By Simatai Great Wall

Dong Yaohui

Yangguan Pass by Mangzhi Chichi Boluomusi / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The location

Yangguan, like Yumenguan, is one of the Han Dynasty's famous Great Wall passes, named Yangguan because it is located in the south of Yumenguan. The specific location of Yangguan is recorded in various historical documents, but they are all inconsistent.

Yangguan Pass by Cheng Guochao / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The mysterious "Antique Beach"

Today, Yangguan is generally believed to be located on "Antique Beach" in the southwest of Dunhuang City, Gansu Province. The reason why this place is called Antique Beach is that after a great gust of wind blows over the beach, many antiques appear on the sand, such as copper arrowheads, copper coins, and jade articles. Xiang Da, an archaeologist, was the first to recognize Antique Beach as Yangguan.  

Yangguan Pass by Xianren Banban / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

As the leader of the historical archeology team of the Northwest Scientific Investigation Group, he went to Hexi Corridor from July 1943 to 1944 and wrote many papers on the archeology of Dunhuang and the Western Regions, including "Miscellaneous Examination of Two Passes".

Yangguan Pass by Xianren Banban / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Today, it is difficult to see any ruins except a watchtower in Yangguan. In 1972, after finding 14 sand canals west of Antique Road, Jiuquan Cultural Relics Census Team uncovered the site of the Banzhu Wall Foundations. After a trial excavation and measurement,  they found the walls cover an area of tens of thousands of square meters. The cultural relics department identified it as the old site of Yangguan.

The establishment of Yangguan

Yangguan was first built in the Yuan Ding period of Emperor Wu during the Han Dynasty (116–111 B.C.). As the gateway to the Western Regions, it was a strategic place that ancient military strategists had to contend for. Around 107 B.C., a military office was established here. From the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, it was always a necessary pass on the South Silk Road.

According to historical records, Yangguan County was administered here during the Wei and Jin Dynasties, and in Shouchang County during the Tang Dynasty. After the Song and Yuan Dynasties, with the decline of the Silk Road, Yangguan was gradually abandoned.

Yangguan Pass by Cheng Guochao / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Yangguan in ancient poems

Mentions of Yangguan were also often recited by ancient poets, especially in Tang poetry which contains many good phrases.  However, most of them are desolate and lonely works. 

When future generations mention Yangguan, they will associate it with a desolate and boundless landscape of ghosts and wild animals.

Yangguan Pass by DreamCont / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Legend about the "Antique Beach"

Why are there so many antiques on Dunhuang Antique Beach? There is a local legend about this. It says that in order to establish harmonious and friendly relations with Khotan in the Western Regions, the emperor of the Tang Dynasty married the imperial princess to the King of Khotan. 

The desert at the Jiayu Pass by Chen Guochao / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The princess' escorts brought a lot of gold and silver jewels, and stayed in Yangguan to rest. Unexpectedly, strong winds blew that night, and Yangguan City was buried beneath the yellow sand. The people in Yangguan City, along with the princess' dowry and the escorts were all buried under the sand dunes.

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