Sixth of the 15 Passes: Juyongguan

One man could hold the pass against ten thousand enemies

By Simatai Great Wall

Dong Yaohui

Juyong Pass by Ma Jun Shark / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Great Defense for Beijing

Juyongguan is one of the most famous "impregnable passes" along the Great Wall. It is extremely dangerous, and it has functioned as a shield for northwest Beijing since ancient times. Juyongguan is on the way in and out of Beijing's North Gate; its design looks as if one man could hold the pass against ten thousand enemies. 

Surrounded by tall mountains and steep cliffs, the fortress occupies a dominant position, controlling the passage down to Beijing. Juyongguan's extremely treacherous terrain has given it great military importance. Therefore, ancient military strategists referred to it as a decisive controlling point between the north and the south at all times.

Juyong Pass, the most powerful pass in the world by Qiushui Changtian / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Changing Names Through Dynasties

Some people say that the name “Juyong” dates back to the time when Emperor Qin Shi Huang built the Great Wall, but this is a false statement. Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals – which had been written in the Warring States Period before Qin Shi Hhuang unified the whole country – referred to Juyongguan as one of the “nine greatest passes under heaven”. Juyongguan also ranks eighth among the 8 famous valley passes of the Taihang Mountains. 

Juyongguan has always been an important spot in military defense, but its name has been changed repeatedly. It was called “Xiguan” in the Three Kingdoms and “Nakuanguan” in the Northern Qi Dynasty. In the Tang Dynasty, it was first called "Jimenguan" before being renamed "Junduguan". Since the Liao Dynasty and throughout the Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, it has always been called Juyongguan.

Juyong Pass Great Wall by Pingchangxin yq / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

In the 3d year of the Hongwu Emperor’s reign (1370), one of the founding fathers of the Ming Dynasty, Xu Da, built the Juyongguan fortress. This is the earliest record we have of a Great Wall Pass being built during the Ming Dynasty. This tells us the strategic importance of Juyongguan.

Juyong Pass Great Wall by Jiangpanger / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The wall of the fortress extends to Cuiping Mountain’s ridge in the east and Jingui Mountain’s peak in the west, with a circumference of more than 4,000 meters. The natural landscape nearby is magnificent. Approaching Juyongguan, mountains overlap and are covered with lush vegetation. During the Jin Dynasty, 800 years ago, Juyongguan’s picturesque scenery of mountains and green trees was already listed as one of the “eight sights of the capital”.

Juyong Pass, the most powerful pass in the world by Qiushui Changtian / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

On a trip to explore the past, visitors can set off from Beijing to climb Juyongguan. The imposing fort can be seen from a distance. On the plaque at the gate, six vigorously written Chinese characters are very eye-catching, reading "The Most Impregnable Pass in the World". When you actually stand in front of Juyongguan, tracing the footsteps left by people in history, it really makes you think.

There are barbicans at the north and south gates of Juyongguan. The barbican at the north gate is semicircular and the one at the south gate is horseshoe-shaped. The tall tower at the north gate is a brick-wood structure with three layers of eaves that have a north-south orientation. There is also a similar tower with layered eaves at the south gate. The barbicans were designed for trapping the enemy: during battles, when the enemy were lured into the barbican, both the main entrance to the fortress in front of them and the barbican gate behind them would be locked, so they could be trapped and caught easily.

Juyong Pass Yuntai by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

There were government offices, temples, buildings related to Confucianism and other facilities inside and outside the fortress. The temples here were dedicated to various figures in history. In addition, Juyongguan also had several memorial archways, including one decorated with black glazed tiles on the south side of the fortress, Ying’en Fang with its four columns and three eaves, one decorated with yellow glazed tiles, and Guoji Fang with its four columns and seven eaves. Under Luzu Temple, there are pavilions connected by corridors.

Juyong Pass Great Wall by Pingchangxin yq / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

During the Yuan Dynasty, the emperor traveled between three capital cities—Shangdu, Zhongdu and Dadu—every year, so there were palaces, temples, gardens and other buildings in Juyongguan. 

The Yuan Dynasty was run by an ethnic group from the grasslands. Walking along the Great Wall, you may see cattle, horses and herders in the distance. During an era of interaction and integration between the herders and the farmers, the diligence and courage of the nomadic people have also become part of the characteristics of the Chinese community. Nomadic culture formed a grassland civilization with its own glory and history. Standing on the high platform called the "Yuntai" at Juyongguan, you can experience the cultural charm of different ancient Chinese ethnic groups.

Juyong Pass Yuntai by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Yuntai

The Yuntai that still remains today was rebuilt during the Yuan Dynasty.

Juyong Pass Yuntai by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

On the archway of Yuntai were some Buddhist images and scriptures carved in six languages – Sanskrit, Tibetan, Tangut, Uyghur, ‘Phags-pa script, and Han Chinese. These are a precious historical resource for studying Buddhism, ancient scripts and cultural exchanges among ethnic groups during the Yuan Dynasty as well as some of the dynasty's finest sculptural masterpieces.

Juyong Pass Yuntai by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The ground of the Yuntai was paved with nearly 120 huge stones. Because pedestrians and livestock constantly passed through the archway, the stones have been worn down until smooth and round, and ruts left by wheels can still be seen on the ground.

Juyong Pass Yuntai by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The smooth ground and deep ruts seem to tell visitors how prosperous and teeming with traffic Juyongguan once was, and they are the witnesses to many historical upheavals.

Juyong Pass Great Wall by Jiangpanger / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

If you come to Juyongguan in the spring, you can see the Great Wall among the flowers that carpet the mountains. Occasionally, trains pass by, poetically referred to as “trains bound for spring”. 

Juyongguan Pass has really been through a series of metamorphoses: once a strategic pass, it is now a poetic and idyllic site.

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