Beacon Towers of Great Wall

Beacon Towers of Great Wall

Being the oldest and most effective original telegram, beacon towers are the most important component of the defensive project on the Great Wall. They are built continually to pass military messages. In ancient times, if intruders approached, soldiers on the wall would create smoke in the daytime and light a fire at night to warn their troops.

Constructional Structure:

The history of the beacon tower construction is earlier than the building of the Great Wall.. Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD) emphasized on the construction of beacon towers, in some sections, the successive towers even replaced the wall to form the defense system. As per the construction of the wall, they were built by using local materials according to the local conditions. In mountainous areas, they are built by laying pieces of stones and bricks. While in grassland and desert, they are of rammed-loam construction. The shape differ and are square, rectangular or round.

Constructional Type:

There are mainly three types of Great Wall. beacon towers. The first type is built on the wall. It is the fastest to pass military messages. If enemies came, soldiers would be maneuvered in shortest time and got ready to quickly fight. The second type is the one located inside the wall and connects the passes or garrisons. In early times, some towers even directly linked to the capital, for the convenience of alerting the court. The third is built some distance away from the wall, to watch the enemies' movements.

Defense System:

Beacon Towers of Great Wall

In peaceful days, the beacon tower of Great Wall. was the place where soldiers kept watch and animal dung and fire wood were saved. Soldiers raised sheep and cattle to eat and took their dung to burn, sometimes wolf dung was also used, and this is the reason why the beacon tower smoke is called "Langyan" (Wolves' smoke). While when war was coming, soldiers would light the fire wood to tell the next watch tower that dangers approached, so every watch tower would then get the message one after another until every soldier was fully alarmed and ready to fight.

A Legend about Beacon Tower

King You was the last King of the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC - 771 BC). He was a foolish and self-indulgent ruler. Baosi, the beautiful concubine whom he loved, was very solemn and never cracked a smile. King You asked people in and out of court for ideas to make her smile. However, none of their suggestions worked and the beauty still looked unhappy.

A court official named Guo Shifu then suggested that the King light the beacon towers all on Mt. Lishan. The towers had been used as warning signals against enemy attacks and to summon help. Fires or lanterns were used at night and smoke signals during the day. He assured the King that Baosi would smile when she saw that so many soldiers were fooled. The King agreed to try this plan. He took Baosi to Mt. Lishan, ordered his men to light the beacon towers and waited. When nearby rulers saw the flames in the sky, they thought the King was in danger and dispatched soldiers to his aid. King You then told them that it was only a joke. On seeing the disappointed soldiers scrambling to leave, Baosi burst into a smile. This made the king very happy. He rewarded Guo Shifu generously. The joke was repeated more than once.

Beacon Towers of Great Wall Beacon Towers of Great Wall

But as a Chinese saying goes, "sadness usually follows extreme happiness." In 771 BC, the northern tribe of Quan Rong invaded his country. The King, as usual, commanded his soldiers to light the towers, but by this time the other rulers had wised up and ignored his call for help. The king was killed and his beauty captured. The Western Zhou Dynasty collapsed and hence the legend of Great Wall beacon tower spread.

Related Link: First Pass under Heaven

Virtual Field Trip: The Great Wall of China

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