Serving the ancient Silk Road that formed an artery of trade and cultural exchange between east and west, the Jiayuguan Pass was a solemn and splendid landmark of Great Wall in Gansu. Its construction cost a great deal in terms of manpower and material resources. The work gave rise to a number of strange and sometimes beautiful stories, legends that have come down to us over the centuries.
Here are four little stories.
The Wall Stabilizing Brick:
|Story of One Brick about Jiayuguan Pass |
This is a legend about the Jiayuguan Pass, which tells of a workman named Yi Kaizhan who lived during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and who was a very proficient mathematician. He calculated that it would take exactly 99,999 bricks to build the pass. The supervisor did not believe him and said that if he had miscalculated by so much as just one brick, then all the workmen would be condemned to hard labor for three years as a punishment. After the completion of the project, one brick was left behind the Xiwong city gate. The supervisor was happy at the sight of the brick and prepared to carry out his threat of punishment. However Yi Kaizhan said with an authoritative air that the brick had been put there by a supernatural being to stabilize the wall and that even a tiny move would cause the whole structure to collapse. Therefore the brick remained in place and was never moved. It can still be found there today on the tower of the pass.
Conveying Stones on Iced Path:
|Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu |
During the construction of the Jiayuguan Pass, huge blocks of stone, each measuring two meters (6.6 feet) in length and 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) in width and 0.3 meters (1.0 feet) thick were in great demand. Builders cut the crude stones in the mountain; however they were so heavy that there was no means to transport them over a long distance. Now the laws and regulations governing the construction stipulated that workers would be executed if they delayed the construction of the Great Wall; a fact that caused them great concern. It was near to the depths of winter, and not one block of stone was carried from the mountain. The workers sighed but no one had a solution to the
problem. Suddenly a loud clap of thunder burst on the mountaintop and a length of silk brocade fell from the sky. The workers rushed to pick it up it and saw some words on it. Seeing the words, they realized what they should do. By the arrival of winter, the workers had built a path from the mountaintop to the pass. They poured water on this path, which quickly froze. They put the large blocks of stone on the icy path, sliding the stones along it. In this manner they got the stones to the work site on time. This clever ruse saved much time and the construction work was not delayed. To give thanks for the divine help, the workers built a temple near the pass. The temple then became the place where the succeeding workers went to pay respect to their heavenly protector.
Goats Carry the Bricks:
Jiayuguan Pass is about nine meters high (30 feet). In addition, ten towers each with different shapes and abundant buttresses were built on the pass. At that time, conditions for the construction workers were very hard. Without lifting equipment, they had to carry all the bricks. Those used to build the pass were fired in a kiln 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. After firing the bricks, workers used oxcarts to carry them to the pass, and then had to pass them up onto the wall by manpower. The only path for transporting the bricks was a long slope, which was very difficult to go up and down. In spite of more workers being sent there, it was still a hard job. The construction schedule was severely affected. One day, a shepherd boy brought his goats to feed alongside the construction site. When he saw the plight of the workers, he suddenly had a bright idea. He took off his girdle, tied a brick on each end and put the girdle over the back of a goat. He patted the goat. The smart animal then trotted along the road, up the slope and onto the wall. The workers were pleasantly surprised by the sight and adopted the idea and so were able to quickly carry large numbers of bricks onto the Great Wall.
Twitter of the Swallow:
|Gate Tower of Jiayuguan |
Once there was a pair of swallows nesting within the walls of the Rouyuan Gate on the Jiayuguan Pass. One morning, the swallows flew out of the Pass looking for food. In the evening, the female swallow returned and waited for her partner. However when the male swallow reached the gate, he found it was closed and he could not return to the nest. Letting out a sorrowful sound, he struck himself against the wall and died. Overwhelmed with sorrow by the death of her husband, the female swallow twittered and twittered and finally died of sadness. Although she was dead, her soul remained there. Whenever people knocked on the wall with a stone, the twitter of a swallow would be heard. In ancient China, people regarded this sound of the twitter as auspicious. When generals set off for battles, their wives would knock on the wall with a stone to pray for their safe return. Later it evolved into a kind of custom that generals and soldiers would take their families to the wall and knock upon the wall as a prayer before they went off to fight in battles.