one in Xi'an testifies the effectiveness of thess structures!

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I hope to see you write something similar on Japanese fortifications too!

  8. Oh, finally, someone got enough of this complete lack of information, availible to an average user.
    Watching catapults breaking chinese city walls in TW:3K just made my eyes bleed.

    1. I've watched a couple videos of TW3K siege, it seems the walls are modeled after Ming/Qing-style bricked walls, but downsized. They are suitable for small to moderately large sized forts/towns/cities, but too small for major cities or capital. From the destroyed sections, they seem to be made of stones instead of rammed earth too.

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    1. Nanjing wall is an interesting piece of history. Even though the wall is ancient, you can actually find interesting features on Nanjing wall like concrete-reinforced modern gun ports, as Chinese troops also modified the wall to defend against Japanese invasion during the second Sino-Japanese war.

      There are also some pillboxes built with Ming period bricks.

    2. I don't know why you bring out the second Sino-Japanese war as it's completely irrelevant to the topic. And yes any ancient or medieval fortifications would fall under modern bombardment, be it Chinese or European.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. @henrique
      With part 2 of my article under way, you should've noticed by now that Chinese walls also played an important role in flood control. "Improving" the fortification design to withstand more destructive weaponry sounds like a wonderful idea until the entire city is submerged under year-long meters deep floodwater and millions died.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    7. @henrique, I'm not the owner of this blog, but I have the right to reply. I sense some sort of prejudice and arrogance in your comments. The wars of the 20th century have nothing to do with this blog, since it talks about ancient and medieval Chinese warfare. It's strange that you bring up the second sino-japanese war. And it's even stranger that you mentioned how those medieval Chinese structures couldn't stand modern firepower. Don't single out medieval Chinese structures, cause any medieval structures, no matter Chinese, Japanese, or European, cannot withstand modern firepower, since they were not made to withstand 20th century shells. And there're still many authentic ancient walls in China from Ming/Qing period and even from Song period or earlier. It's not just limited Pingyao, Jingzhou, and Xi'an. Do some research before you post your comments, and stop being arrogant.

    8. @henrique, the fact that you think ancient China lacked dams, dykes, or other flood control systems shows again the lack of research on you part. Dujiangyan, which is an irrigation and flood control system built in 256 BC in Sichuan by the Qin state of the Warring States period, is still functioning today.

    9. @henrique, and the drainage canals of Ganzhou designed by Liu Yi in the years 1068 to 1077 during the Song dynasty, still exists today and still takes part of the flood control responsibility of Ganzhou (they've since built new dams, but this old drainage system is still functioning).

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    12. @henrique
      You're responsible for your actions and words. Stop shunning away from your own prejudices and face them like a man, I didn't misinterpret anything. No, you don't know the things that I said. Briefly mentioning Yu the Great (which is a legendary figure with no real evidence or time period) doesn't equate to mentioning the examples that I've given, since I've provided the exact time period and location. Romans were perhaps more sophisticated in certain types of dams or aqueducts, but that doesn't mean ancient China didn't have dams/canals or have less of them. Based on your above comments, your knowledge on ancient China is severely lacking, and you shouldn't make any quick assumptions about an area that you have no clues about.
      The Chinese walls were medieval or pre-modern, based on the time period they were built. The fact that they can stop 19th century shells doesn't make them 19th century walls, since they weren't built with the intention to stop those shells.
      The Chinese already had numerous civil wars in the 1920's and early 30's before the Japanese invasion, of course those were 20th century warfare. Unless you have a different time table of your own and don't consider the 1920's as the 20th century, which is rather weird.
      No, the second sino-japanese war wasn't the end for Chinese walls, as we still have many walls left today.
      If you are interested in roman or japanese history, then this blog is perhaps not the best place for you. Go to profess your childish roman or japanese superiority somewhere else, stop disturbing the people here who are genuinely interested in Chinese history.

    13. The main purpose of 京杭大运河 is to facilitate the transport of goods and people between the Central Plains and the Jiangnan region. It's like an ancient logistic highway. Of course I don't deny the possibility that it could be used as a canal to divert floods of the Huai River or the Yangtse River, but that's not its main purpose.

    14. Ok now, I think we all should cool our head a little bit and not get too emotional, please refrain from heating up the argument any further.

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    16. @Henrique
      Ok, here we go again. I don't know what a gravity dam is, and I never claimed that I know. Usually I don't make assumptions about things that I don't know, unlike you. I didn't talk about Romans in my earlier comments, cause I know that my knowledge about them is rather lacking. The only time that I mentioned them is that "the Romans were perhaps more sophisticated in certain types of dams or aqueducts". Unlike you who don't really know ancient China, yet are quick to draw conclusions based on the few info that you have, and make silly comparisons of Roman vs China, which is a topic that has been done to death on other forums such as Historum, and usually boiled down to Roman fanboys vs Chinese fanboys in the end. It's precisely this type of situation that I don't want to see happening again on this blog, so I suggest that you refrain from doing such.
      And again, I suggest that you should stop talking about the sino-japanese war of the 20th century, as it's outside of the scope of this blog.
      The rest of what you said simply doesn't make any sense so I won't bother to reply.
      Listen, I'm not cyber-stalking you. I couldn't care less about who you are. But the thing is I'm a follower of this blog and I really appreciate what the blogger has done, and I don't want to see roman fanboys or japanese weeboos like you destroying the peaceful atmosphere here by making those clueless comparisons. And if you're still unsure about what I mean, it's against you that I say these things, not against other readers of this blog. Don't try to put the blame on others, it's you that I'm targeting. Really I suggest that you leave this blog and stop disturbing me and other people here who're interested in Chinese history.

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    18. That's enough you two. Go argue somewhere else.

    19. Hi.

      From memory I believe that the Ming built reservoirs as part of the canal deepening maintenance works. The reservoirs were used to regulate canal water levels.

      Unfortunately I can't see Henrique's comments but it seemed like cities in China preferred to divert river water as canals over aqueducts, and build water reservoir pools over say gravity dams for public use.... Military use is a whole 'nother story.

      Um... as far as I can tell the canal could hardly have helped management large river flooding and the opposite occurred where bad maintenance and climate disasters threatened to choke the grand canal. Grand canal despite pound locks proved to unreliable at times at supplying water and transport to inland Chang'an which is perhaps why Luoyang and later capitals were never again picked for modern day Xi'an general location.

      Yu the great learnt from his father and instead of dike system for the 1 in 100,000 deadly dam flooding that wrecked havoc on early Chinese civilisation relied on river deepening and river diversion approach to control the riverss.

    20. made a mistake pound locks were invented during the Song dynasty. Hence the reason why central ancient capitals were no longer preferred may have nothing to do with canal water level managment issues during the Tang dynasty as mounting cost of grain shipments due to canal failure and the strategic choke during An Lushan rebellion highlighted the strategic concerns of otherwise sound fortification locations of the twin ancient capitals.

    21. @Khal, the reasons are not that complicated. Chang'an had been thoroughly destroyed by the wars and rebellions of the late Tang, to the point that it costed too much to rebuild there. On the other hand, Bianliang (Kaifeng) had served as the capital of the Five Dynasties, so it was natural that the Song chose an available capital instead of rebuilding Chang'an.
      Another reason might be that after several hundred years of continuous habitation by up to a million people at its peak, the water reservoirs near Chang'an had either been exhausted or filled with human or animal waste that made it no longer suitable for drinking. Back then they didn't have water cleansing techniques like today, so they were obliged to relocate the capital elsewhere.

    22. @Khal, and as far as I remember, the canal had never extended to Chang'an, the furthest extent of it was Luoyang. To reach Chang'an you'd either have to choose to cross overland or sail up the Yellow and the Wei rivers. I don't think canal failure was the issue of the abandoning of Chang'an. The rising cost of grains that you mentioned as well as the two reasons that I mentioned are enough to explain what caused the relocation of the capital.

    23. @TheXanian

      Oh i see, that makes sound sense to be me why Kaifeng was chosen, which also was strategically placed with many rivers crossing through the metropolis.

      Currently looking at

      It does seem like a Sui canal connected Chang'an to the yellow river which was connected to the grand canal though I imagine it was just not reliable over Luoyang like you mentioned with the overland and sailing up the yellow river.

  10. There're many intact Ming/Qing period buildings and walls in Southern and Southwestern China. And even some Song period ones survived relatively intact to this day.

    1. I neglected to add "major" city wall to the sentence. Fixed.

  11. Hi I am new to this blog spot. I am really impressed by the sheer breadth of information.

    Here is an image screenshot link of a water urban system of Chinese cities in general.


    I believe that this concept of water diverging and water management (pond reservoirs) plays an important role in Chinese fortifications, maybe even enough for a part 3? Flooding dams is a heavily used military tactic in China and even the hydraulic engineering works differs from Roman approach of empire wide aqueduct and dam systems.

    Let me know if you can't see the links.


    1. Yes, water diverging and pond reservoirs were indeed quite important water management techniques in ancient China, which were drastically different from the Roman approach. I think there's no inherently superior or inferior techniques, cause each technique was developed in response to the particular geographical situation of each region. However, Henrique senselessly compared the two techniques and claimed/implied that the Roman technique was the superior one, and he did so with very little knowledge of ancient China on his part. This was what caused our arguments.

    2. @Khal

      That's why I said you are welcome to ask me. I never said the Roman way was the best one or anything about canals and other hydraulic engineering in my first 2 comments, as all the rest of the conversation was derived from misinterpretation, the rest should be discarded. First of all.. hydraulic despotism already includes all implicit references like canals, aqueducts, dikes, reservoirs etc ... and second the idea was only between Chinese city walls and Roman gravity dams. China (notably southern china) has always had millions of dead in its history because of flood, because of east Asian monsoon, rice paddy fields filled with water, hydraulic projects (such as canals) and the average discharge of yangtze (rivers by volume and not length) is the number two in the world for areas of ​​considerable urbanization throughout history, China has always been a lot populous and the bigger the number of people the bigger the number of dead, which is obvious. Then the Roman-style dams would be useless in Chinese geography, so the Chinese city walls were equivalent. The two things are wall-shaped structures involving safety issues and no the making of roman city walls & chinese city walls has nothing to do with each other.

      This post is turning into a forum and this gonna be my last comment on the page. I'm out

    3. @Henrique

      If you don't know then you should ask. Stop assuming things like "millions of dead", that's not a good way to start a meaningful conversation.

      No, the Chinese walls aren't equivalent to Roman dams. The ancient Chinese had a whole system of water management which included water diverging/drainage canals, dams, dykes, ponds, moats, etc. Walls are only part of the picture.

    4. @Khal
      To be honest my knowledgge in ancient Chinese water engineering is rather lacking, and there's already a Part 3 in the planning that is more challenging to write. Maybe I will put the water one in a separate topic in the future.

    5. Oh thanks for the reply.

      In any case I found some great free links for people to peruse. A really nice comparison which I did not mention before was Greco and maybe Roman preference to not build cities near rivers, preferring dry up-hill regions hence more emphasis on cistern water collection over flood management and distribution to homes/baths/toilets. Whereas the Chinese had placed far less emphasis on personal public water usage requiring more on wells and ditches for water usage.




      In any case it still blows my mind that by boat, it was possible if maintenance was given to traverse all the way from Beijing to the Pearl delta on boat through the ancient Qin dynasty Lingqu canal which was used to annex the baiyue and then provide transportation.

      Or that 4 years of work on the Dujiangyan system for flood control managed to make the Sichuan region the most agriculturally productive region or one-of for most of Chinese history.

      But I think what which is mentioned in part 2 of fortifications is the elegance of the fortifications/moat design. Chinese hydraulic engineering achieved so many purposes beyond flood control to provide transportation for troops (Sui invasion of Gogeryeo) that powered the commerce economy of the state to even water conservation for much needed river channels.

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  13. I have a question; given the usage of artillery during the late Ming dynasty, I was wondering, how good were gates at resisting heavy cannon balls? Were they actually targeted by cannon's fire? Thank you!

    1. I have to check on the specifics of various sieges during the late Ming period to be sure, then again, there were some cases that sustained bombardment of Hongyi cannon demolished even wall sections, I doubt gates could last longer.

    2. There are other reasons you sometimes don't want to simply bombard the gate though.
      Gate is hard to reach and heavily defended, and the defenders can shoot back at you with their own hongyi cannon from elevated position. Also, the first gate you will likely target is probably that of Weng Cheng.

  14. Do you know what is the earliest evidence of towers being apart of fortifications in China? Like for example the horse face wall

    1. Horse face wall existed since Han period, probably earlier.

  15. Thanks for response, do you know any good sources for earlier Chinese military history since you are mostly about Ming era.

    1. AFAIK I am the only content creator about ancient Chinese military history in English language so far.

    2. Sorry I don't know were exactly to ask this but do you have any idea when did iron/steel weapons replaced bronze ones in Chinese armies? Perhaps it could be an interesting post in the future.

    3. Iron/steel weapons replaced bronze ones sometime in the Western Han period, though the replacement could have already begun during the late Warring States period or earlier, since we've found some late Warring States armors and weapons made out of iron/steel, such as the iron lamellar helmets found at Yanxiadu.

    4. It would be an interesting topic to explore, though I think a lot of people believed the Qin used bronze weapons because of the terracotta army, despite bronze having lots of ceremonial value in the ancient world

  16. Hi, I found something kinda rare in fortifications. I don't know if this was touched upon before.

    It kinda fulfilled the same function as the horse-face but it uses less material. Annoyingly though there isn't a quantity of images (no good images) the bottom was hollow?. So it was kind of like the only surviving Chinese machicolation we have around now?


    1. Thank you. The curious structure has caught my attention for a while now.

      All photos I've manage to find show the structure with its base sealed away, so I am uncertain about its true purpose. However with the explanation from that webpage you provided, I can confidently say that yes, it is indeed a machicolation.

    2. On second thought, that particular wall section seems to be a gun fort extention built by Qing army to defend against Taiping rebels, so that "machicolation" or whatever is actually not very old.

  17. Thanks for the info. Yep the entire wall section was built during Qing, hence it looks like the same bricks were used.

    My own observation is the Zhengyang watchtower and gatetower in Beijing there is all the design requirements (technical know-how) necessary for machicolation but for reasons unknown the balcony is not hollowed out. Perhaps aesthetics, because other watchtowers and arrow towers in Beijing and Xi'an do not have this design.

    1. At the moment that structure seems to be one-of-a-kind, so I won't add it to the article unless I find more examples of it.

  18. No worries.

    Good discussion.

    Btw can I know the source for the Diaoyu fortress design? Do you happen to know if we have an understanding of the fortifications of Song dynasty Xiangyang and Fancheng?

    1. It's been so long that I can't remember...I THINK it's from a museum website or something.

      I only know Xiangyang had quite a few supplemental fortresses surrounding it, but that's about it.

  19. I've found the first undisputed evidence of Chinese machicolation:


    It's from Huangxingzhai (皇興寨), a Qing period fort at Chongqing, China.


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