Fourth of the 15 Passes: Huangyaguan

By Simatai Great Wall

Dong Yaohui

Huangya Pass by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

When I came to Huangyaguan in the early 1980s, it was a late spring/early summer evening. Under the setting sun, Huangyaguan stood tall on the mountains which were covered in lush trees and colorful, fragrant flowers. At that time, Huangyaguan had not yet been rebuilt. There were only ruins to tell the vicissitudes of its history under the setting sun.

Today, the majestic Huangyaguan Pass has been presented to visitors in its complete state. The defensive fort and perilous cliffs on its eastern and western sides lean against each other, looking lofty and precipitous. The city wall is towering, and the abutments, fortified towers and watchtowers stand tall and straight, like a giant padlock firmly secured on the cliff. Against the golden sunset, the Great Wall is as spectacular as gold and copper ornaments.

Sea of Clouds at Huangya Pass Great Wall by Fanruo ChenxiSimatai Great Wall

"Yellow Cliff in the Dust"

Huangyaguan is located in the mountains 25 kilometers north of Jixian County, Tianjin. The river, which originates in Maoshanyu, Xinglong County, crosses the Yanshan Mountains and flows southward. The valley was an important passage through the Yanshan Mountains' many peaks, and Huangyaguan is located perpendicular to the valley, cutting off the road that runs through the valley to the north and south of Yanshan Mountains.

Huangyaguan was key to the Great Wall of Jizhen Town during the Ming Dynasty, and it was also home to the only large-scale defensive fort in Tianjin. The rocks on the cliffs to the east of the defensive fort were mostly yellowish-brown. Under the glow of the sunset, the rock looked resplendent as it reflected a dazzling golden light. It was known as the "yellow cliff in the dust", which is where Huangyaguan gets its name from (Yellow Cliff Pass).

Huangya Pass Great Wall in sea of clouds by Laojiang / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Huangyaguan was built during the Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty. It was built relatively simple at first. After the Gengxu War in the 29th year of Jiajing (1550), the Ming Dynasty overhauled the Great Wall and expanded Huangyaguan in order to strengthen its defense of Beijing. After that, both ends of the Great Wall were extended to reach Malanguan in the east, and Jiangjunguan Great Wall in the west.

In the early years of the Longqing period, Qi Jiguang was appointed as the Chief General of Jizhen Town. When the Great Wall of Jizhen Town was overhauled, a large number of hollow fortified towers were built here. To this day, the stone tablets erected in the fourth year of Longqing (1570) to commemorate the building of those towers are still there.

Huangya Pass Great Wall by Fan Ruochen / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

In the 15th year of Wanli (1587), Huangyaguan Defensive Fort was covered with bricks, and in the 19th year of Wanli (1591), the sections of the Great Wall wall on both sides of Huangyaguan were covered with bricks. At this point, after more than 180 years, the scale of Huangyaguan was finalized for good.

Huangyaguan City was built according to its mountainous topography, which is generally irregular like a hilt. The western half of the south city wall protrudes southward. The circumference of the city measures 890 meters, with its widest point from north to south measuring less than 270 meters, and its widest point from east to west measuring over 200 meters. In order to strengthen the defensive capability of the fort, there was also a north-south partition wall in the middle of the fort, which divided the fort city into eastern and western zones. There was also a barbican outside the East City Gate.

Huangya Pass by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

From east to west, Huangyaguan consisted of a barbican, an outer city, and an inner city. There were thoroughfare gates and towers on the east, west, and south sides of the city wall. Due to defensive requirements, the north city wall didn't open its gates, building the Polaris Pavilion on a platform instead. This pavilion is commonly known as Guandi Temple by the local people.

Over the south gate of the defensive fort, there is a white marble plaque inlaid with the word "Huangyaguan" in regular script. When we visited the Great Wall in 1984, this stone plaque was still on the step to the well in the center of the village, which was what people stood on to get water from the well. There is a Pailou (Chinese archway) in the south. The Pailou's plaque reads "蓟北雄关" (Great Pass in the north of Ji) on the front and "金汤巩固" (as strong as iron) on the back. The north wall extends eastward to the watergate.

Huangya Pass Great Wall by David Parker / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The watergate was a 5-hole bridge-style building, with crenelated walls and arched water tunnels. The watergate had a total length of 75.5 meters and a height of 12.15 meters. It controlled the Ju River Valley, connecting Taipingzhai in the east and Huangyaguan City in the west. There were battlements and arrow slits on top of the fort and iron fences at the bottom. Water could flow through, but people and horses would have been unable to cross it. Nowadays, this watergate has collapsed so much that the only thing that remains are the ruins of the North City Wall.

On the side of the Great Wall in the west, brick walls, stone walls, and other forms of city walls were built according to the characteristics of the area.

Huangya Pass Great Wall by Yipi Heima Gedageda / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

There are 20 fortified towers and abutments along a straight line on the west wall, including square, round, brick, and stone structures. Among them, Phoenix Tower, which stands on a lonely peak blown by the wind one kilometer away from the north point of the Huangyaguan city, is round and made from brick, with a base diameter of 16.1 meters and a height of 18.3 meters. Phoenix Tower was divided into upper and lower floors, and the top was built from a brick structure. Due to years of disrepair, the walls are decaying. In the 1980s, it was repaired by the Tianjin Municipal Government with the help of people from many circles.

To the east is the Great Wall of Taipingzhai, which is located in Xiaoping'an Village, 10 kilometers southeast of Huangyaguan. It is at an altitude of 400-500 meters, controlling the steep valley on the east side of Huangyaguan City. Here, there is a striking square fortified tower called "Widow Tower".

Huangya Pass by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

According to legend, when the Great Wall was built, there were 12 soldiers who didn't return home for several years, so all of their wives went to the border together to search for them. After experiencing innumerable hardships, they arrived at the foot of the Great Wall to see tombstones standing on the mountain. Their loved ones had long since given their lives to building and guarding the Great Wall. These 12 strong women, suppressing their grief, decided to give their pensions to support the consolidation of the Great Wall and inherit their husbands' legacies. They joined the army that guarded the border and served their country there. Along the Great Wall, there are many legends like the one about Widow Tower. What a beautiful and sad story it is.

On the square in front of the barbican at the entrance to Taipingzhai Great Wall, there is a stone statue of General Qi Jiguang, who has an unbreakable bond with the Great Wall. It is more than eight meters high, showing him dressed in military uniform and looking magnificent.

Sea of Clouds at Huangya Pass Great Wall by Fanruo ChenxiSimatai Great Wall

Huangyaguan Great Wall had a defensive fort at its center, extending at either end to the two cliffs on the Ju River. In the east, it reached Banlagang Mountain shielded by cliffs, and in the west, it stretched to Wangmaoding Mountain supported by cliffs. This entire section of the Great Wall is built on a ridge over 700 meters above sea level. The architectural features of the Great Wall in this section are as follows: the platform walls are made of brick and stone, the fortified towers are square and round, and the masonry bases are hollow and solid. The defensive fort, watergate and towers have everything they need. Connected with mountains and rivers, their design layout is very ingenious.

Credits: All media
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