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Yangguan Great Wall

Yangguan Pass of Great Wall
Beacon Tower of Dundun Hill,
Yangguan Pass, Gansu


Yangguan Pass, is not only known as a famous military stronghold along the Great Wall and Silk Road, but also widely recognized as the synonym of sadness and parting, as ancient Chinese people used to bade farewell to their families and friends here and many poets have depicted farewell scenes in this pass. Among them, the most famous is 'Oh, my friend, I sincerely entreat you to have another cup of wine; you will see no more friends west out of the Yangguan Pass', by Wang Wei, a famous poet in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907).

 Basic Facts of Yangguan Great Wall

 It was one of the two military strongholds (the other one: Yumenguan Pass) on the western border back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD). The Emperor Wu ordered to build them initially on the purpose of consolidating the frontier defense.

 Besides the military function, Yangguan and Yumenguan were also trading gateways promoted the economical and cultural communications between central China and west regions. They have witnessed the prosperity of the Silk Road.

 In the Tang Dynasty, it welcomed the glorious return of Xuan Zang, a great monk who went on a pilgrimage to the west in search of Buddhist scriptures. In the Song (960 – 1279) and Ming (1368 – 1644) Dynasties, because of the decline of the Silk Road, it was gradually forgotten by people.

 'Yang' means the sun in Chinese. Because of the geographic location, the sun would shine on the south side of mountains in China for most time of a day. So Chinese people also use 'Yang' for south. Lying to the south of Yumenguan Pass, people gave its name – Yang Pass.

 It was linked with Yumenguan by a 40-mile (64-kilometer) wall with over ten beacon towers every three miles (five kilometers). Nowadays, most parts of Yangguan Pass have already been buried by the flowing dunes. Occupying the highest point, only the beacon tower on the top of Dundun Hill is above the sand.

Gansu Yangguan Pass bricks
Bricks in Yangguan Museum

 Yangguan Museum

It is the entrance of the whole scenic area, 870 yards (796 meters) north of the only remaining beacon tower of the pass on the Dundun Hill. There are exhibitions about the two vital passes – Yangguan and Yumenguan and the Silk Road with nearly 4,000 historical items on display, like the bronze ware, ironware, jade, fabrics, and weapons. Not only a simple museum, it is more like a quaint cultural city with gate tower, general's office, and barracks, which were rebuilt according to the historical records to reproduce the original look of the pass.

 Yangguan Avenue

Once you get out of the gate tower in the museum, the 870-yard (796-meter) long avenue would lead you to the relics site of the pass. The name of the road in Chinese means a broad way heading for happiness and a bright future, carrying good wishes from the family and friends. You can get through it by horse, donkey cart, or sightseeing bus. The price is CNY 40, CNY 20, and CNY 10 per passenger respectively.

 Beacon Tower 

When arriving at the relic's site, you will only see a beacon tower standing at the top of the Dundun Hill. The trace of dismantled walls and watchtowers cannot be found at all, for they were all eroded by the wind and buried under earth. However, it is the paradise of the photographers for this scene best portrays what lonely frontier looks like. The only tower high up with the wide sky and vast desert as its backdrop creates a thick sense of desolation and vicissitude.

 Curio Sand

1,500 yards (1,371 meters) south of the lonely beacon tower, there is a small valley, called Curio Sand, where people can find lots of coins, weapons, and decorations before it was fenced. It is said that an imperial bridal procession was buried here by the sand, and the articles are the dowry of the royal princess. Additionally, remnants of castles and ramparts were also excavated among the rolling sand dunes. Experts speculated that the Curio Sand should be the location of the lost pass.

Great Wall Yangguan Pass Museum
Exhibits in Yangguan Museum
Admission Fee CNY 50
Opening Hours 8:00 – 20:00

 Experiencing the Ancient Exit Procedure by Yourself

Once you get out of the pass in old days, you have stepped your foot on foreign land. So, an old-fashioned passport must be the best souvenir of this trip. Here you can experience the process of 'going abroad' by yourself and the whole procedure goes as follow:

 At first, you need to apply for a passport at the general's office. The dressed-up officer in traditional Chinese clothes would write your name and exit time on the document and stamp it.

 Next, you should get to the gate tower with the passport to do the final check.

 Once you finish the whole procedure and are permitted to leave, there will be beautiful girls dressed as fairies performing a traditional farewell dance.

 Then, you will be served a cup of farewell wine and be presented a branch of willow, which reads like the word 'stay' in Chinese to represent the reluctant parting.


  The ritual is available from April to November and it costs CNY 600 if there are less than 20 attendees, CNY 1,000 if there are 20-50 attendees, and CNY 30/per one if there are over 50 attendees.

  The price of the passport varies according to different materials and appearance:

Inscribed wooden slip style CNY 50
Waist tag style CNY 30
Linen-made passport CNY 20
Paper-made passport with silk cover CNY 20

 Travel Tips

 The best time to admire the site is the sunrise and sunset. The scarlet sunlight will turn the desert into a sea of 'fire', reminding you that this place was once a fierce battlefield. In order to view the sunset, you are recommended to get to the scenic area between 17:00 and 18:00. After a one-hour visit to the museum, you can head to the relics site straightly for the sunset. If you intend to enjoy the sunrise, you may need to reach the scenic area one day in advance and spend a night in the barracks inside the scenic area. Or, there are also farmhouses near the pass, providing accommodation and meals.

 After your visit to the scenic area, you may feel very thirsty after being exposed to the sun for around two hours. Yangguan Town, two miles (three kilometers) east of the pass, has a reputation of the 'Second Grape Valley of China (after the one in Turpan, Xinjiang)'. Here, you can feast your stomach with sweet and juicy grapes and also the local delicious cuisine.

 How to Get There From Dunhuang?

Dunhuang City brims with historical and natural scenery. But the public transport is not so convenient. Generally, visitors would choose to charter a minibus to visit some popular spots along the west-line at a time, including Western Thousand-Buddha Cave, Han Dynasty Great Wall, Yumenguan, Yangguan, and Yardang National Geopark. It would cost CNY 400 – 500/per bus.