Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Love and Betrayal at Shanhaiguan

The Great Wall, built over a period of 2,000 thousand years and  by different rulers and dynasties, resulting in death of between 1 to 3 million people (as said in some internet articles) stretches a total length of 8,852 km from the Lop Nur in the west to the east ending 20 meters into the Bohai Sea at Shanhaiguan. It is difficult to really know the full length of the actual wall over the years but there were even estimates that it could well exceed 21,196km, taking into consideration of all the different sections that are no longer in existence. The current wall as we know it, is largely constructed during the Ming Dynasty.

I am particularly interested in the eastern section of the wall at Shanhaiguan (山海关). Firstly, this is apparently where the wall begins as she snakes westward and secondly, the wall was built extending approximately 20 meters into the Bohai Sea.

Fortunately, Shanhaiguan at the city of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province is located approximately 3.5 hours drive from Beijing. So, when the opportunity came up for us to take a weekend trip, we jumped at it. We were forewarned by our driver, guide cum friend that this is a major tourist attraction among the locals and to expect a crowd. The place was certainly crowded but I find it far more comfortable and pleasant as compared to places like the Pingyao ancient town in Shanxi.

Shanhaiguan, literally meaning “The Pass of Mountain and Sea” is where the first pass is located known as the “FIRST PASS UNDER HEAVEN” (天下第一关). I have always been intrigued by the Great Wall and living in China now has given me the opportunity to visit her more often. The experience I had at Jingshanling and Mutianyu has got me hooked. Hence, standing there where she starts her journey westward and ending 8,852 km in Lop Nur over numerous ridges and valleys and the very first pass of the many multiple passes was a special experience to me

However, the current day Shanhaiguan is mostly a reconstructed section since she has been destroyed and plundered so many times over the centuries, speaking to a large extend the strategic location and how important she is.

As I do more research on Shanhaiguan, it appears that Shanhaiguan is more than just the first pass of the Great Wall. This is where, the love for a lady and a betrayal led to the end of the Ming Dynasty and the start of the Manchu rule in China (Qing Dynasty) for the next 300 years, effectively ending the very objective of which the wall was created 2000 years ago, which is to stop the marauding Manchu armies from the north.

This is also where the legend of a lady who wailed and cried for her husband who died constructing the wall, till a section of the wall crumbled, apparently touched by her sorrow.

Wu Sangui (吳三桂) is the general in charge of Shanhaiguan, keeping the Manchu armies at bay despite numerous attempts. Around this time, rebel forces under the leadership of Li Zicheng has taken over Beijing, ending the rule of the Ming Dynasty with the suicide of Emperor Chongzhen who hanged himself on a tree (the tree still visible) at the Jingshan Hill in Beijing. General Wu was about to seek alliance with the newly appointed new emperor but news that his beloved concubine, Chen Yuan Yuan (陈圆圆) has been taken custody by the new emperor, angered him so much that he turned to the Manchu’s leader, Dorgon. His betrayal by opening the pass at Shanhaiguan, resulted in the Manchu sweeping into China and swiftly took over the land, established the Qing Dynasty that ruled China for the next 300 years!

Another love story that surrounds Shanhaiguan is how the lovely Meng JianNu (孟姜女), whose newly married husband Fan Qiliang was forcefully taken to construct the wall. When winter came, with no news from her husband, Lady Meng went to the wall with new winter clothes only to find out that her husband has died during the construction and was buried within the walls. Legend has it that she cried in sorrow and the wall was so touched by her sorrow that it came crumbling down, giving up the remains of her husband. A temple has been constructed in memory of her love and dedication.

The part where the wall meets the sea is known as Laolongdou (龙头) or the Old Dragon’s Head. This is where the Great Wall starts and she is called the Dragon’s Head and the rest of the wall, her body stretching all the way westward.
 This is where the wall ends in the Bohai Sea.
This is the part of the wall that stretches from Bohai Sea inland towards the mountains, westward through China, finally ending 8,800 km at Lop Nur.
The wall at "First Pass under Heaven" stretching towards Jiao Shan (
角山), the first mountain she climbs in her journey westward.

This is another attraction that not many foreigners would go due to the distance from Beijing and I am glad that I have the opportunity to be here, up close and personal.

No comments:

Post a Comment