23 November 2012

Spolia with Chinese Characteristics

I cannot say what caught my eye first. There was something unusual about the size of the exposed bricks; equally, there was something familiar about the color. I started tutoring a student in an office on jiefang lu that she borrowed for the purpose on Sundays while she was in Nanjing. I took my camera on the second visit to document the repurposed pieces of the Nanjing city wall.
Modern utilities drilled into historic bricks

I don't think that the businesses nor residents very much benefited from living in 600 year old embossed bricks. The condition of the buildings is in a fairly low state of maintenance, but that is common for structures built during the Mao era. I have seen this construction method practiced before in Nanjing. Mortar is laid over a brick core to give an impression of uniformity.
Exposed bricks
 On one wall for some confounding reason, brick fascia were then laid atop the mortar to give the impression of a brick wall!
The residents don't have much incentive to put much money into maintaining these structures since they have no legal title to them and are subject to eviction whenever the government might decide to follow through on any development plans. For 600 year old bricks, there is probably no rush. In the meantime, the bricks undergo whatever the residents decide they want to do to get on with their lives, seemingly indifferent their buildings' origins.
My best guess is that these structures were built some time after 1954 when it became fashionable to demolish the remnants of old China in order to help develop new China. Sources of accurate information are hard to come by. I don't want to speculate too much about the motives. Peter Hessler in Country Driving taught me that there is not even a university scholar anywhere in the world who specializes in the Great Wall. All the work is done as secondary research or by volunteer researchers. It ought to not come as any surprise, therefore, that there is little published about the other great Chinese walls.
Hessler also recounts the feelings of remorse among villagers who demolished a fortified gate in the same era to reuse the stones in other projects. Their regrets came about when they considered not what they had done to their legacy but that they didn't have a tourist attraction to exploit. (Country Driving p146)
Old, new, and reused
Typical maker's stamps
There have been many efforts to make better use of the Nanjng city walls as an urban asset. A
section new Zhonghuamen was recently opened for walking along the topside.
Another section has been rebuilt, Yuejiang Lou Park. It's not at all clear what the present construction represents. It is not a rebuilding although I can find no evidence to show what condition the wall was in before 2011.
The signs on the wall hint to this effect.

It is evident that the original Ming wall was located in this part of the city. The wall rebuilding involved both original bricks along with modern replicas in a similar style.
An subtle acknowledgement of the reconstruction
Similarly stamped bricks, 2001

A second style of modern brick

Markings left from the pug mill extrusion
Sloppy mortar joints with original brick

White surfaces likely due to historic use of lime mortar

Yifeng Men at one entrance of Yuejiang Lou Park

Spalling likely exacerbated by incorrect mortar

Additional bricks were used in the reconstruction to supplement the originals as they were incorporated into the new design and functions, the upper pedestrian walkway as well as public toilets.
Archway windows in public toilet addition.

Even sloppier mortar repair

Juncture showing new and old brickwork and mortar joints

Entrance to the promenade up from the public toilets, blocked by a rusty gate

Subsidence above the public toilets near the juncture between old and new construction

Woody plants frequently establish roots in joints

Masons reusing common red bricks
It's frustrating to witness the level of deterioration on this section of wall. The sloppy and irresponsible repairs as well as the lack of invasive plant removal suggest that the monies obtained from entrance fees are being siphoned off and not adequately spent on any sort of routine maintenance, especially since Chinese masons are generally quite capable and the Chinese are experienced wallbuilders. The Nanjing city wall in spite of its importance to the reputation and history of the former imperial capital suffers from neglect due to a common problem that plagues most Chinese buildings: monies are spent on construction and the subsequent fanfare, but little concern is paid to ongoing maintenance.
And yet while gradual and irreversible deterioration is an acceptable norm, symbolic damage demands an immediate and public apology. Zhonghuamen is an impressive Ming relic as it still shows much of the original, defensive triple gateway arrangement. Its ramparts have been recently restored to pedestrian traffic and two impressive archways have been rebuilt to bridge the massive ruptures that were cut into both sides of the defensive gate arrangement. This makes the claim by the Nanjing preservation bureau quite risible because the constant stream of heavy vehicular traffic around the gate does far more damage than any one Italian sportscar. As for the tire treads on the surface, the 80,000 RMB user fee would more than clean up any of the rubber marks. The outrage has much less to do with concern over a cultural artifact than class resentment regarding a status symbol that only the plutocrats can ever aspire to own.