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Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

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  • Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

    I was in Dunhuang this weekend and spoke with Mr Zhang, the director of the little museum they have at Yangguan.

    In the course of the discussion I learned a new (to me) term - 塞墙。sai4 qiang2

    That character sai4 translates as “a place of strategic importance”; qiang2 just means wall. I verified with him he meant sai4 and not sai1 which wouldn’t make sense anyway.

    The question came about when I asked had he looked at the walls connecting Yangguan to Yumenguan. He said there were no such walls. Through the conversation it became clear that he differentiates between 长城, referring to what he called the big walls designed to stop anything getting past, and 塞墙 which he says were designed to impede the movement of wagons carrying looted supplies. He said 车 and I pointed to a wagon and he nodded, so that is what he meant. Each, or most, 塞墙 had a ditch related to it, to enhance the obstacle.

    Another person there said that after the Qin dynasty, subsequent dynasties associated Qin’s (万里)长城 with the demise of the dynasty, so to avoid a similar fate they referred to their defensive walls as 边墙。

    This accords with the words of Wan Sitong, a Qing Dynasty historian:
    The men of Qin built the Long Wall...and down came the Empire
    People are still laughing about it today.
    Why did we build walls for 10,000 li?
    Dynasty after dynasty has done the same thing
    So why do we laugh at the First Emperor of Qin?


    According to Mr Zhang, the term 塞墙 applied to the low remnant wall that runs alongside (and crosses at 39
    Last edited by bianfuxia; 04-19-2016, 09:01 AM.
    If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
    Journeys, &c

  • #2
    Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

    A very interesting post.

    塞 (s
    chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
    chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
    chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

    The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

      Interesting points.

      I've taken a closer look at the definition of sai4 赛。

      My Pleco, which told me it meant place of strategic importance might have misled me a bit.

      Elsewhere in Pleco it gives these definitions:

      "strategic pass"
      "tactical border position"

      关塞: "border fort, esp defending a narrow valley"

      Wikipedia's page on frontier poetry offers 边塞 as "border fortress", the name for that genre of poetry.

      So I am inclined to agree that sai4 has a flavour of border or frontier to it. In that sense it is possibly interchangeable with 边城 except across time periods?

      Meanwhile my (Chinese) colleague - who knows nothing about the GW but obviously speaks fluent, educated Mandarin - thinks 塞墙 isn't a word at all, unless it's a technical term she's not familiar with. Instead, she knew yao4sai4 要塞 as fort, fortress.

      That said, she also imagined 塞墙 as "a wall you use maybe to stop an army coming".

      So, I guess I am none the wiser!

      I think I am also inclined to agree that the wall between Yangguan and Yumenguan would have been more substantial and for whatever reason it has deteriorated more than the one that runs directly west of Yumenguan.

      This photograph is of that wall, the stretch that runs directly west of Yumenguan, right after it kinks southwards.



      It clearly shows the classic reed-reinforced rammed earth wall construction, as well as the size.

      This photo is looking the other way along the same stretch, back towards the point you see in the picture above:


      It clearly shows how the wall can also look like little more than a mound of dirt.

      So, without digging into the dirt mound that runs between Dunhuang and Yangguan - which I obviously was not about to do - we can't tell if it was originally a dirt mound (as maybe Mr Zhang suspects) or originally a proper wall as Chinoook believes.

      I tend to agree with the latter, though. Yangguan and Yumenguan were the key passes at the very edge of the Chinese empire. It makes little sense not to link them with a proper wall, otherwise Xiongnu "cavalry" could simply gallop between them.
      If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
      Journeys, &c

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

        Interestingly, at Yangguan they called the soil there 沙土 (sha1tu3) rather than 黄土 which I thought was the proper translation for "loess".

        Maybe just a local derivation.
        If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
        Journeys, &c

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

          Originally posted by chinoook View Post
          A very interesting post.


          Interestingly Laurel Stein noticed these walls and was convinced that their meaning was to prevent Han people to leave the country. He was mistaken (the defense direction is to the east an south), but he at least tried to understand these walls. In his (wrong) opinion only the north was enemy territory.


          -chinoook
          You mean west and south, don't you?
          If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
          Journeys, &c

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

            I asked Chen Huai and he said:

            应给是
            If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
            Journeys, &c

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

              Chen Huai's opinion is much based on our talks ...


              -chinoook
              chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
              chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
              chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

              The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                Originally posted by bianfuxia View Post
                You mean west and south, don't you?
                Correct.


                -chinoook
                chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
                chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
                chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

                The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                  Originally posted by bianfuxia View Post
                  Interestingly, at Yangguan they called the soil there 沙土 (sha1tu3) rather than 黄土 which I thought was the proper translation for "loess".

                  Maybe just a local derivation.
                  At most. The Yangguan/Yumenguan section does not have a lot of loess around. Therefore the reeds used for wall building.


                  -chinoook
                  chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
                  chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
                  chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

                  The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                    That's what I thought when I was there. The soil didn't look much like what I was used to as loess.

                    Oh well...!
                    If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
                    Journeys, &c

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                      So I've got a simple question: are Yangguan and Yumenguan considered to be part of the Great Wall?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                        Originally posted by iwazaru View Post
                        So I've got a simple question: are Yangguan and Yumenguan considered to be part of the Great Wall?
                        This is easy to judge but I have to give two answers. Yumenguan and Yangguan are not of the same kind.

                        Yumenguan: A typical Han pass fort. You find these at several passes, I know three of them. Yumenguan, Hongchengzi (next to Karakhoto, Inner Mongolia) and Diwancheng close to Gaotai (Gansu). Two more of those next to each other close to Suoyangcheng (not a GW pass but a place of strategic importance and very probably guarding an old trading (silk) road). All of these forts have a base length of not more than 20m, are quite high (8 - 10m) and did not have any gate/door/entrance. The Han guys used rope ladders to get up the wall and into the fort. All openings (all of them nowadays have) were made by shepherds/farmers long after Han dynasty.
                        Yumenguan is as close as 50m to the southward running wall and about 2km to the main wall.

                        Yangguan: A tower and nothing really passlike. Since it is directly sited on the continuation of the southward running wall and next to an oasis I consider it also to be a part of the Han wall system. Next to Yangguan was very probably a pass through the wall, it should be the entry point for the winter route of the silk road while Yumenguan is the entry point for the summer route.

                        The wall leading from Yumenguan to Yangguan is not well known. I walked the entire stretch in 2014.


                        -chinoook
                        chinoook's 1st law: Structurally weak walls tend to have double structures.
                        chinoook's 2nd law: Newer walls are built next older walls, not over them.
                        chinoook's 3rd law: Similar problems lead to similar solutions.

                        The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of people, who have not viewed the world. (Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), German naturalist and explorer)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Great Wall, Border Wall, Strategic Wall - terminology

                          as I mentioned, the fellow who runs the museum at Yangguan said the original pass was further to the south of where that solitary tower is, in an area now covered by sand.

                          One day maybe someone will do some ground penetrating radar on it and see what's there.
                          If you're tired of the Great Wall, you're tired of life.
                          Journeys, &c

                          Comment

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