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Walls and Gates, Windows and Mirrors: Urban Defences, Cultural Memory, and Security Theatre in Song Kaifeng

Ari Daniel Levine


Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song (960-1127) dynasty, boasted sophisticated siege defence installations, which were ultimately breached by the Jurchen invasion of 1126-1127. According to both the archaeological and textual evidence, its concentric city walls and milita-rized gates with barbicans and bastions represented a crucial stage in the militarization of urban form in early-modern China, as well as a more open approach to planning. While Kaifeng’s urban defences evoked imperial majesty and personal security for Northern Song residents who described them, diasporic literati of the Southern Song (1127-1279) invoked the violation of this defensive perimeter as a metonym for the invasion of their lost homeland. The concept of security theatre explains how Northern Song Kaifeng’s city walls and gates could simultaneously function as efficacious siege defence installations and be perceived as symbolic defences.

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