Seventh of the 15 Passes: Zhangjiakou

By Simatai Great Wall

Dong Yaohui

Zhangjiakou section of Great Wall by Chunlei Photography / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The city of Zhangjiakou is home to many sections of the Great Wall and is steeped in culture.

During the Ming dynasty, Zhangjiakou was under the jurisdiction of Xuanfuqian division. It was built by Zhang Wen, capital commander of the Ming dynasty in the fourth year of the Xuande era (1429), and was later called Zhangjiakou (means Zhang Family's Gate) Fort in honor of Zhang Wen, the ancient city's founding father.

Zhangjiakou section of Great Wall by Liu Gaopan / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The Great Wall is a system of fortifications connected by passes, signal towers, fortified towers, and defenses. In this system, necessary defense facilities such as loopholes and forts were built for fighting against the enemy.

It was with this in mind that the Zhangjiakou Fort on the Great Wall defense line was built, with a perimeter of over 2,000 meters, walls about 11 meters high, and gates on the east and south. The east gate was named Yongzhen and the south gate was named Cheng’en.

Big mirror door at Zhangjiakou by Jia Xi / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

In the 16th year of the Chenghua era of the Ming dynasty (1480), Zhangjiakou Pass was expanded again. In the eighth year of the Jiajing era (1529), Zhang Zhen, the capital commander, rebuilt the city and opened its north gate, naming it Zhangjiakou. In the second year of the Wanli era (1574), Zhangjiakou was renovated with bricks.

In the first year of the Shunzhi era of the Qing dynasty (1644), a section of the Ming Great Wall of Zhangjiakou was split open in order to build one large and one small gate. The one in the east was called Small Border Gate and the one in the west Large Border Gate. The Small Border Gate was a passage for Han and Mongolian merchants to travel to and from the city, while the Large Border Gate was exclusively for the use of the government.

The Large Border Gate was an important part of the passage from the capital and inland areas to the Outer Mongolian grasslands north of the Gobi desert, and is marked with the majestic inscription: “Spectacular Rivers and Mountains”.

Zhangjiakou section of Great Wall by PeterLauPhotography / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Surrounded by mountains, Zhangjiakou has a cool summer climate, and the presence of its farming and nomadic communities can still be felt in the areas surrounding the Great Wall. In the rolling mountains of Zhangjiakou, Great Wall ruins from many dynasties remain.

The Ming Great Wall extends nearly 1,000 miles into Zhangjiakou City, with important passes there such as Mashikou, Xinhekou, Dushikou, and Zhangjiakou. 

Zhangjiakou section of the Great Wall by Ningfu Tingrui / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Zhangjiakou is located along the travel route between the Mongolian Plateau and the North China Plain. It is surrounded by mountains on its east, west and south sides, forming a natural boundary between the nomadic Bashang Grasslands and the farming region of the Central Plains.

In between the Mongolian Plateau and the North China Plain, there is an open mountainous area. The lower part of the grasslands in Zhangjiakou sits in a basin which is suitable for stationing and moving large numbers of troops. Therefore, throughout the ages, the critical location of Zhangjiakou has made it a strategic place to conquer in times of war.

Zhangjiakou section of Great Wall by Yang Dong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

From the Warring States period around 300 BC to the end of the Ming dynasty, wars against the Xiongnu were waged here for nearly 2,000 years. 

Zhangjiakou has also seen large-scale ethnic integration since ancient times, leaving behind remarkable legends of war. The Battle of Banquan, where the Yellow Emperor fought against the Flame Emperor; the Battle of Yehuling, where Genghis Khan defeated the Jin soldiers; and the Battle of Xinbao’an in the Pingjin Campaign of the Chinese Civil War, all took place in this area. 

Zhangjiakou section of Great Wall by Pan Liliang / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

More than 50 famous battles and fights have taken place in Zhangjiakou, and more than 200 ruins of ancient battlefields, passes, fortresses and military government sites can be found here. History shows that wars, regardless of the time in which they took place, caused huge losses to both sides involved, as brutal violence went hand in hand with victory.

Doing one’s best to avoid conflicts and minimize damage has always been a pillar of traditional Chinese culture. The Chinese have always aspired to prevent war by using political and economic means to dissuade violence. This was the very reason why the Great Wall was built.

Qingbiankou Great Wall at Xuanhua, Zhangjiakou by Tianmo Photography / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The construction of the Great Wall was borne not only of military concerns, but also political ones. Whether or not the Great Wall functioned effectively was closely related to social and political conditions at the time. When the economy was booming, when there was no corruption in politics and the nation was powerful, military might was strong, and the Great Wall helped to protect farming regions.

On the other hand, when political corruption reached a level that was bitterly detested by the people, when the nation was mired in economic woes, and when social conflicts were rampant, the Great Wall was not able to play its proper role. That is why the Great Wall was of little help in the late Ming dynasty, when political corruption was rife and the whole nation descended into crisis.

Credits: All media
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