Yanmenguan Pass Located on the Yanmen Mountain northwest of Dai County, Shanxi province, Yanmenguan Pass is one of the Outer Three Passes (the rest two are Ningwuguan Pass and Pianguan Pass) along the Great Wall.
|The fortified Yanmenguan Pass cuts through the crest of Mount Gouzhu, which is so high it is said to be a challenge even to the wings of a wild goose.|
YanmenguanPass of Wild Geese
Half-way along the zigzag interior line of theGreat Wall that runs across the northernpart of Shanxi province there is a famousfortified pass nestled amid towering, ruggedmountaIns.
This is Yanmenguan, known as "one ofthe nine strategic forts in the world" sincethe Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). Infact the name Yanmen (Gate of Wild Geese)is in itself suggestive of its strategic importance. The mountain there, Yanmenshan,has a peak 2,057 metres above sea level, andit was said that even migrating wild geesecould not get over it but had to fly throughthe narrow pass below.
|A fort on Mount Gouzhu.|
The interior line of the Great Wall, builtin the Ming dynasty, extends into Shanxiprovince after cutting through the TaihangMountains at Zijingguan Pass. Then, snaking along the mountains of Wutaishan andHengshan and crossing the passes of Pingxingguan, Yanmenguan and Yangfangkou,it crosses the Guancenshan Mountains andends at the Yellow River.
Along this line, some 400 kilometreslong, are many high peak.s, rocky gorges)narrow passes and deep ravines. For thisreason the area was a hive of military activityand wall-building long before the Mingdynasty. The inner Great Wall of the Mingswas merely an outgrowth of earlier walls andfortifications.
National minorities from the northXiongnu, Tujue, Huihe, Xianbei, Qidan,Nuzhen and Mongol--invaded the areamany times. Some had even managed tobreak through the difficult YanmenguanPass and drive south, seizing Taiyuan andmaking inroads into the central plains. Infact, from the time of the Warring Statesright through to the Ming dynasty, almostno regime enjoyed total peace.
|The remains of the fort at Yanmenguan Pass.|
The earliest wall in the area was builtaround 343 B.C. by the state of Zhao, one ofthe so-called Warring States. Later, theWestern Han dynasty sent its troops there tobuild defences. Annals of the Tang dynastytell how its emperors built fortifications andwalls in the areas. A stretch of wall restingon the ridge of Hengshan was the veryboundary between the still later Song andLiao dynasties.
Yingxian county is an important old citysituated beside the inner Great Wall to thenorth of the Hengshan Mountains. In thecent.re of the county seat stands the highestwooden pagoda still existing in the world.Erected in 1056, the nine-storey pagoda is67 metres high and built entirely of wood.At that time the county seat was a front linedefence position of the Liao army. Archivespreserved in the pagoda, originally namedSakya, show that, as well as being a Buddhistshrine, it was used as a lockout post toobserve the movements of the Song army.The Songs had their own brick observationpagoda across the border in Hebei.
|Old Guangwu, a walled city fortress beyond Yanmengguan Pass that was built in the Jin dynasty (1115-1234).|
Although it is Wooden, the pagoda was sosolidly built that it has survived a number ofstrong earthquakes, as well as a fierce battlefought between warlords in 1926 when itwas bombarded with more than 200 shells.
Another important pass in the areasPingxingguan, is in the northeast of Fanchicounty, in a bottle-shaped valley. It is a keycommunications hub in north Shanxi, closeto the Beijing-Taiyuan highway. Always amuch sought after stronghold, the pass hasbeen the arena of a number of successfulsurprise attacks. One took place in theautumn of 1937 when the Eighth RouteArmy ambushed a crack unit of the Japanesearmy, the ltagaki Division, and won a resounding victory.
The seat of Daixian county, southeast of Yanmenguan, an important military stronghold since the Han dynasty, still retainssome mementoes of its glorious past. Themost imposing of all is a drum tower whichis 39.3 metres high, 14 metres taller thanthe better-known Shanhaiguan gate tower.
The tower's height allowed the hugedrum once installed there to be heard from agreat distance. It was built in 1374 as alockout post to detect the approach ofhostile armies and spread the alarm. Thetwo large signboards on the tower indicateits use and role. One reads "First Tower ofYanmen", and the other "Audible in AllDirections".
|The ruins of an earlier wall on Mount Gouzhu.|
The defensive importance of the towerwas so great that it was quickly rebuilt afterit burned down in a fire in 1471. On anotheroccasion it was restored early in the Qingdynasty at a cost of if,630 work-days and2,400 ounces of silver.
East of the drum tower stands anotheralarm facility--a 20-metre tall bell tower. Itsbell, a product of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), is still intact.
The fort at Yanmenguan Pass was firstbuilt by the Mings in 1374. It was subsequently repaired and enlarged a number oftimes, and completely rebuilt in 1867. Atone time one kilometre in circumference,with gates on its east and west sides andbuildings housing the pass military command and garrison troops, all that is lefttoday is the east gate and some interestingrelics among the ruins.
Yanmenguan has a rich historical heritage, well documented in official records andfolklore. One ancestral temple built in 1279in Lutijian village, 49 kilometres south ofthe pass, was once used to pay homage toYang Ye, a Song dynasty general who diedfighting the Qidans of the Liao dynasty.
General Yang was appointed to garrisonYanmenguan at a critical time, when theSongs were losing ground in the war againstthe Qidans. But the tables were quicklyturned.
In 980 the Qidans attacked Yanmenguanwith a force of 10,000, greatly outnumberingYang's cavalries. Deciding that a head-onconfrontation would be disastrous, Yangoutflanked the enemy) making them believethat the pass had been abandoned, and thenattacked from the rear. There was no escapefrom the deep and narrow ravine, and theQidans were routed. Five years later, withthe Liao regime riven by internal feuding,the Songs saw an opportunity to recover theterritories they had earlier lost. Yang wasdesignated deputy commander of the westroute of the expeditionary force. Helpedalong by his sons, who were also experienced soldiers, Yang was so successful thatvirtually all of the lost territory in northwestern Shanxi was regained. The east routeforce, meanwhile, ran into unexpectedlyheavy resistance and was forced to retreat.
The military supervisor sent by the court tooversee the operation rejected Yang's suggestion to employ outflanking tactics, andinstead forced him into a frontal blockingaction. The result was that Yang's troopswere encircled and overwhelmed, his eldestson was killed and Yang himself captured.Loyal to his people and defiant of hiscaptors, the general went on a hunger strikeand starved himself to death.
Yang Ye's other sons carried on thefamily tradition, serving with honour anddistinction in the continuing Song-Liao war.Most renowned of these sons was YangYanzhao, also known as Yang Liulang. Fora long time Yang Liulang was the garrisoncommander at Baoding, in Hebei province.One of t-told tale about him took place in999, when the Liao army besieged Suicheng, a town north of Baoding, while Yanghappened to be there. Yang mobilized allthe available men in town to mount the walland fight. After they had held off theenemy's attacks for several days, the temperature fell below freezing point, so Yangordered the men to pour water on theoutside of the wall every night. The icecoated wall made it impossible for the Liaoarmy to climb up. Even their scaling ladderswere useless. When the exhausted and discouraged Qidans began to retreat, YangLiulang ordered a chase which broughtback a large quantity of trophies. Because ofhis skill and bravely, he was widely mourned locally when he died in 1014.
The ancestral temple in Lutijian villagenot only contains images of Yang Ye and hiswife, but also of his heroic offspring, twentytwo in all.
|The Pagoda of King Asoka in Daizhou (today's Daixian county), 40 metres high and 60 metres in circumference. Originally built in the Sui dynasty, it was rebuilt by the Tangs and again in 1275 during the Yuan dynasty. Well proportioned, with exquisite carvings, it is considered to be a superb example of the Tibetan style.|
One event in modern times which peoplearound Yanmenguan still remember was thestrike of the Eighth Route Army at anenemy military convoy in the early stages ofthe war of resistance against Japanese aggression (World War II). With the help ofthe terrain there, the ambush destroyed asmany as 400 lorries.
But the mountains of Hengshan and
Wutaishan have other claims to fame apartfrom being the sites of centuries of fightingand bloodshed. Among Buddhists they aresacred havens of peace and tranquillity,thanks to their secluded valleys, murmuringstreams and stately groves of cypress andpine trees.
Mount Wutai, one of China's four famousBuddhist retreats, is 3,058 metres above sealevel and has a periphery of 250 kilometres.Out of the scores of temples built there indifferent periods, 47 still survive. The nameof the mountain became known abroad asearly as the Sui dynasty (581-618), and mapsof it were first taken to Japan in the middleof the Tang dynasty. Since then the monksof the mountain have had close ties withbelievers in Japan, India, Indonesia, Nepaland other Asian countries.
Mount Hengshan is the main peak of theHengshan Mountains, one of the five famous mountain ranges of China. It is inHunyuan county, northeast of the innerGreat Wall. From the county seat to Datongstands a row of beacon towers, linking upthe inner and outer Great Walls. The mountain has dozens of ancient buildings on it,the most spectacular being a "hanging temple" which is supported by beams driveninto the cliff.
The Yanmenguan Pass is being well preserved at present. It is a precious ancient military relic, attracting more and more people who visit here to recall past times.
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