Looking for the Tartar Wall of Beijing

Beijing Tarvel Report Tartar Wall Garden

Peach trees with southeast archery tower (Fox Tower) in background... At least, I think they were peaches?

If you read my post on the Qianmen Gatehouse, then you know that most of the original Tartar wall that surrounded Beijing was taken down in the late 1960s.

I did know, though, that part of that wall still remained.  I was on a hunt to find it.

A Little about the Tartar Wall

The Tartar Wall protected the Ming Dynasty imperial capital for 550 years.  Being built in the early 1400s, it was a massive wall of rammed clay.  In 1436, it was encased in bricks, looking much as it does today.  Reaching a height of 60 feet, it had a broad 40 foot top walkway.

For entry and exit, it had 9 huge gates.  Impressive gatehouses, such as the one at Qianmen, stood above them like wooden decorated sentinels.  It must have been impressive to see in its prime.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Beijing wanted to have all the transportation options that any capital city had.  In this case, that included a subway.  Just about all modern large capitals had a subway for moving people in and out of the city without clogging the roads.  Plus, it had the extra functions of bomb shelter and transportation not affected by weather.  Sounded like a fair trade.  After all, it was in the way of progress.

My Connection to the Tartar Wall

In the blog posts about the Foreign Legations Quarter and the Qianmen Gatehouse, the Tartar Wall is an important part.  Chester M Biggs, Jr., here at the start of World War II, was my friend, and he actually walked this wall many times.  As we were both US Marines, I wanted to honor him by seeing what was left of the Foreign Legation area that he knew.

Also, during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the US Marines were an integral part of the defense of the Wall section above the Legation Quarter.  Even though that part of the wall did not exist anymore, I wanted to see what was left of this piece of Marine Corp history.  Now, let’s find that wall.

Walking Next to the Remaining Wall

Beijing Travel Report Tartar Wall Marriott

Our starting point for the north end. The JW Mariott Hotel on Beijing Station East Street.

The wall remnant is located directly east and south of the new Beijing Train Station.  The section from just north of the southeast archery corner tower to the previous location of the old Hat ta men Gate stands as a testament to the ancient barrier of Beijing.

I and my private guide, Mr Brian, were taken by my driver, Mr Jing, to the JW Marriot Hotel at the Wall, the northern starting point of the remaining wall segments.  The Chinese have made a park on the outside of the remaining wall.  This park follows the base of the wall south to the tower, and then west to the previous location of the first major gate, Hat Ta Men.

It is an easy stroll of about 1.1 miles; take your time and enjoy it.

Beijing Travel Report Tartar Wall Southwest Archery Tower

Someone get that fat guy out of the way! He's blocking the southeast archery tower view!

As you reach the southeast corner of the city wall, you will be in front of the huge corner archery tower.  If you step out onto the pedestrian bridge at the corner, you can get a picture with the tower behind you.  Stop here and get a picture of yourself and this iconic piece of Beijing’s history.

Please note that the Foreign Legation foreigners knew this archery tower as Fox Tower.  Today, it is called the Dongbianmen Watchtower.

Turning and continuing west, the park opens before you with a large expanse of grass.  There is a small garden of (peach?) trees here with places to sit.  This is a favorite place for citizens to walk their song birds in the morning and fly their kites on windy days.  They were flying them as Brian and I walked. It was restful to see some of the Chinese people enjoying themselves.

Just by here is the wharf entrance through the wall where grain was unloaded from the parallel Grand Canal.  Now, this opening is the entrance to an art museum, Red Gate Gallery,  Cost is 10 yuan for the entrance fee.  You will have access to the 1st, 3rd, and 4th levels of the tower itself.  The 3rd level has an exhibit of the history of the wall and the gates of Beijing.  On the 4th level, you can get a great view of the city. Thanks to Brian Wallace at Red Gate Gallery for giving me these extra details.

We did not have time to go in, so we continued on our way.  Next time I will go experience the tower and gallery for you.

Beijing Travel Report Tartar Wall Looking West

Looking west along the Tartar Wall

I had wanted to go on top of the wall, but my guide, Brian, informed me that there was no access to the top.  Well, I had seen so much, and it was all so awesome, that I was able to contain my disappointment.

Duh!  The Wall Can Be Walked On!

ADDED 07-09-2012 – Brian at Red Gate Gallery informed me that a couple of hundred meters of the top wall was accessible to walk on.  It even has a tea shop and a coffee/sandwich shop.  :O  Access it through the gate at the bottom of the tower.  Brian also wants me to point out that both the wall and the tower are excellent vantage points for train tourists to watch trains coming into and out of the Beijing Train Station.  The wall parallels it.

Start a Blog? Are You Kidding Me?

That is when I thought that, if I became a famous travel writer, maybe they would let me climb it next time.It was the first spark of the idea for this blog.  (Now I know that I can walk on the top of the wall, easily.  Fame not required.  Duh!)

My guide and I finished our visit to the Tartar Wall of Beijing.  The remains are still massive, the tower impressive, and the walk in the park calming.  What more could I ask for?

Additional Resources

ADDED 07/03/2012 – How This Relates to “Midnight In Peking” – Laura alerted me in the comments to the book by Paul French named “Midnight in Peking”.  The entrance shown in the video above is the location where the mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found in 1937, as relayed in the novel.  This novel is based on papers from the real case about a murder of a schoolgirl in Peking, and the unrelenting investigation pursued by her father.  Excellent walking audio notes and map here.

ADDED 07/03/2012 – Information on the Red Gate Gallery – The Red Gate Gallery, located inside the tower, is the oldest Chinese contemporary art gallery in Beijing.  It has been there 21 years as of 2012.  Go by and say hi to Brian Wallace, and let him know that you saw his name here.  Here is the latest information.

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7 thoughts on “Looking for the Tartar Wall of Beijing

  1. Thanks for the post. I just started to read Midnight in Peking and your blog taught me about the Tartar wall.

  2. Thanks, Laura. Glad it was of help to you.

    As my friend was there in 1940-41, that area holds a special place in my interest. Have not read “Midnight in Peking” yet. I need to get that from Amazon as it will help with my map reconstruction of the Foreign Legation.

    I have just listened to the walking audio notes, and added some notes for future readers. These include indicating Fox Tower and the base entrance of the tower, the location where Pamela’s body was found. I also added a link to the excellent walking notes and map over at Penguin Press.

    Again, thanks for bring this to my attention. 🙂


  3. My father Thomas “Ed” Kendley, was in Peking in 1936. He is a living link to what it was like! Yesterday he drove out to my house to bring i us a delicious roast that he had cooked. You need to know that he is approaching 96 years of age!
    He sat with me and spoke at great length of the Tartar wall and his wishes to know if it is still there. He talked of a ramp that the Chinese charged up during the Boxer Rebellion. He said he used to sit in a swing that was attached to a large tree growing on the top of the wall and what a pleasant place this wall was. He also mentioned many names carved into the soft stones on the wall. He still has a few photos from those days and he has many more memories of being a China Marine. I am so thankful to get to hear them.
    Steve Kendley
    Polson, Montana

  4. Steve, treasure him as long as you can. China Marines are special in the Marine Corps.

    I had hoped to find the barracks intact, and I had some rumor that it had been turned into an apartment building. But, no. It was demolished to make room for the grand boulevard going around Tianamen Square. You could have literally thrown a baseball and hit the main gate to Peking. Considering the baseball field was on that side of the barracks, I would not have been surprised if some marines actually did that. 🙂

    Glad you found this site valuable.


  5. My father was stationed in China from 1915 to 1919 as a US. Marine. He often spoke of the Tartar Wall and the Great Wall.. I pics of him on on the Great Wall and on guard duty on the Tartar Wall.
    He was there after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 as a multinational piece keeping force… But I’m not able to find much info on the Marine during this period of time, 1915-1919. I have so many questions. My father was 60 years old when I was born in 1951. He past away in 1975 before I knew I took interest in his past.. Any info you have would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank You, Steve Owens

  6. Steve (Owens), the one book that I have direct knowledge of is the one that Chester published.

    Check it out here:

    Also check out these pages:

    I would be curious to see your Dad’s pictures, if that would be ok. I am trying to establish locations inside the Foreign Legation, and the development of the Marine Compound. The US Embassy was moved after the destruction caused by the Boxers. He would have been there within a decade of the move of the US Embassy, so his pictures may show some of that.

  7. Dear Mr. Edwards:

    Having stumbled across your Beijing travel blog and site, I was pleased to find the location and remnants of the old Tartar Wall. Having lived for short periods in Beijing and visited there subsequently, I was disconcerted when I read about the Tartar Wall in an outdated not-so-easy-to- find book written in the early 20th Century by Louise Jordan Miln, which I found for a dollar in some funky used bookstore some years back while wandering around Los Angeles. I read the book which seems to be a descriptive first person account of the last days of the Empress Cixi, the problems connected with the foreign legations and European residents of those times, and the end of dynastic China. But until that moment, I had not heard the Tartar Wall mentioned nor had I ever crossed its portals when living in Beijing. I researched it a bit but could find little information on it at that time.

    So now I have your more complete reference and location to visit next time I am in Zhong-guo!
    Also, I highly recommend “It Happened in Peking” for a rather entertaining and authentic accounting of those times in China if you are interested. it is obvious that Ms. Jordan Miln spent a lot of time there and did indeed live there, writing this and many other books about China which were quite popular during the first half of the 20th century.

    Thanks so much for your adventures and information,
    Susan Cofer Jones, in Guanajuato, Mexico

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