05-Jul-2008 -- A Surprise Hunt in Beijing
Veteran line-hunter, Rainer was in Beijing for a conference and also planning on a month long bicycle trip which eventually resulted in 23 confluence visits. We met up for a one-day bike tour through the back allies (Hutongs) of Beijing.
At the start of the ride, I told Rainer that we will also do a point-hunt during the day which brought on this puzzled look. As one of the most experienced line-hunter, Rainer has studied every confluence point in this part of China and he knew very well that there is no point inside the city of Beijing. The closet one, about 30 km away in the country side, is the only point of the entire Beijing municipality 40N–116E which has already been visited by both of us but in different years.
Rainer was pleasantly surprised when we biked to the famous Tiananman square in the afternoon, walked over it and reached a large bronze plaque underneath the Southern gate of the square, the "Zero Kilometer Marker" for all National Highways starting in Beijing.
Very fittingly, this location also marked the starting point of Rainer’s 3800 km bike ride towards the North-East of China using National Highway 102 as the first lag of this epic line-hunting trip.
The significance of the Zero Kilometer Highway Marker
This is a relatively new marker, officially inaugurated on September 27, 2006. In many ways, it has strong resemblance with the one at the Red Square in Moscow. Both are located at the most important public square of the country, and both have similar arrangements. However, the Beijing marker is a little more elaborate in design and its specific location has a long history of geographic significance.
Tiananmen square is the symbolic center of China. A marker had been located on the north-south axis of Beijing when it was reestablished as the capital of the Yuan Dynasty by Kublai Khan in 1271. At that time, Beijing was known as Da Du (大都) which means "Big Capital City". The Tianaman square and the Forbidden City were all part of the original royal complex surrounded by high wall. This marker is located at the entrance of the inner gate at the southern end of this former compound. The official name of this gate is Zheng Yang Men (正阳门) which is the counterpart of the famous northern gate of the square – Tian An Men (天安门).
I learned about the intention to install of this zero kilometer marker in April of 2006 in an article in the Beijing newspaper. After that, I have been searching for it but nobody knew anything about it. As it turned out, the actual installation did not happen until September 2006. I made my first visit in late October of 2006. Only until Rainer’s visit there is enough documentation to submit this as a special visit. A couple of the newspaper articles provide detailed explanations for the meaning of the various elements on the marker. Below is the English translation detailing the significance of the design:
The symbolic significance of "Zero Kilometer"/ "gods of the four directions" marker
According to Hua Jianxin, the "Zero Kilometer" marker for national highways of China is carved with auspicious patterns of "gods of the four directions". On the body of the marker, it has four characters arranged in the style of an ancient seal that represents East, West, South and North, and four traditional Chinese graphics, namely 1. Qinglong (青龙, Blue Dragon of the East: spring, water. ), 2. Baihu (白虎, White Tiger of the West: autumn, metal.), 3. Zhuque (朱雀, Red Phoenix of the South: summer, fire.), and 4. Xuanwu (玄武, Dark Warrior of the North: winter, earth.). Those are names for constellations in Chinese culture, representing the four extremes of the heaven. They are regarded as gods of the four directions, or "the four spirits". The practice of using "the four spirits" to represent four directions dated back to Pre-Qin period, Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties. The idea came from the thoughts of "Five Directions" in the "Yin & Yang, and Five Elements" theory originated from pre- spring, autumn and the Warring States Periods. In the "Five Directions" system, the symbol for the East is Qinglong (Blue Dragon), the West is Baihu (White Tiger), the South is Zhuque (Red Phoenix), the North is Xuanwu (Dark Worrier), and the Center of the universe is the Son of the Heaven (天子). For example, the North Gate of Zhongnanhai is decorated with the graphics of Xuanwu. In Nanjing, the Xuanwu Gate is the North Gate of Xuanwu Lake. This quaternary theory came into being in Han Dynasty, and was applied to architecture, especially in the design of Wadang (瓦当). The four patterns carved on the "Zero Kilometer" marker for highways of China were copied from four famous Wadang patterns of Han Dynasty.
In addition, the overall design of the "Zero Kilometer" marker is based on the concept of Tianyuandifang (天圆地方). That is, the outline is square shaped, symbolizing the earth, and the inside part is round shaped, representing the sky. The marker, a combination of the shapes of square and round, has a symmetrical structure, which is in line with the axis of symmetry style. On the marker, there are four characters, namely East (东), West (西), South (南) and North (北), together with the abbreviations for the four directions in English. The marker uses the Arabic number 0 as its starting point carved in the center. The English and Chinese names for "zero mile point of highways of China" was carved around the Arabic number 0 in a circle. On the edge of the round shaped "sky", there are 64 dots, representing the 64 directions in traditional Chinese culture. The signs of radiating lines on in the background symbolize China’s highway network. The making of this art piece takes the drainage and anti-abrasion problems into account. The center is higher than the four sides, which makes the water flow down smoothly. The recessed design of the carving makes the marker much more resistant to abrasion. The marker is cast in bronze.
The National Highway System of China
For decades, the National highways were the main trunk lines connecting China. However, in the past 5-10 years, the new expressways (freeways) has taken over as the major road ways. Most of the new expressways were built next to the older National Highways.
The numbering of the National Highways had three digits. Those starting with digit "1" are originated in Beijing (except one – Highway 112). Those starting with digit "2" run from the North to the South, and those starting with digit "3" run from The East to the West.
The are a total of 11 highways that start in Beijing and that have this Zero Kilometer marker as their origin. Here is a list of their total length and their destinations:
- 101 Shenyang (沈阳), Liaoning Province, 909 km
- 102 Harbin (哈尔滨), Heilongjiang Province, 1337 km
- 103 Tianjin New Harbor (天津新港), Tianjin 162 km
- 104 Fuzhou (福州), Fujian Province, 2420 km
- 105 Zhuhai (珠海), Guandong Province, 717 km
- 106 Guangzhou (广州), Guandong Province, 2466 km
- 107 Shenzhen (深圳), Guandong Province, 2698 km
- 108 Kunming (昆明), Yunnan Province, 3331 km
- 109 Lasha (拉萨), Tibet Autonomous Region, 3901 km
- 110 Yingchuan (银川), Ninxia Autonomous Region, 1357 km
- 111 Jiagedaqi (加格达奇), Helongjiang Province, 2123 km
The Zero Kilometer Marker can be seen on Google Maps given the location of Tiananman and the Zheng Yang Men (正阳门) Gate can be easily identified. The coordinate based on the reading using the Google Earth is:
Latitude: 39° 53’ 56.2 N
Longitude: 116° 23’ 29.8 E
Thanks to Ms. Zhang Jing for translating the "The symbolic significance of the Zero Kilometer Marker" from the local newspaper.