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Section of the Great Wall at Shanhaiguan
|Literal meaning||"Mountain and Sea Pass"|
Shanhai Pass (simplified Chinese: 山海关; traditional Chinese: 山海關; pinyin: Shānhǎi Guān) or Shanhaiguan, Shan-hai-kuan or Shan-hai-kwan, also known as Yu Pass (榆關), along with Jiayu Pass and Juyong Pass, is one of the major passes of the Great Wall of China It is located in Shanhaiguan District, Qinhuangdao, Hebei. In 1961, Shanhaiguan became a site of China First Class National Cultural Site.
It is a popular tourist destination, featuring the eastern end of the main line of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. The "First Pass Under Heaven" is also a noticeable tourist attraction. The place where the wall itself meets the Pacific Ocean (at the Bohai Sea) has been nicknamed the "Old Dragon's Head."
Shanhaiguan is located south of Yan Mountain, and north of the Bohai Sea. For centuries, the pass guarded the narrow passage between Northeast and Central East China. Both the Northern Qi Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty constructed passes here. In 1381, Ming general Xu Da constructed Shanhaiguan, named due to its position between mountain and the sea.
Later, Ming general Qi Jiguang began fortification and construction of a military city around Shanhaiguan, building cities and forts to the east, south and north of the pass. Shanhaiguan became one of the most heavily fortified pass in China, and to this day, it is also one of the best preserved passes in the Great Wall.
There are two accounts regarding the battle of Shanhaiguan at the end of the Ming Dynasty. The more popular, romanticised version states: during the Ming Dynasty, general Wu Sangui was about to surrender and join the rebel forces of Li Zicheng when he heard that his concubine Chen Yuanyuan had been taken by Li. Enraged, and convinced the Ming were doomed, he decided to cast his lot with the invading Manchu. He contacted the Manchu leader Dorgon and as a result threw open the gates of Shanhaiguan to Manchu soldiers. Together Wu and the Manchus fought what has become known as the Battle of Shanhai Pass against Li Zicheng. The victory by the Manchus hastened the end of not only of rebel Li but also of the Ming dynasty and firmly established the Manchus as the dominant power in China. The Manchus created China's last dynasty, the Qing dynasty.
The second account of these events holds that Wu Sangui surrendered to Li, but on his way to Peking (Beijing), he learned of the disorderly state of the capital and of the massacres perpetrated by Li's forces, as well as the murder of his own father. Enraged, he returned to Shanhaiguan and surrendered to the Manchu leaders. Wu's forces then fought in the front lines against Li's forces, deceiving them into believing the Manchus had not broken through. As a result, Manchu forces decimated Li's forces, using a cloth attached to the uniforms of Sangui's troops as a way to differentiate friend from foe.
During the Qing era, Shanhaiguan, situated between Shenyang and Beijing, was referred to as the Key to the Capitals. During the Republic, as well as during the Eight-Nation Alliance and World War II, Shanhaiguan was the site of many conflicts.
The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica noted:
SHANHAI-KWAN, a garrison town in the extreme east of the province of Chih-li, China. Pop. about 30,000. It is situated at the point where the range of hills carrying the Great Wall of China dips to the sea, leaving a kwon or pass of limited extent between China proper and Manchuria. It is thus an important military station, and the thoroughfare of trade between Manchuria and the great plain of China. The Imperial Northern railway from Tientsin and Taku, 174 m. from the former, runs through the pass, and skirts the shore of the Gulf of Liao-tung as far as the treaty port of Niu-chwang, where it connects with the railways leading from Port Arthur to the Siberian main line. The pass formed the southern limit of the Russian sphere of influence as defined in the convention between Great Britain and Russia of the 28th of April 1899.
In July 1904, 15,000 Japanese troops landed at Shanhai Pass, prior to marching on Peking to relieve the siege of the legations by the Boxers. A pre-landing bombardment of the area was unnecessary as few Chinese troops were present (see Staris Times, 18 July 1900, p.2). Inter-allied relations were dealt a blow when a drunken fracas occurred at Shanhai Pass between Japanese and French troops. In the fighting three French and seven Japanese soldiers were killed, and five French and 12 Japanese were wounded (See Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1904 p.5).
In November 1945, the North Eastern PLA attempted to hold Shanhaiguan against the Guomindang forces attacking from the south. They sought to keep Chiang Kai-shek out of Manchuria. The PLA forces of 10,000 were under equipped and too few to defend the position and retreated to Siping.
The pass of Shanhaiguan is a square, with a perimeter of around 4 kilometers long. The walls reach a height of 14 meters, and are 7 meters thick. The east, south and north sides are surrounded by a deep, wide moat. There are drawbridges over the moat. In the middle of the pass stands a tall bell tower.
All four sides of Shanhaiguan had a gate: Zhendong (East), Ying'en (West), Wangyang (South), and Weiyuan (North). Due to disrepair over the centuries, only Zhendong gate still remains today. Zhendong Gate is the most important gate in Shanhaiguan due to its position, which faces outside the pass. Written on a board that hangs above the gate is an alternate name of Shanhai Pass, "First Pass Under the Heaven" (天下第一关). This should not be confused with the "First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven" (天下第一雄关), a different pass located on the west end of the Great Wall.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shanhaiguan.|
- Photos of Shanhaiguan
- Great Wall of China Old dragon's head
- Illustrated Atlas of Shanhai, Yongping, Jizhou, Miyun, Gubeikou, Huanghua Zhen and Other Areas