In Search of the Brick Kilns and the Smoke There Used to Be
Reporters: Wang Jiangang, Sun Bing, Sun Jianglong, Zhang Na, Lu Bo, Haigangqu TV channel, Yuan Yunpeng
Intro: In search of the treasure left by time and history. This is the serial report, “I love my hometown - generous gifts from history”. The existing Great Wall in Qinhuangdao is 338 kilometres long, most of which is located between the mountains. The city walls, passes, terraces, watch over towers, and beacon towers have magnificent complete structures. It is one of the most outstanding areas in the Ming Great Wall. In 2002, the ruins of the brick kilns used to build the Great Wall were discovered in Banchangyu in Zhucaoying Town, Haigang district, which awakened the memory of olden days and provided valuable evidence for the architectural study of the Great Wall. Today, the program “I love my hometown - generous gifts from history” enters the ruins of the Great Wall Brick Kiln in Banchangyu, and explores the past and present of the Great Wall.
Main text: The Banchangyu Great Wall Brick Kiln Sites are located in the Donggou, Xigou, Xishan and Houtang areas of the Banchangyu village. There are now 217 brick kilns that have been discovered. It is the earliest, largest, best preserved and most completed group of kilns in China. The discovery of the brick kilns is quite remarkable.
The location where I am now is a piece of cultivated land in the Xigou area of Banchangyu. In this area of the mountains, it is very rare to have such a piece of flat land. Usually, there should be a fertile field here. But this is not the case.
The villagers of Banchangyu said that this place that seems very fertile is actually a low-yielding field.
Villager Zhao Changlu: Crops cannot grow, and the trees cannot live here. After the rain, people can walk immediately on the field because the soil here does not hold water.
Crops do not grow well, and mysteries happen occasionally here.
Villager Wang Yunlong: seedlings stop growing at a metre or so. Actually, you can see the pits in the field. No one knows why crops do not grow well here.
Hao Sanjin, chairman of the Qinhuangdao Society of the Great Wall of China, is an expert of Great Wall research. In the winter of 2002, he led the archaeologists to Banchangyu to investigate. After hearing the story of the strange pit, he decided to do some exploration. He certainly did not expect to discover the Great Wall brick kilns that had been sleeping for more than 400 years.
Hao Sanjin, chairman of the Qinhuangdao Society of the Great Wall of China: this soil is crude, but arable land should be composed of mellow soil. The discovery of the kilns also proves that this field of more than 100 mu (about 66666.67 m2) consist of four layers, and the first layer on surface is uneven.
The archaeologists continued to drill and found all the places where crop circles were found, which turned out to have brick kilns underneath. That helps explain the reason why crops didn’t grow.
Hao Sanjin asked: Why? Because there are kilns underneath the field, they absorb water so the field gets dry shortly after the rain, therefore no crops grow there.
With the excavation work, the number of brick kilns reached an astonishing 217. In order to protect the brick kilns, most of them were re-buried after a simple excavation, with their location recorded, and only two representative brick kilns were retained for protected display.
Han Dong: With a special authorisation from the cultural relics department, we came to the top of the brick kiln to feel it at close range. How did they make bricks at that time?
Last year, a British archaeologist wanted to photograph the construction process of the Great Wall. Therefore, the research was done at the Banchangyu scenic spot, tested according to the excavated structure of the ancient brick kiln and the process of baking of the Great Wall brick. Xu Guohua, a Banchangyu villager, participated in the activity.
Xu Guohua: After the loess had arrived, we made bricks and put them in the kiln. Bricks should be closely arranged and baked at 800 degree Celsius. After the baking process, we drench the bricks with water so they will turn green.
After the green bricks were made, according to Linyu Xian Zhi (Annals of Linyu County), in the fifth year of Longqing(1567-1572), that is, in 1571, the commander of Linyu County, Qi Jiguang (1528-1588) ordered the soldiers who were stationed near the Great Wall of Banchangyu to take action and restore this part of the Great Wall by adding bricks. Then they added 50 new watch towers built by bricks also.
Han Dong: This is a part of the Great Wall in Banchangyu. It is on the top of a hill with an altitude of more than 800 metres. There were cliffs on both sides and I am very tired after the climb. So, imagine how difficult it was to transport the bricks onto the hill and to build the Great Wall, watch towers, and beacon towers in ancient times when there weren’t any modern transportation tools. That is why people say that the Great Wall was built with blood and flesh.
At the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Qing cavalry repeatedly disturbed the border, and the conflicts continued from Shanhaiguan to Juyongguan in Beijing. Therefore, the construction of the Great Wall was not stopped, and the kiln fire was not extinguished until the foundation of the Qing Dynasty. Then it came to an abrupt end. The Qing Dynasty was a united country, and the Great Wall, originally used to resist the invasion of northern nomads, lost its function. In the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression 300 years later, the Chinese army also relied on the Great Wall to fight against the Japanese aggression, but the wall of the cold steel era could not stop the modern invaders.
After hundreds of years of wind erosion and wartime destruction, the majestic Great Wall was damaged. In recent years, villagers along the Great Wall and volunteers from urban areas have spontaneously taken action to protect the Great Wall. The government also initiated the Great Wall Protection and Maintenance Project. In Banchangyu alone, the government invested more than 12 million yuan to repair the Great Wall in 2014 and 2017. It took about two years to rebuild and repair 2,250 meters of the Great Wall and 6 watch towers.
Han Dong: The green bricks used in the maintenance of the Great Walls and the watch towers are all referenced to the shape of the Great Wall brick kilns, baked with wood, and then built with ancient methods, maintaining the original historical vicissitudes of the Great Wall. The ancient brick kilns that have been sleeping for 400 years are waking up in another way, and they will live on forever.