GoKunming Articles

Old Kunming: Beimen Jie and the tortoise tail

By in Features on

Editor's note: Every week for the remainder of 2008 GoKunming will publish photos from the collection of Auguste François (1857-1935), who served as French consul in south China between 1896 and 1904, during which he spent several years in Kunming. The photos have been provided by Kunming resident and private collector Yin Xiaojun (殷晓俊). GoKunming thanks Yin Xiaojun for providing us a glimpse of Kunming at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Year: 1900
Subject: North gate (beichengmen, 北城门) of Kunming's old city wall
Location: Present-day Beimen Jie (北门街), just outside of Yunnan University's east gate, facing south


Built during the Ming Dynasty and demolished centuries later in 1952, Kunming's city wall is but a memory for those old enough to have seen it. For the rest of us, the wall lives on primarily in the form of street names.

Qingnian Lu, or 'Youth Road', was named after the youth who were hired to demolish the massive edifice. The wall was indeed an impressive architectural feat – it stood 13 meters high and contained an area roughly equivalent to that surrounded today by the first ring road.

The wall lives on today in more than just memory, even some laws and regulations are based upon the old wall. For example, sanlunche - the ubiquitous three-wheeled carts seen throughout Kunming and the rest of China – are not allowed to enter the area within the old city wall (chengnei, 城内) until after 6:00 pm.

As with many Chinese cities, the ancient practice of geomancy known as fengshui played a major role in Kunming's initial layout, and the city wall was a major part of that. Below is a highly detailed map drawn by French Consul Auguste François in 1900.

In this map of Kunming within the wall, certain Kunming landmarks still standing today are visible – Cuihu (Green Lake) is situated in the northwest quadrant, the opposing gates of Jinma Biji Fang are located just north of the south gate and the Dade Temple twin pagodas are located in the northeast quadrant.

With a little imagination, one can see the shape of a tortoise facing south – which is the idea behind the layout of Kunming and its wall. The photo at the top of this post is of the wall's north gate, which was supposed to be the tortoise's 'tail'.

Situated between what is now Yuanxi Lu and Yunnan University's east gate, the area to the left (east) of the gate in the photo is Yuantong Shan, where Yuantong Temple and the Kunming Zoo are located today. To the right (west) is present-day Yunnan University.

In 1900, the area outside of the north gate was much less pleasant than within the gate – the area primarily served as a dumping ground for garbage, as well as a burial ground.

The image below is a photograph taken in July, 2008 by GoKunming – 108 years after François recorded the north gate. The north gate is gone, replaced by the Yunnan Provincial Song and Dance Ensemble (云南省歌舞剧院). The only reminder that the imposing north gate once looked out from this hilltop is the name of the street - Beimen Jie, or 'North Gate Street'

Related articles:

Auguste François, Yin Xiaojun and Kunming at the end of the Qing Dynasty

Yuantong Temple's secret colonial past

Old Kunming: Eastern and Western Pagodas

© Copyright 2005-2023 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Share this article


There is actually one last segment of the wall still intact. It stretches along the back of the restaurants in wenhua xiang that abut the Yunda foreign students dorm. The wall can be seen from some of those dorm rooms, and was visible from the street a few years ago when many of those restaurants were rebuilt.

Login to comment