Guards of the 9 Gates (Beijing) 九门步军 1. Duties

9 immensely fortified gates. 9 locks to the racially segregated, racially "pure" imperial capital. Manchu blood guarding  their eternal Manchu lords. These were the duties of the guards of the 9 Gates of Beijing. The Commander of the Nine Gates (Chinese: 九门步军; pinyin: jiǔmén tídū lit. "Nine Gates Infantry Commander") was a highly esteemed military office during China's Qing dynasty (1644–1912.) The officer holding this appointment was in charge of safeguarding and monitoring traffic, capturing and detaining criminals, and overseeing the opening and closing of the nine gates of the inner city of old Beijing. Above all, he was also charged with the most extensive defense system in Imperial China- the Inner City of Beijing.

The Inner and Outer City of Beijing marked along with the 9 Gates of the Inner City. The Inner city wall was 24 kilometres (15 mi) long and 15 metres (49 ft) high, with a thickness of 20 metres (66 ft) at ground level and 12 metres (39 ft) at the top. It had nine gates. This wall stood for nearly 530 years, but in 1965 it was removed to allow construction of the Beijing Subway. The Outer City walls had a perimeter of approximately 28 kilometres (17 mi). The entire enclosure of the Inner and Outer cities formed a "凸" shape with a perimeter of nearly 60 kilometres (37 mi).


The Inner city wall had nine gates and a tower at each corner. There were three sluice gates, 172 enemy sighting towers, and 11,038 battlements. Immediately outside the city walls were deep moats 30 to 60 metres in width. The nine gates were Zhengyang Gate, Chongwen Gate, Anding Gate, Fucheng Gate, Xizhi Gate, Dongzhi Gate, Xuanwu Gate, Desheng Gate, and Chaoyang Gate.

Beijing's Inner city wall had gate towers that sat atop rectangular platforms 12 to 13 metres high integrated into the city walls. Each gate had a entranceway, centred under the middle of its gate tower platform, had two red wooden gate panes that opened outwards. Iron bulbs were fitted on the exterior side of the gates and gilt copper bulbs on the interior side. When the gates were closed they were locked with giant tree-trunk-sized wooden beams.


The defence system of Beijing during the Ming and Qing dynasties included city walls, moats, gate towers, barbicans, watchtowers, corner guard towers, enemy sight towers, and military encampments both outside and inside the city. The mountains immediately north of the city and the interior Great Wall sections on those mountain ranges also acted as a defensive perimeter. The Inner City gate towers were built during the reign of Ming Emperor Yingzong who was responsible for the Tumu Crisis (1435–1449.) During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the principal defensive weapons were massed firelocks wallguns, bronze cannons, along with bows and arrows.

During the Ming dynasty, troops under permanent encampment in and around Beijing were called Jingjun or Jingying ("Capital Troops"). During the Yongle era (1402–1424), they were organised into three groups, called Wujunying 五軍营 (lit. "Five Barracks Division" consisting of the majority of the army), Sanqianying 三千营 ("The Three Thousand Division," consisting of mercenary and allied Mongol troops), and the legendary Shenjiying 神机营 (lit. "Divine Machine Corp" consisting of troops using advanced firearms).

The three ying were further divided into 72 wei, organised into five camps, these were collectively lumped in as the Wujunying 五軍营. The majority of the Jingjun capital troops were headquartered outside of west Deshengguan. Some camped in the rural districts of the capital area, huddled underneath the interior of the Great Wall due north of the city.

During the Tumu Crisis in 1449 where the extremely inept Ming Zhengtong Emperor had his imperial guard destroyed and was personally captured by a Mongol raiding force, nearly the entirity of the five camps of the Jingjun were destroyed, a total loss of some 200,000+ men. The imperial government promptly changed the organisational structure of the force, bringing approximately 100,000 well-trained troops from several different camps into one centralized supergroup of 12 battalions. These were commanded from within the Inner City. Drilling and training fields outside of the city walls could also be used as temporary encampments. The original 3 guard groups, Wujunying 五軍营, Sanqianying 三千营, and Shenjiying 神机营 were converted to guard units explicitly in charge of protecting the Imperial city and the Forbidden city.

Later the Imperial guards were joined by the secret police agencies of the Jinyiwei 锦衣卫, (lit. "brocade clad guards")- elite bodyguards and secret police that directly served the Ming Emperors. and the Tengxiangwei, whose directors also oversaw the guard commanders. A guard post in the Imperial city called "Hongpu" was formed.


In 1629, Manchu troops first attempted to attack Beijing, and in 1644, the Ming peasant rebel Li Zicheng's troops crushed all of the imperial forces near the capital and laid siege to Beijing. The guard troops atop the city walls used cannons extensively during both sieges. Unfortunately for them in 1644, because of the universal chaos that rippled across the entire empire, there were none to stop them from breaching into the capital and sack the entire city. Almost all of the Jinyiwei guards to a man were slain by the rebels when they breached into the city and the last Ming Emperor commited suicide by hanging himself on a hill behind the Forbidden City. The Ming dynasty ended with the taking of Beijing and the death of its last sitting Emperor.

However Li's peasant rebels would in turn be swiftly crushed by the Manchus who took advantage of the lack of leadership in northern China and marched directly into the ravaged Beijing. Because the city by then had lacked both a leadership to rally to and any significant capacity to resist the invading army (and also because Prince Dorgon of the Manchus wrote to the citizens under the pretext that they had only came as "avengers" for the slain Ming emperor and to punish the traitorous rebels) the Manchus were welcomed in without contention as "liberators." The Manchus would proclaim a new dynasty: the Qing within the defunct Ming capital.

The Inner City (referred sometimes by the westerners as the "Tatar City") served to racially segregate Beijing's Manchu and Mongolian overlords from the outside world. The native Han of China were forbidden to live in the inner city and was relegated to live only in the Outer City, only Han concubines and officials on duties were admitted to the Inner City. The Forbidden City was reserved only for the royal family, palace servants, the harem, and the imperial guards.


The office and the duties of the 九門提督, or Guard of the 9 Gates was established around 1644. Like the position of their immediate Ming predecessors, The appointment holder's responsibilities were primarily to oversee the city's defenses and security within the city. Unlike that of their Ming predecessors though, there was a new component that was added: Race. Though the Qing had came under the auspices as liberators and restorers of law and order. No one was under the illusion that they were intervening on purely moral reasons. As semi- nomadic (and foriegn alien) conquerors, the Manchus realized very early on that they were a very small minority of warriors lording a very disgruntled (and horribly starved) populace. 


To ensure their position as overlords of all of China, the Manchus would need security and a very tightly knit and trusted core to exert their supremacy. In a move that is reminiscent of 20th Century South Africa's racial segregation laws, the Inner City of Beijing was relegated only to the Manchus and their steppe allies- such as the Mongols, while the native Han population was ejected to the Outer City. The commander of the 9 Gates would be tasked with enforcing this policy. Throughout the history of the Qing dynasty, the position was always held by Manchus rather than Han Chinese.


On a military level the guard commander was also in charge of the infantry divisions of the Manchu (Eight Banners) army around Beijing the guards stationed at each of the nine gate. The infantry units were all stationed at specific locations within Beijing's inner city to defend that particular place. The patrol units maintained security in the outer city and strategic places in Beijing's outskirts. At the same time, he was also the commander of the north and south patrol units from the Green Standard Army.

During the Qing dynasty, Beijing's defence forces mainly relied on the Xiaoqiying, who were scattered in encampments within the Inner city, then mainly inhabited by Manchus. They were organised into Eight Banners. Each banner had an office hall, several troop barracks, a patrol station, and a warehouse. Eight Banner guard troops in charge of protecting the imperial leisure parks were camped in the area around the Old Summer Palace and Fragrant Hills.


The officer's judicial responsibilities included night patrol, fire fighting, security checks of civilians, the apprehension and arrest of criminals, and prison keeping (nearly all of the 9 great gates each has a small jail to detain prisoners and 1-2 temples for sinners and wayfarers to pray.) It should be pointed out that in any given days the guards as well as the guard captains of each gate has to examine over thousands of not half a million dignitaries, merchants, and officials traversing between the Inner and Outer Cities. The guard commander was also responsible for the direct security of the Forbidden City.

The city gates were closed at night; no one was allowed in or out unless special permission was given (one exception was the carts that continually brought spring water from Mount Yuquan). The city streets had guards on constant patrol at night. Loud and disruptive behaviour was forbidden. Some streets had barricades erected at night to keep traffic away. The city walls normally had no soldiers on station, day or night. Most lived under the walls in encampments, with a few doing night shifts at gate towers, watchtowers, and enemy sight towers. Only when there was danger of enemy attack were soldiers stationed atop the city walls.


Here is where the duties of the Guard Commander truly shined. Before we should continue it would be interesting to raise Theseus's paradox: or Thesueus' Ship, where a ship on a long voyage had to take off old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, and raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains...fundamentally the same object.

The walls of the Inner city had a perimeter of 24 kilometres. The northwestern section lacked a vertex; on a map it looks as if the corner had been bitten off. According to scientific investigations done with remote sensing, this area originally had city walls, built in swamps and wetlands. For over 500 years, the wall and moat systems were well maintained during the Ming and Qing dynasties, right up until 1900. No holes were allowed to be drilled, no arches made. Any damage—even if just a single missing brick—was swiftly reported to the authorities and repaired. For over 500 years, the "Wall of Inner City" was repaired and resurrected by the gate's guardians.

For over 500 years, the wall and moat systems were well maintained during the Ming and Qing dynasties, right up until 1900. No holes were allowed to be drilled, no arches made. Any damage—even if just a single missing brick—was swiftly reported to the authorities and repaired. For over 500 years, the "Wall of Inner City" was repaired and resurrected by the gate's guardians.

Join us in Part 2 for a detailed description of the 
9 massive gates as well as the history of 
some of the most famous of the 
9 Gate's guard commanders.

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➢ ☯ Stephen D Rynerson
➢ ☯ SRS (Mr. U)


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