In traditional Chinese fortifications, die refers to the battlements built on the top of a city wall constructed to protect defenders from missile fire. This term already appears in the literature of the Pre-Qin period (e.g. “In the standards of city wall building, the wall should be [built to the] height of 30 feet, die should be added to the top, and the width should be ten feet 行城之法。高城三十尺。上加堞。廣十尺,” from Mozi, Chapter 14, Beiti). The element is also referred to as zhidie 雉堞, nütouqiang 女頭墻, and duokouqiang 垛口墻 in different traditional textual sources. 5
It is a short dentate wall（齒形矮墻） built on the upper, outer edge of the city wall which is used for sheltering guards and is one of the main defensive facilities on the top of the wall. Other terms include: zhidie（雉堞), nǚtóuqiáng（女頭墻), and embrasure wall（垛口墻).
In the literature of the Pre-Qin period the word “堞 (die)” was already in use. For example, in Chapter 14 of the Mozi (Bieti: “In the standards of city wall building, the wall should be [built to the] height of 30 feet, die should be added to the top, the width should be ten feet.”2 The definition in the Shuowen jiezi (說文解字) reads: “Die is the nuqiang on the city wall.” 3 The book Zengxiuhuzhu li bu yun lue (增修互註禮部韻略) by Mao Huang (毛晃) in the Southern Song Dynasty also said: “Die: is also called zhidie, it is the dwarf wall on the city wall. Because it is whitewashed (白堊; with lime or ground shells), it is also called a “powdered battlement” (fendie 粉堞). ” 4 In the literary sources we have examined, this is the first example we have found where die was explained as zhidie.5
In historical visual culture, before the Song Dynasty, die are shaped like the Chinese character for mountain (shan 山) , as can be seen in the murals in the center of the west wall of Mogao Grottoes, Cave 257 of the Northern Wei Dynasty. And in the frescoes in the tomb of the Tang dynasty Prince Yide, the die is also 山-shaped. In his Southern Song Shoucheng jiyao (守城機要), Chen Gui (陳規) stated: “The nvqiang are spaced six-feet apart, as specified in the old system, and the height is no more than 5 feet. We build it in the shape of the character 山 (mountain), and leave one opening (nǚkǒu 女口) between two embrasures (nǚtóu 女頭).”5
After the Song Dynasty, most of the embrasure walls (垛口墻) were changed to form a continuous rectangular shape, but the "山" shaped walls were still used in the royal buildings, such as the Ming Palace City in Nanjing and the baoding wall of the wall enclosing Ming Xiaoling (明孝陵寶城寶頂). Changes in the shape of die on the city walls generally show that the area of the embrasure (垛墻) has become larger over time, and the openings (垛口) narrower, suggesting the protection of the sheltered area has [gradually] increased.
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- 1 ATTCAT 2018
- 2 墨, 墨子; 曾, 武經總要（清文淵閣四庫全書本）; 陳, 守城機要.守城錄, 2.3b-4a.; 李, 中國土木建築百科辭典：建築, 428.; 李, 中国古建筑名词图解辞典, 258.; 黃, 宋代城郭的防禦設施及材料, 1-23.
- 3 HUANG, Defensive Structures and Construction Materials in Song City Walls, 49.
- 4 FU, Traditional Chinese Architecture: Twelve Essays, 351.
- 5 墨, 墨子
- 6 陳, 守城機要.守城錄, 2.3b-4a.
Broad Match: Fortification Elements
How to Cite This Entry
Bibliography:“ 堞 dié.” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published May 15, 2019. https://architecturasinica.org/keyword/k000016.
About this Entry
Entry Title: 堞 dié
Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:
- Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
- ZHUGE Jing 諸葛净, associate editor, Architectural Terminology
- JIA Tingli 賈亭立, entry contributor, “ 堞 dié”
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- Initial research and revision by JIA Tingli 賈亭立
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- Adding citations information 2021 by FU Shiyi 付詩怡
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