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Fire-fighting in Lin-An (today's Hangzhou (Quinsay)) ca. 1275

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  • kitmengleong
    Extract from Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276 by Jacques Gernet (translated from French by H. M. Wright), pp 34 - 36 Fires and
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 17, 2007
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      Extract from "Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion
      1250-1276" by Jacques Gernet (translated from French by H. M. Wright),
      pp 34 - 36

      Fires and Fire-Fighting

      The multi-storeyed houses, situated in the most crowded districts
      which were a mere network of alleyways, were built of wood and bamboo.
      This makes it easy to understand the frequency and gravity of the
      outbreaks of fire and the measures that were taken to fight them. In
      no other Chines town had the danger ever been so great. Indeed, the
      ancient capitals in the northern plains had been traversed by vast
      avenues which crossed at right angles and divided off the various
      districts. The main ones were over a hundred yards wide, the lesser
      ones forty yards or more. Thus fires were generally confined within
      specified districts. Howeer at Kaifeng, capital of Northern Song,,
      fires had already become something of a menace. The population was
      dense, and, apart from the great Imperial Way which ran from the south
      gate of the palace to one of the gates on the outer ramparts, the
      street seem to have been narrower than those of the capitals in Tang
      times. So it is not surprising that it was in this city (Kaifeng) that
      for the first time a form of organization is to be found which is
      important with regard to the question of fire-fighting. It consisted
      of guard-stations placed every 500 yards and of watch0towers
      permanently manned by a hundred soldiers and furnished with all the
      necessary equipment (scythes, hatchets, buckets, etc.)

      This form of organization was somewhat targily adopted in Hangzhou.
      The first years after te court had installed itself there were a
      period of improvization, and a refugee from Kaifeng complains bitterly
      about the lack of foresight shown. In the 5th moon (June) of 1132, he
      only just escaped in time, with his mother and his wife, to the shores
      of the lake. 13,000 were destroyed, and the only place he could find
      to live was in the neighbouring hills. They were still living there
      when, at the beginning of 1137, he was an eye-witness of another fire
      alsmore as bad as the previous one, in which 10,000 houses went up in
      flames.

      Hardly a year passed without an outbreak of fire, and sometimes
      several are noted as having occured in the same year. Thus, in 1132
      fire ravaged several partso f th town in the 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th
      moons, and the following year attention is drawn to the occurrence of
      fires in the 1st, 9th and 11th moons, and to two outbreaks inthe 12th
      moon. In the case of the catastrophe in June 1132, to which our
      refugee from Kaifeng alludes, the fire, in one hour, had spread nearly
      two miles. In the 8th moon of the same year the victims of disaster
      were authorized to camp in the two Buddhist monasteries in the
      neighbourhood of the city. The sale of bamboo, waterproff
      rush-matting, and planks, was exempted from tax, and the payment of
      rents was suspended by government order. The court distributed 120
      tons of rice among the poor. Similar measures were taken after each
      outbreak of fire, and taxes on wood and bamboo were lifted fror a
      period varying form one year to several months.

      However, a few years after the great fire of 1137, more energetic
      measures had to be taken, and the organization which had formerly
      existed at Kaifeng was copied. A description of the city dating from
      around 1275, reports that observations towers had been erected here
      and there in the most overcrowded districts. It was reckoned that
      there were eight of them within the ramparts, where the population was
      at its densest, and no more than two in the area beyond the ramparts.
      If smoke was sighted somewhere, the soldiers on guard in the towers
      gave warning of this first sign of fire by running up flags during the
      day, and by lighting lanterns at night. The number of flags or
      lanterns gave an approximate indication of the location of the
      disaster. Thus, should fire have broken out to the south of the
      Heavenly Gate (an old gateway no longer inuse, throught which the
      Imperial Way ran), the guars ran up three flags, if it was burning ot
      the north of this gate, two, and only one if the telltake smoke had
      shown itself beyond the ramparts.

      The two was divided into sectors for the purpose of fighting the
      flames: 14 sectors within the ramparts, and 8 outside. The squards of
      soldiers allocated to this rescure service numbered 2,000 within the
      city and 1,200 outside its walls. AS at Kaifeng, they were equipped
      with bukets, ropes, flags hatchets, scythes, lanterns and fireproof
      clothing. But these squads were not the only forces employed in
      defence againdstg fire; as soon as an outbreak was discovered, a whole
      section of the troops garrisoned in Hangzhou was mobilized
      immediately. In addition, the soldiers encharged with policing the
      streets had to give notice of any outbreak of fire. These soldiers,
      whose main duty was to prevent brawls and to form patrols at night
      against thieves, were quartered, four or five together, at intervals
      of three hungred yards or thereabouts.

      The information given by Marco Polo about fire-fighting precautions in
      Hangzhou does not correspond exactly with the information given by
      Chiense texts of the Song period. It must be supposed that the
      organization was changed insome respects after the Mongol occupation.
      Moreover, restrictions became more severe, and the curfew had to be
      sdtrictly observed. "Part of the watch", says Marco Polo, " patrols
      the quater, to see if any light or fire is burning after the lawful
      hours; if they find any they mark the door, and inthe morning the
      owner is summoned before the magistrates, and unless he can plead a
      good excuse he is punished. Also if they find anyone going about the
      streets at unlawful hours they arrest him, and in the morning they
      bring him before the magistrates.

      These sever measures must have seemed extremely harsh to the
      inhabitants of a town where the night life had always been very
      lively. Before the Mongol occupation, many districts of the town,
      particularly those bordering on the Imperial Way, remained in astate
      of animation until very late into the night. Multi-coloured lamps lit
      the entrances and courtyars of restaurants, taverns and tea-houses,
      and illumined shop displays. Probably, however, there was no publich
      lighting of any kind, and where the streets were not lit by the lamps
      of nocturnal trades, no doubt it was necessary to make one's way by
      the light of a lantern.
    • omabi_us
      Fascinating stuff! Thanks, Jieming, for posting. Omabi - -- In DragonSeedLegacy@yahoogroups.com, kitmengleong ... Wright), ... bamboo. ...
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 18, 2007
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        Fascinating stuff! Thanks, Jieming, for posting. Omabi
        -

        -- In DragonSeedLegacy@yahoogroups.com, "kitmengleong" <kmleong@...>
        wrote:
        >
        > Extract from "Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion
        > 1250-1276" by Jacques Gernet (translated from French by H. M.
        Wright),
        > pp 34 - 36
        >
        > Fires and Fire-Fighting
        >
        > The multi-storeyed houses, situated in the most crowded districts
        > which were a mere network of alleyways, were built of wood and
        bamboo.
        > This makes it easy to understand the frequency and gravity of the
        > outbreaks of fire and the measures that were taken to fight them. In
        > no other Chines town had the danger ever been so great. Indeed, the
        > ancient capitals in the northern plains had been traversed by vast
        > avenues which crossed at right angles and divided off the various
        > districts. The main ones were over a hundred yards wide, the lesser
        > ones forty yards or more. Thus fires were generally confined within
        > specified districts. Howeer at Kaifeng, capital of Northern Song,,
        > fires had already become something of a menace. The population was
        > dense, and, apart from the great Imperial Way which ran from the
        south
        > gate of the palace to one of the gates on the outer ramparts, the
        > street seem to have been narrower than those of the capitals in Tang
        > times. So it is not surprising that it was in this city (Kaifeng)
        that
        > for the first time a form of organization is to be found which is
        > important with regard to the question of fire-fighting. It consisted
        > of guard-stations placed every 500 yards and of watch0towers
        > permanently manned by a hundred soldiers and furnished with all the
        > necessary equipment (scythes, hatchets, buckets, etc.)
        >
        > This form of organization was somewhat targily adopted in Hangzhou.
        > The first years after te court had installed itself there were a
        > period of improvization, and a refugee from Kaifeng complains
        bitterly
        > about the lack of foresight shown. In the 5th moon (June) of 1132,
        he
        > only just escaped in time, with his mother and his wife, to the
        shores
        > of the lake. 13,000 were destroyed, and the only place he could find
        > to live was in the neighbouring hills. They were still living there
        > when, at the beginning of 1137, he was an eye-witness of another
        fire
        > alsmore as bad as the previous one, in which 10,000 houses went up
        in
        > flames.
        >
        > Hardly a year passed without an outbreak of fire, and sometimes
        > several are noted as having occured in the same year. Thus, in 1132
        > fire ravaged several partso f th town in the 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th
        > moons, and the following year attention is drawn to the occurrence
        of
        > fires in the 1st, 9th and 11th moons, and to two outbreaks inthe
        12th
        > moon. In the case of the catastrophe in June 1132, to which our
        > refugee from Kaifeng alludes, the fire, in one hour, had spread
        nearly
        > two miles. In the 8th moon of the same year the victims of disaster
        > were authorized to camp in the two Buddhist monasteries in the
        > neighbourhood of the city. The sale of bamboo, waterproff
        > rush-matting, and planks, was exempted from tax, and the payment of
        > rents was suspended by government order. The court distributed 120
        > tons of rice among the poor. Similar measures were taken after each
        > outbreak of fire, and taxes on wood and bamboo were lifted fror a
        > period varying form one year to several months.
        >
        > However, a few years after the great fire of 1137, more energetic
        > measures had to be taken, and the organization which had formerly
        > existed at Kaifeng was copied. A description of the city dating from
        > around 1275, reports that observations towers had been erected here
        > and there in the most overcrowded districts. It was reckoned that
        > there were eight of them within the ramparts, where the population
        was
        > at its densest, and no more than two in the area beyond the
        ramparts.
        > If smoke was sighted somewhere, the soldiers on guard in the towers
        > gave warning of this first sign of fire by running up flags during
        the
        > day, and by lighting lanterns at night. The number of flags or
        > lanterns gave an approximate indication of the location of the
        > disaster. Thus, should fire have broken out to the south of the
        > Heavenly Gate (an old gateway no longer inuse, throught which the
        > Imperial Way ran), the guars ran up three flags, if it was burning
        ot
        > the north of this gate, two, and only one if the telltake smoke had
        > shown itself beyond the ramparts.
        >
        > The two was divided into sectors for the purpose of fighting the
        > flames: 14 sectors within the ramparts, and 8 outside. The squards
        of
        > soldiers allocated to this rescure service numbered 2,000 within the
        > city and 1,200 outside its walls. AS at Kaifeng, they were equipped
        > with bukets, ropes, flags hatchets, scythes, lanterns and fireproof
        > clothing. But these squads were not the only forces employed in
        > defence againdstg fire; as soon as an outbreak was discovered, a
        whole
        > section of the troops garrisoned in Hangzhou was mobilized
        > immediately. In addition, the soldiers encharged with policing the
        > streets had to give notice of any outbreak of fire. These soldiers,
        > whose main duty was to prevent brawls and to form patrols at night
        > against thieves, were quartered, four or five together, at intervals
        > of three hungred yards or thereabouts.
        >
        > The information given by Marco Polo about fire-fighting precautions
        in
        > Hangzhou does not correspond exactly with the information given by
        > Chiense texts of the Song period. It must be supposed that the
        > organization was changed insome respects after the Mongol
        occupation.
        > Moreover, restrictions became more severe, and the curfew had to be
        > sdtrictly observed. "Part of the watch", says Marco Polo, " patrols
        > the quater, to see if any light or fire is burning after the lawful
        > hours; if they find any they mark the door, and inthe morning the
        > owner is summoned before the magistrates, and unless he can plead a
        > good excuse he is punished. Also if they find anyone going about the
        > streets at unlawful hours they arrest him, and in the morning they
        > bring him before the magistrates.
        >
        > These sever measures must have seemed extremely harsh to the
        > inhabitants of a town where the night life had always been very
        > lively. Before the Mongol occupation, many districts of the town,
        > particularly those bordering on the Imperial Way, remained in astate
        > of animation until very late into the night. Multi-coloured lamps
        lit
        > the entrances and courtyars of restaurants, taverns and tea-houses,
        > and illumined shop displays. Probably, however, there was no publich
        > lighting of any kind, and where the streets were not lit by the
        lamps
        > of nocturnal trades, no doubt it was necessary to make one's way by
        > the light of a lantern.
        >
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