Brick, Great Wall of China, fired clay / wood, China, Ming dynasty, 1368-1644
This brick was most likely used in the construction of the Great Wall of China. It is typical of fired clay bricks made late in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and compares in both its appearance and dimensions to other standard-size bricks used in the Great Wall, as seen in the 2007-2008 'Great Wall of China: dynasties, dragons and warriors' exhibition held at the Powerhouse Museum.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many tourists removed bricks from the Great Wall as souvenirs of their visits, perhaps to provide trophies for display in their homes upon return. This brick and its display frame is a record of this practice, indicating both the fascination which the Great Wall had for Western visitors to China and a belief, held in common with many explorers and archaeologists, in their entitlement to remove artefacts from important heritage sites in China to take home with them.
During the Ming dynasty, sections of the Great Wall in the mountains north of the capital were constructed with stone block footings and brickwork outer faces enclosing a core of rammed earth and rubble. The brickwork courses consisted of fired clay bricks of standard dimensions held with mortar made from lime and ground rice. The courses of weathered grey bricks and off-white mortar give sections of the Great Wall a distinctive appearance, which was recorded and widely reproduced in various photographic media in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and often used to promote tourism at the Wall to local and foreign tourists.
The appearance and dimensions of the brick are similar to those for other standard-size bricks from the Great Wall, for example, those on loan to the Powerhouse Museum from the National Museum of China in 2006-07, which had dimensions of 370 (L) x 95 (H) x 187 (D) millimetres and a weight of about 10Kg. The brick has traces of mortar remaining in some places, indicating that it may once have been part of the brickwork of the Great Wall.
Bricks for use in the Great Wall were made in local kilns, some examples of which have been excavated near Shanhaiguan where a branch of the Great Wall terminates at the shore of the Bohai Sea. A 2005 news report "Great Wall Brick Kilns in Sensational Discovery" (in www.china.org.cn/english/culture, accessed 28/02/2005) notes that over 50 brick kilns have been discovered in archaeological digs in this area, close to the remains of the Great Wall around Banchangyou Town. The kilns are of three types, all made of fired grey bricks similar to those used in the Great Wall. The brick kilns may date from around 1571, when the earlier stone structure was strengthened with brickwork and new watchtowers were added.
The brick was on display in the 'Great Wall of China; dynasties, dragons and warriors' exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum (28 September 2006 to 25 February 2007).
A tag attached to the timber display frame around the brick notes 'Description: Brick from the Great Wall of China. Source: Rotary. Name: Miss Mullins. Address 39 Martin Place. Picked Up: 14/7/1959. How acquired: [blank]'.