Memorial Archways

The memorial archways of old Beijing were tall-roofed gateways that towered over the city's streets. Originally erected as memorials to decorate the streets as well as entrances to temples, parks, officials' residences and tombs.

Memorial archways were first built in Beijing in the Yuan Dynasty. When the capital was rebuilt under Emperor Yongle (reigned 1403-1424), every major road was embellished with number of these archways. There were once as many as 57 in the city, the most famous being the Dongdan (Eastern Single) Archway, the Xisi (Western Four) archways, the Eastern and Western Chang' an Boulevard archways, the Qianmen archways, the Dongjiaomin Lane Fuwen (Disseminating Literature) Archway and the Chongwenmen (Gate of Exalted Literature) Road Stone Archway. In 1914, the Luzhong (Maintain Moderation) Memorial Archway was built in Gong' an (Public Security) Street and the Daohe (Remain in Peace) Archway was built in Sifabu (Judiciary) Street to the east and west of Tian'anmen Gate.

The Dongsi archways were built at a crossroad known in the Yuan Dynasty as Crossroad Street. Archways were erected over each of the four roads, the northern and southern archways bearing the inscription "Great City Street." In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the north-south road running through these two gates was still called Dashi (Great City) Street and the four gates became known as Dongsi (Eastern Four). The eastern gateway was inscribed with the words "Luren" (Perform Benevolent Deeds) and the western gateway with "Xingyi" (Perform Righteous Deeds) In 1699, a house in the neighborhood caught fire, spreading to all four gateways, which were also destroyed. They were later rebuilt in the same style.

The white marble archway over Chongwenmen Road was built at the end of Xizongbu Alley to commemorate the death of the German Minister Baronvon Kettler, who was killed at the time of the Yihetuan Movement (known in the West ad the "Boxer Rebellion") in 1900. With the signing of a treaty in 1919, Qing authorities agreed to construct an archway over the spot. The archway was demolished in 1919 following Germany' s defeat in World War I.

Archways differ widely in construction. The number of openings could vary between one and five, while the high-ridged roofs with their upturned eaves above the archways might number as many as nine or 10. They were built of wood, stone or wood and brick. The supporting columns were designed in two distinct forms, some of which extend beyond the roofs overhead while others do not.

The Dongdan Archway was destroyed in 1900 when the Eight-Power Allied Forces attacked Beijing, and the Xidan Archway was pulled down when trolley cars were installed in Beijing. All the other archways mentioned above were still standing in 1949. As the population of the capital grew and the pace of reconstruction increased, these centuries-old structures became a hindrance to traffic. In 1954 many of them were taken down as part of a project to widen the city roads and ensure traffic safety. Several archways were removed to Taoranting (Joyous Pavilion) Park where they are now on display.

At the present time, the only memorial archways to be found within the confines of the former city walls are a pair with a single opening and three roofs situated on Chengxian Road near the Guozijian (former Imperial College). Outside the city near the Chaoyangmen (Facing the Sun) Gate, a glazed tile archway with three openings and seven roofs still stands, while on the made of wood. Many other memorial archways, such as those built in tombs, parks, palaces and temples, are carefully preserved as examples of traditional Chinese architecture.

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