Third of the 15 Passes: Xifengkou

By Simatai Great Wall

Dong Yaohui

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Location

The Luan River, which originates in the mountains of northern Hebei and runs through the eastern part of the country, is one of the longest rivers in Hebei province. 

Xifengkou, located more than 50 kilometers north-west of Qianxi County in Hebei Province, is situated where the Luan River valley meets the Great Wall. With mountains on both sides, the terrain there is very dangerous.

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Unique Architectural Structure

Xifengkou was built by General Xu Da in the first year of the Hongwu era of the Ming Dynasty (1368). Later in the Ming dynasty, others continued to build and reinforce the defensive buildings of Xifengkou. In July of the third year of the Jingtai era of the Ming dynasty (1452), the Zhenyuan Building, which stands at 13 meters tall, was built on the Xifengkou Pass gate.

The structure of the buildings in Xifengkou is unique in that the Great Wall there was triple fortified, with a solid stone-based brick wall linking the three pass gates into one, and with hollow fortified towers positioned to guard the six points of the wall. The western wall was connected to the main body of the Great Wall, with the pass, walls, and signal towers forming the defense system. 

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Xifengkou was a pass located in the eastern section of the Yan Mountains, and was known in ancient times as Lulong Pass. When Cao Cao fought against the Wuhuan west of the Liao River at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, and when Murong Jun of Former Yan advanced into the Central Plains in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, they both passed through the ancient Lulong Pass.

Legend has it that when a young man who had left his hometown for work did not return home for a long time, his father searched for him, traversing thousands of mountains and rivers until he finally found him at Lulong Pass. The father embraced his son when they met and was so overjoyed that he died. He was buried there and Lulong Pass was renamed Xǐféngkǒu (which means "Happy Meeting Gate"), which later became known as Xǐfēngkǒu (which means Happy Peak Gate).

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

When the Xifengkou Great Wall was first built, the architect divided it into two parts based on military concerns: the pass and the fortress. The fortress is situated in a basin surrounded by mountains, and its four stone walls are seven meters in height, which make it solid and strong. The pass is located on the north side of the fortress, which is against the mountains on three of its sides and against the river on one.

In ancient times, all pedestrians had to pass through three well-guarded gates in order to enter the pass. Xifengkou Pass was so heavily guarded that it was virtually impregnable.

Xifengkou Great Wall by Su Xianling / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Standing on a summit overlooking Xifengkou today, you will see a strange sight. Xifengkou Pass is partially submerged in water, and only a small part of the wall is visible even when the water is low. The Great Wall follows the rolling mountains up to the riverbank and then snakes down into the water, where it runs underneath for about 2 kilometers before emerging again from the opposite bank, climbing up the mountain ridge and continuing westwards to wind between the tall mountains.

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Thanks to the water, vegetation grows in abundance on the mountains along the Xifengkou Great Wall, and its richness transforms the landscape in different ways with each passing season. Standing on the mountain next to Xifengkou and looking out over the lake and mountains, the Great Wall undulates through the greenery of the mountains. The beautiful view of the Great Wall and lush mountains is reflected in the clear and calm water of Panjiakou Reservoir.

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Role of the Great Wall

When Xifengkou was built as the forefront of the Great Wall defense, it was about 30 km from the General Military Mansion, the headquarters responsible for commanding the defense line of the Great Wall for more than 1,000 miles. 

The ultimate objective of building the Great Wall defense system was to defeat armies without going to battle. If the attackers decided to retreat instead of facing its strong defense system, then the Great Wall was perfectly fulfilling its role. 

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

In the winter of the sixth year of the Longqing era (1572), Qi Jiguang organized a large-scale military exercise involving more than 100,000 elite soldiers in Tangquan, and invited the Head of Outer Mongolia to visit. 

The exercises fully demonstrated the Ming army's excellent equipment and military force, showing its formidable military strength to the Head of Mongolia. This was a clear message to others that the Ming army was ready to resist invasion with its powerful military might, deterring them from acting recklessly. The troops that were stationed along the Great Wall and continuously held drills and exercises were actually intended to be a deterrent to the enemy.

Xifengkou by Yu Shanrong / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

When the Xifengkou Great Wall is mentioned, people will often think of the tragic Defense of the Great Wall campaign and the touching song, The Sword March. You can see more than just brick walls at the Great Wall of Xifengkou. You can also see the fearless spirit of sacrifice that burned in the hearts of many heroes and heroines at a time when the nation was in peril. The Great Wall was touched by war in modern times, as it played an effective role in resisting Japanese  aggression.

In the spring of 1933, after the Japanese invaders occupied Rehe, they invaded Xifengkou. To their surprise, the Chinese soldiers used swords against the enemy and held their ground at Xifengkou. The Sword March eulogized the spirit of those Chinese soldiers who were not afraid of sacrifice.

Although the war of resistance against the Japanese invaders at the Great Wall ultimately failed, the Chinese soldiers' strong will is eternal, and this heroic and tragic song, The Sword March, is still sung to this day.

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