Great Wall in Song Dynasty

China Great Wall of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) had seldom been recognized by the academic circle until the discovery of the Song Dynasty Great Wall relics in Kelan County of Shanxi Province by the end of the 20th century. To prevent incursions by the nomadic regimes from north China including Liao Dynasty (907-1125), Western Xia (1038-1227), and Jurchen Jin (1115-1234), the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) once built the Great Wall in Shanxi and Hebei, which consisted of fortresses and water defense. Later, as the ruling range of Song retreated southward gradually, the defensive line of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) moved southward, which can be learnt from the Great Wall relics in today's central China's Hubei and Henan Provinces.

Song Dynasty Great Wall
Ruins of Song Great Wall 
in Kelan County, Shanxi

Why did the Song Dynasty Built the Great Wall?

Emperor Shi Jingtang of Later Jin Dynasty (936-946), a short-lived regime during the Five Dynasties and Ten States Period (907-960), ceded the Sixteen Prefectures of Yan and Yun to Liao Dynasty. The Sixteen Prefectures were of great military importance, including today's Beijing, Tianjin, northern Shanxi, and northern Hebei. The cession put the following Northern Song Dynasty in danger. The Song fought hard against the Liao and Western Xia, and had to build some military defenses.

However, Song, together with Liao, was defeated by the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, which sprang up in northeast China. Therefore, the Song retreated south of the Yangtze River, and moved its capital from Bianjing, today's Kaifeng, to Lin'an, today's Hangzhou. It was then known as the Southern Song, and continued to build some defensive walls to defend against the Jurchen Jin.

Different from stone walls built by other dynasties, the Great Wall in the Song Dynasty was actually a cooperative defensive system including military forts, walled villages, moats, and water defense.


Military Forts of Song Dynasty Great Wall

In order to stop Western Xia's attacks, the Northern Song Dynasty established some 500 passes and fortresses along Hengshan Mountain in northwestern China. The most famous ones were Baibao City, Jintang City, Shunning Fort, Long’an Fort, Saimen Fort, Yihe Fort, Yongle City, and Anding Fort. The commanding points were at the crests of hills, and city wall crawled down the hill until it reached rivers and streams. In this way, the forts occupied strategic locations, and had enough water supplies. These forts varied greatly in sizes, and most of them leave some relics. For instance, the Yongle City still stands by the western bank of Wuding River in Mizhi County, Shaanxi. Its eastern wall is about 1,150 feet (350 meters) long, and 13-16 feet (4-5 meters) high. The southern wall is about 1,310 feet (400 meters) long.


'Water Great Wall' of Song Dynasty

Hebei, the boundary of Northern Song and Liao, had low terrain and many rivers and lakes. The water channels were dredged and connected, and many trenches were dug. Therefore, the nomadic cavalries on horseback could not proceed when they reached the crisscrossing rivers. Also, trees were densely planted at the border. Obviously, it was more advantageous for Song's infantries than Liao's cavalries to fight in a forest. The trees worked as a defense, while the water channels served as the moat. They formed the special 'Great Wall' of Song.


Stone Great Wall Relics

The Song Dynasty also built traditional stone walls along the border. Notably, three grand passes were erected in Hebei to stop the Liao troops, namely Waqiao Pass, Yijin Pass, and Yukou Pass. As time went on, these passes have collapsed and disappeared. The Yijin Pass in Bazhou of Hebei has been reconstructed. In addition, there are some stone wall relics in Shanxi, Hubei, and Henan.

 Relics in Shanxi: It runs from Qingcheng Mountain in Kelan County in the west, and ends at Heyeping Mountain in Wuzhai County. The wall was built on the ruins of Northern Qi Wall and Sui Dynasty Great Wall. It is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) long. The well-preserved part is about 14 feet (4.2 meters) high, and 7 feet (2.1 meters) wide on the top. The remaining parapets are some 1 foot (0.3 meter) high. Some emplacement sites, tombstones, and ancient weapons have been found.

 Relics in Hubei and Henan: The wall lies at the boundary between Yuanchong Town in Laohekou of Hubei Province and Dengzhou and Xichuan of Henan Province. It is said that the wall was built by the great Southern Song general Yue Fei after defeating the Jin troops. The wall is 19 miles (30 kilometers) long, 10 feet (3 meters) high, and 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) wide. Watchtowers and beacon towers can be found at the turning points of the wall. Five fortresses are connected by the wall, including Sanjianshan, Yanzhai, Yujiazhai, Dashanzhai, and Zhulianshan. Zhulianshan Fortress is the commanding center of the wall. It has an altitude of 1,541 feet (469.7 meters). The trenches, barracks, and tracks inside the fortress can still be figured out. There are over 60 sites of stone houses. Beside the fortress is a flat opening area, about 3,281 feet (1,000 meters) long and 492 feet (150 meters) wide. This could be the drill ground of Song troops.

- Last updated on Jul. 15, 2019 -
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