Shanhaiguan: Eastern Terminus of the Wall

The Great Wall of China runs from the Yellow Sea at Shanhaiguan (two+ hours northeast of Beijing by train) inland and west to Jiayuguan in Gansu, at the edge of the Tarim Basin and the deserts of Central Asia, 2700 kilometers away. I’ve previously shown plenty of views of unrestored sections of the Wall in the hills around Beijing, but so far I’ve never been to any of the highly-touristed and rightly famous restored sections, such as Badaling, Jinshanling or Mutianyu. No doubt at some point I’ll go to these when someone visits me (Mom, are you ever really going to come?) – but for now I’ve enjoyed hiking on the unrestored and more remote sections of the Wall.

In June, though, my friend Catherine asked me to join her and some classmates on a weekend excursion to Shanhaiguan and Beidaihe, the beach resort 30 km or so south of Shanhaiguan. I couldn’t say no to such an offer, and we had a wonderful weekend – despite rain in Beidaihe.

Shanhaiguan is also known as “the first pass under heaven,” meaning the first place where people can pass the wall, working inland from the ocean. In fact, for quite a long stretch, it’s the only place where the wall passes through flatland, in the several kilometers in from the ocean. This, of course, was the point – to protect the fertile and productive Han Chinese heartland from the nomadic tribes that from earliest history had occasionally raided Chinese communities and headed off with livestock and other valuables.

And it was at Shanhaiguan, in 1644, that the Qing Manchu leader Dorgon, who had already consolidated his control over the northeastern areas outside the Great Wall and imposed vassal status on the Korean peninsula, led his armies through the Great Wall and into the Han heartland. From there it was a short march to Beijing, where the last Ming emperor had already hanged himself – an inglorious death for the man supposed to be the son of heaven. I hope you enjoy these shots. With any luck, my next weeklong R&R will be out to Kashgar in far western Xinjiang – on the western edge of the Takla Makan: so perhaps a post in the near future will contain some shots of that region!

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