National Geographic : 1936 Feb
APPROACH TO PEIPING BY MAJOR JOHN W. THOMASON, JR., U. S. M. C. AL THE roads in farther Asia lead to Peking, and its name throughout the East is rich as Troy's. You may ap proach it along the imperial highway, from the southwest, over flagstones rutted by the cart wheels of a thousand years. The other end of that road is in istanbul; it was the route Marco Polo followed, visiting the Grand Khan in the courts of the sunrise. You may come down to the city, now called Peiping, from the north, through Kalgan gate in the Wall and Nankow Pass,* as the Tatar conquerors came, trotting on shaggy ponies behind their yak-tail stand ards. Or you may enter by the railroad, from the sea, as travelers arrive these latter days. In any case, nothing warns you of the city; nothing that you have heard prepares you. You proceed over a flat country, khaki-colored in winter, variegated green in summer, which looks the same in every direction. It is not that the view is without incident: every yard of land is cultivated, and people in blue coolie cloth, with their small industrious beasts, move like ants across it. Roads and footpaths connect group after group of huddled mud buildings, each unit behind its wall. SPIRITS OF THE DEAD SHELTERED FROM NORTH WINDS Punctuating the fields are mounds rang ing in size from very small humps to im pressive hillocks framed in striking archi tectural conceptions. These are graves, for the dead are not segregated in China. Trees stand in thinnish clumps and strag gling lines, trimmed thriftily of all super fluous branches, and there are dark clus terings of evergreens, planted in formal groves, to shield important ghosts from the rude north winds. Among the grave mounds and the vil lages you see tablets of remembrance, up right plinths of carved marble set upon immemorial tortoises, facing south; and shrines to gods and princes, long forgotten, standing starkly in the furrows. But each incident of landscape repeats itself to monotony, and there is a confusion, * See the National Geographic Society's Map of Asia, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1933. rather than a dearth, of landmarks. South and east the great sky borders the hollow land, and north and west the hills circle, their contours lifting sharp and brittle through the clear air, remote and incon sequent as painted scenery on a screen. Ahead, the horizon takes on regularity. A long gray wall, spaced by unusual towers, rises suddenly as thunder. Your road enters a malodorous suburb, and crosses a canal of yellow, viscous water, bordered by willow trees and washerwomen and popu lous with squadrons of clamant snow-white ducks. Complicated and violent smells assail the nostrils. Before you opens the dark cavern of a gate, where bored soldiers in gray uniforms, and police in dingy black, armed with rifles, watch a press of man traffic and animal traffic that flows without ceasing, to the accompaniment of unimag inable noise. You enter Peiping, and at the end of every vista stands a wall. There has been a city hereabouts for three thousand years. Historians locate a town of the Yin Dynasty, called Chi, on a site near the northwest corner of the pres ent Tatar city in the 12th century B. C. The Manchu Emperor, Chien Lung, marked the place where one of its gates stood with a tablet, which you may see to this day, on the rampart called the Mongol Wall, a short distance north of Peiping, beside the road to the Bell Temple. However, the mutations of Peiping's his tory have been many times told; volumes have been taken in the telling. THE GREAT WALLS OF THE CITY The Ming, which is to say, the Bright, Dynasty, built Peiping on a grand scale. Yung Lo, third emperor of the line, moved his court up from Nanking in the early fourteen-hundreds, and created a capital worthy of his greatness. The Bell Tower, which was in the center of Khanbaligh, visited by Marco Polo in the reign of Kublai Khan, stands now in the upper third of Peiping; and the Obser vatory is north of the present southeast angle. You can ride the line of Kublai's walls to the north, and they are formidable earthen ramparts; but goats graze upon the weed-grown mounds that were the guard towers on the gates.