Xinjiang protects Qing Dynasty fortress towns

At the foot of the Tianshan Mountains in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region sit two ancient fortress towns, projecting the power of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) hundreds of years ago.

The fortress towns are located in Barkol Kazak autonomous county, which, with a population of 105,000, borders Mongolia to the north.

Early in the 1990s, Barkol established a cultural heritage protection institution and the renovation of the two fortress towns has since become a major project.

Since 2014, the Barkol government has invested 30 million yuan (about $4.28 million) on renovating the towns, according to the county's cultural heritage administration.

The Qing Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong underwent a long battle that lasted for almost 70 years with the separatist forces from the Junggar aristocrats in Xinjiang. Barkol was then a frontline command center and a supply base for the Qing military, thus the erection of the two fortress towns, according to Jiang Xiaoliang, director of the local culture and tourism bureau.

The historical document shows that in 1729, Yue Zhongqi, a senior general, led over 25,600 Qing soldiers to Barkol to suppress the rebels there. Two years later, they built the first fortress town, with four gates and 3,600 battlements on the walls. Outside the walls were a moat of four meters wide and four drawbridges, as well as fort barbettes and protruding ramparts.

In 1772, the Qing government constructed the second town fortress, some 500 meters to the east of the first one. The 7-meter high town walls form a rectangle of 1,306 meters long and 501 meters wide.

Most of the ancient walls of the towns are still in good condition but the relics of folk houses, government mansions, guild halls cannot be discovered anymore, Jiang said.

Over the past five years, the local cultural heritage authorities have been renovating the relics, reconstructing the gate towers and repainting the walls, in a bid to restore their original looks.

Nowadays, the fortress towns have become a landmark for local cultural tourism. In October 2019, they were listed as a national key cultural relics site.

"The towns are a symbol of the Chinese people's determination to safeguard national unity," Jiang said.