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Jiayu Pass great pass under heaven


The Jiayu Pass, the western starting point of the existing Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Gansu Province , is a historic attraction for tourists from both home and abroad. I visited the pass along with a group of nine employees from Shenzhen's Guan Shanyue Art Museum on Sept. 20 after visiting the Dunhuang Grottoes. This was the second time I had been to the attraction I first visited in 1995. When we arrived at the pass at around 9:30 AM, I immediately noticed a number of environmental changes had been made. Twelve years ago, the tourist bus could take me directly to the Eastern Dam Gate, which stands on a slope northeast of the outer city of the Jiayu Pass. But, today, all tourists have to get off their buses near the newly-built main entrance gate, about 10 minutes walk from the Eastern Dam Gate. There were no shops outside the pass before. But today there is a whole block of shops near the main entrance gate selling various souvenirs, medicines and agricultural specialties. The price of an admission ticket was around 10 yuan (US$1.3) in 1995, but today it has risen to 65 yuan. After going through the entrance gate, we came to a large man-made lake, called "The Nine-Eye Spring." The lake and the greenery and flowers around its banks reminded me of a picturesque scene in south China, rather than the barren desert of northwest China. I wondered why the government of Jiayuguan City had spent money building a lake which didn't quite seem to fit the natural environment around the Jiayu Pass. Twelve years ago, I was deeply impressed by the grand scene of the Jiayu Pass standing magnificently alone in the Gobi desert along the ancient Silk Road. However, today, my impression was dramatically different even though the main building complex was the same. When Chinese people speak of a pass, they are referring not only to a space between two mountains, but also to a type of military fortress built at strategic points. The Jiayu Pass is such a military fortress. The two Chinese words "Jiayu" literally mean "beautiful valley." Built in 1372 during the Ming Dynasty, the Jiayu Pass is one of the best-preserved passes in China as well as the largest pass on the ancient Great Wall. It is located on a strategic passage of the ancient Silk Road at the western end of the Hexi Corridor in today's Gansu Province. According to historical records, Feng Sheng, a general of the Ming Dynasty, and his troops were sent to chase and kill remaining members of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) army. After reoccupying the region of the Hexi Corridor, Feng was ordered by the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang to build a pass at the frontier to keep out the enemy. One day, when he rode to the valley at the foot of the Mazong Mountain in the north and Qilian Mountain in the south, the narrowest passage along the Hexi Corridor, Feng believed he had found the right site to build a pass. The extant building complex of the Jiayu Pass is composed of inner and outer courts. The outer court covers an area of 33,500 square meters while the inner court covers 25,000 square meters. The pass has eastern and western gates with facing towers. The two gates are protected by trap courts. A trap court works like this: if the enemies try to get in, they have to pass one of the high gates. If they are lucky enough to get through, they will end up in a trap and a hail of arrows will pour down on them from all directions. So the gates of the outer court are actually a decoy to the main gates of the inner court. The Jiayu Pass has three towers, one in the middle and the other two above the main gates. The towers are very high and provide distant views in all directions. They were built on square platforms 9 meters high with three-story pavilions each 17 meters high. It is said that the towers were made from the top to bottom. The workers first piled up an enormous heap of earth, and once they were able to construct the top of the tower, they dug away some of the earth to build the third floor, the second and then the first floor. Outside the eastern outer court, we saw three historic buildings: the theater platform which was built in 1792, a temple for Guan Yu, a figure from the Three Kingdoms (220-280) period but who was later revered as a God by the Chinese people, and the Wenchang Tower, which were both first built in the Ming Dynasty and later rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The inner court is the center of the Jiayu pass. In the inner court, there is the Guerrilla General House, which covers an area of about 3,000 square meters and is actually made up of two conjoining Chinese courtyard houses. The house used to be occupied by military leaders and their families, who were garrisoned in the pass during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Looking up at one of the eaves of the west side tower of the western outer court, visitors can see a legendary brick which was said to be used to stabilize the entire complex. Because the Jiayu Pass is in the middle of nowhere, visitors may wonder where workers in ancient China could get materials and how they were moved there. Entering the Jiayu Pass, we saw many huge stones paving the steps, at the base of the wall and the gates. The stones are 2 meters long, 50 centimeters wide and 30 centimeters thick.It is said that these stones were taken from the Black Mountain 30 kilometers northwest of the Pass. Being so heavy, the stones had to be moved during winter when workers were able to make a slippery path down from the mountain to the designated site. The Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum, which is about five minutes' walk from the Easter Dam Gate, is also something new. Built in 1989, the museum showcases the history and culture of the Great Wall. The museum, which costs an extra 10 yuan to visit, is home to a 21-meter-long and 10.5-meter-wide oil painting depicting the western part of the Great Wall, which crosses deserts and follows mountain ridges for more than 5,000 kilometers until it reaches the Shanhai Pass on the east coast in Liaoning Province.

(Source:Shenzhen Daily by Newman Huo , 2007-10-15)