2003-08-01 09:37:47
Gate of Assured Peace, past and present
  Author: Ed Lanfranco

Aside from the memories of older residents and a few black and white photographs, both fading with the passage of time, the place in Beijing called Andingmen or the "Gate of Assured Peace" exists only as a place name.

Anding Gate was one of seven entrances into the ancient city dating back to the Ming era (1368-1644) that have disappeared over the course of the 20th century, transmogrified from a gate of the city wall and its supporting defensive structures into signs serving to distinguish otherwise largely anonymous sections of the modern urban sprawl.

There are seven places in north central Beijing that incorporate the name of Andingmen (安定门): four roads radiating from the eponymous overpass; an administrative sub-division of Dongcheng district plus a subway stop on the loop line. This mass transit system follows the exact path of the former city wall.

In fact, bricks from the original wall were used in its early construction that began in the late 1960s.

The site where the gate and outer watchtower barbican once stood is now a bridge on the Second Ring Road. Running east and west of the overpass are Andingmen Dong Dajie and Xi Dajie (安定门东大街和西大街). Technically these are called boulevards, but they actually signify parts of the ring road highway.

Andingmen then and now

The eastern and western parts of Beijing's city wall originated in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when it was known as Dadu, meaning Great Capital. Several name changes were made in 1368 after its capture by forces loyal to Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding Ming emperor Hongwu (r.1368-1398). Dadu became Beiping, or Northern Peace and one of the gates in the earthen rampart northern wall, Anzhenmen, was renamed Andingmen.

In 1371 the northern wall was moved south by five li (approximately 2.7 kilometres) to consolidate its defensive capabilities as a garrison town on the frontier of the newly established empire. This town was the administrative centre for the fiefdom of Yan controlled by one of Hongwu's sons, Zhu Di.

Zhu Di emerged victorious in the four year power struggle that ensued after Hongwu's death in 1398. Fearing court intrigue in the Ming capital Nanjing, Zhu, who ruled as the emperor Yongle (r.1403-1424), moved the capital to center of his previous power base which he renamed Beijing. Yongle commanded a massive remake of Beijing that included building the Forbidden City and bricking in the old dirt ramparts plus new northern and southern walls.

The fortress feel was further enhanced during the first four years of the only emperor to reign twice, Zhu Qizhen (first as Zhengtong 1436-1449 then as Tianshun 1457-1464). Zhengtong created the embrasured watchtower (jianlou), enceinte (wengcheng) and sluice gate, (zhalou) which gave Beijing its look lasting half a millennium.

The northern gates and walls to Beijing were the most heavily fortified because assaults on the city came from this direction. However these medieval defence works proved no match for the onslaught of Western imperialism during the last 50 years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After sacking the Yuanmingyuan in the autumn of 1860, Anglo-French troops campaigning in North China trained their cannons down upon the city from Andingmen to ensure Manchu officials signed an onerous treaty.

An Wai

Since the 1950s expansion of Beijing into what was once countryside has blurred differences between what was inside and outside Andingmen. While the wall is gone, this section of second ring road still acts as a dividing line between the old and new cities.

The road leading out from the gate was the route to the Gubeikou (古北口) pass of the Great Wall and Qing summer pleasance of Chengde. Writing in 1919, Juliet Bredon described the area outside Andingmen as an "excellent ride of four or five miles across the plain on the way to the Big Bell temple and to the mud walls built during the time of Kublai Khan."

Today, Andingmenwai Dajie (安定门外大街) is a perpetually busy boulevard connecting the Second, Third, and Fourth Ring Roads. The Olympic Sports Centre is located at the northwest corner of this street.

Willow Shelter Park (above picture)

This newer Beijing has three noteworthy public parks amid the concrete jumble. Liuyin (Willow Shelter) and Qingnianhu (Youth Lake) are located on the west side of Andingmenwai, which runs north to south, while Ditan Park is on the east side of the street, headed in the opposite direction.

Both Liuyin and Qingnianhu are inexpensive (1 Yuan) getaways to green space inside the city, open 6am to 9pm. Call 6421-6224 and 6421-1357 respectively for more information.

Ditan, now a public park was originally the Altar of the Earth built in the sixteenth century. Its close proximity to Andingmen gave the gate its informal name Shengmen, or "Gate of Abundance," because emperors would come here to pray for a good harvest. Ditan is open from 6am to 9pm. Admittance costs 2 Yuan. Tel. 6421-4657

An Nei

Andingmennei Daijie runs from a gigantic reproduction of a bronze vessel at the Second Ring southward to the Jiaodaokou (交道口)intersection. Hutongs flanking the east and west sides of this street are best explored by bicycle in order to cover as much ground as possible.

The nicest and best restored spot to go is Guozijian on the east. For those who wish to explore forgotten Beijing like Laura Croft or Indiana Jones, adventures in urban archaeology are found on the west side. One jaunt is to take the first alleyway on the northwest side of Andingmennei, Lingguang Hutong (灵光胡同), then turn right.

Temple fragment clues

The stone disks pictured here at one time supported columns for the Qianfosi (Thousand Buddha Temple) a large complex built in the Ming. The swastika icon beneath the roosting pigeons is a motif found in Buddhist structures.

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