The Text Bricks

A system to manage the quality of the Great Wall bricks

By Simatai Great Wall

Character brick at Simatai Great Wall (2021-04-05) by Wu QiangSimatai Great Wall

The origin of the text bricks

The text bricks are another attraction of the Simatai Great Wall. Starting from the third tower upwards in the eastern section, there appears more and more text bricks on the wall. There is a wall with a large number of text bricks in the east section 12-13 of Simatai, which is the place where the largest number of text bricks are preserved in Simatai Great Wall section. 

The quality management system

The text bricks on the walls are mainly from the Ming Dynasty. The texts contain key information including: the production location, quantity, brick household name, and the responsible officials. The names of the specific officials or the kiln makers are also carved on the bricks, and the writing format is unified. In this way, if there is any quality problem with the bricks, one can directly find the persons in charge and hold them accountable. 

Text types

There are different types of the texts on the bricks: Yang, Yin, Body, Reverse, Regular, Song, Official, Running and others. The most important purpose of the text bricks was to accurately assess the quality of the bricks produced by the soldiers. It is similar to some of the modern methods to ensuring engineering quality.

Different types of the bricks

According to their shapes and functions, Great Wall bricks can be divided into long bricks, square bricks, crenellated bricks, perforated bricks, flagpole bricks and water troughs bricks. In long bricks and square bricks, there are bricks with and without texts.

Character brick at Simatai Great Wall (2021-04-05) by Wu QiangSimatai Great Wall

Long bricks

Long bricks are the most commonly used bricks in building the Great Wall. The front side is smoother, and the back side is rough. The dimensions are mostly 37 cm long, 15 cm wide, and 9 cm thick. The unused long bricks found in the Dalingzhai brick kiln in Qianxi County were 41 cm long, 20 cm wide and 10 cm thick.

Crenellated bricks

The width of this type of brick is the width of the wall, which is about 49 cm. Because of the need of building, the wall must be seamed, so ancient workers invented the grey bricks that divide the crenellated bricks into two parts, and the width is half of the whole crenellated bricks.


Character brick at Simatai Great Wall (2021-04-05) by Wu QiangSimatai Great Wall

Square bricks

Square bricks are smooth on the front and rough on the back, they are 37 cm in length and width, and 9 cm in thickness. They are mostly used to pave the top of the wall, and the surface of the internal base of some beacon towers.

Perforated bricks

Most perforated bricks are square, and there is a perforation from the middle to the bottom. The upper half of the hole is arched and the lower half is rectangular. They are 25 cm in length and width and 9 cm in thickness. The hole is 16 cm high and 9 cm wide.

Character brick at Simatai Great Wall (2021-08-11) by Wu QiangSimatai Great Wall

Water troughs bricks

The top of the battlement walls and parapet walls were paved with a layer of ridged bricks, which were high in the middle and low on either side to facilitate drainage. On top of the wall, along the inner wall, there are water channels. Rainwater flow along the trough to the drainage hole and poured the water out of the wall through a spout.

Credits: All media
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