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Culture
5 Minutes Refresh...

Pailou

Beijing used to have more pailou (decorated archways) than any other city in the world. Apart from hutong and siheyuan, omnipresent pailou was the most characteristic structure of Old Beijing. But they have almost disappeared without a trace. Such famous downtown areas as Dongdan, Xidan, Dongsi and Xisi were all named after the pailou that used to be there, which few people know nowadays. In fact, their original names were respectively Dongdan Pailou, Dongxi Pailou, Xidan Pailou and Xisi Pailou. When the pailou were demolished, the word pailou was omitted. Also demolished were many pailou so familiar to old Beijing dwellers, such as the one on Zhengyangmen Avenue, the one on Eastern Chang'an Avenue, and the one on Western Chang'an Avenue.

The pailou has a long history, and came in a great variety of forms. Through ages it became a cultural phenomenon unique to China. Researchers found that its first appearance dates far back to the Zhou Dynasty. It was mentioned as hengmen in Book of Songs, which was compiled in the Spring and Autumn Period. The poem in which the word occurs was written between the early Zhou Dynasty to the middle of that period. That is to say, hengmen appeared no later than the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period. Composed of two columns and one horizontal beam, it was a primitive form of paifang. In an architectural complex, a pailou, though serving but for decoration, signifies the identity of the complex or a street, like the cover of a book or the face of a man. The pailou is a cultural symbol of Chinese architecture. As American sociologist Edward AlsworthRoss wrote in The Changing Chinese after his visit to Beijing in the late Qing Dynasty, wherever there were stones, you would see memorial arches striding across main roads along the way. Built under official approval, they were well known as pailou.

Incomplete statistics show that there used to be more than 300 well known pailou in Beijing, of which over 100 remain at scenic spots. Almost each of them has an interesting story.

Famous pailou included the one on Qianmen Avenue, the one on Eastern Chang’an Avenue, the one of Western Chang’an Avenue, the one in Dongjiaominxiang Lane (Legation Quarter in Peking), the one in Xijiaominxiang Lane, the one at Temple of Monarchs, and the one before Dagaoxuan Hall at Jingshan Front Street. They were demolished in the 1950s to make way for traffic. Most of the remaining pailou are located before the gates of temples. The one in Temple of Earth, for instance, has been re-lacquered.

The pailou in Zhongshan Park was originally located at the end of the lane of Western Headquarters at Dongdan and named Monument to Ketteler, who was the German ambassador to China. Ketteler was killed by Qing soldiers when the Eight-Power Allied Forces invaded China in 1900. The German government demanded the life of Empress Dowager Cixi or Emperor Guangxu, but finally consented to letting them have a memorial archway built by way of showing contrition. The agreement was written into the appendix to Xinchou Treaty (1901 Treaty ending the Boxer war). The archway way completed in 1903. When Germany lost WWI in 1918, Beijing took it down and moved it to Central Park, changing the inscription on its top to “Victory of Justice”. The name was changed to Archway of Guarding Peace in 1953, when the Peace Conference of the Asia-Pacific Region was convened in Beijing.

07-09-25 20:47
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