On the way to the Wei-Jin tombs, willows lined the road, with tiny white floss/flowers flying like snow, quite a scene.
is a pass, a fort and a gateway to the west territory è¥¿å from the heart of China. The name has always been associated with something a little exotic, a border town, a defense stronghold,Â and one of the most stretegically located places at the Silk Road.
During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), the emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) was one of the most famous, his reign was characterized by territory expansion, and during his time the Silk Road was opened. In China, starting from Han Wu Di, the emperors had a way to number the years based on some words he picked, so the first year of emperor X's reign may be called XYZ year 1, and sometimes an emperor would change the name during his reign.
The willow floss are like snow on the ground, they were very light and flew all over the place
These were used when he was in power, so we would say during XYZ year of the emperor... Then when he is dead, a title is given to him and used by later people to refer to him as Something Di (Di means emperor). So Wu Di was a name given to him by his successor. Wu æ¦ means military, kung fu,Â this symbolized the main achievements of his reign. Another emperor (Wu Di's grandfather) in Han Dynasty was named Wen Di (Wen æ on the other hand, means literature, culture, literary, thus symbolizing the reign of an emperor whose times had seen lots of culture and literary high notes), in fact these names were frequently reused in many dynasties, the only word changed would be the Dynasty name, so Han Wu Di is the Militarily powerful emperor of the Han Dynasty.
Anyway, Han Wu Di sent a general Zhang Qian, also an adventurer and ambassdor to the west to seek allies against the Huns (Mongolians) in the north.
The willows along the road to Wei-jin tombs, the ground was covered with the super light white floss from the willow trees, we stopped to take photos, and Phil said, be careful, there is a fire!
Before this time, Mongolians had been very strong and ruled most of the areas north and west of the heartland of China. Han dynasty had to send princesses to marry the ruler of Mongolia and also give them lots of money to keep them from invading China. So at the reign of Wu Di, which was about 60 years after the establishment of Han Dynasty, the Chinese had more soldiers and wealth, so Wu Di decided to push the Mongolians back. Anyway, Zhang Qian went west, and was almost immediately captured by the Mongolians. He was kept captive for 10 years! before he was able to escape. He eventually reached present-day Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan! But the people there did not want to ally with China to fight the Mongolians, they were leading a prosperous life at the time. So Zhang Qian had to return without success.
And the fire was coming along burning the floss
On the way back he was captured again by the Mongolians, but this time he was able to escape in about 1 year and returned to China. The trip took him 13 years! But Wu Di was still the emperor, and what Zhang Qian had learned about the west and route was very useful. He discovered there were many nation states in the west, and they were interested in goods from China. So basically Wu Di decided to open the Silk Road by sending soldiers out west to conquer smaller nations and allied with some to push the Mongolians back. 4 cities were established along the Silk Road, Wuwei, Changye, Jiachuan, Dunhuang
. And 3 forts were established, Jiayuguan, Yumenguan and Yangguan (the latter 2 west of Dunhuang which I would visit later).
close-up of the fire burning the willow floss, it was quite a sight
Further west, in present Xinchiang, the Hans also stationed soldiers and farmed the land. Most of these happened more than 2000 years ago! So you can imagine there is a lot of history along the Silk Road, and the nations in the west were names from something like the 1001 Arabian Nights, except they were real places!
That's why I was excited about coming to Jiayuguan, and the photos I had seen before showed the fort to be very impressive! I was not disappointed! The fort we saw now was built in the 14th century in the Ming Dynasty. It was situated in the narrow part of the Hexi Corridor. The fort had an inner wall and an outer wall. We first approached from the entrance of the outer wall, then walked through a very large area where many steles were installed, proclaiming the significance of the fort by many generations.
entrance to Wei-jin tomb museum
The inner wall has a perimeter of 640 meters, and an area of 25000 sq meters. The wall was 10 meters high. The towers on top of the wall was 17 meters high, adding the 10 meters of the wall, the top of the towers were 27 meters high! Very visible and impressive even from afar. When the current Chinese government was building the railroad from Lanzhou
to Xinchiang, the direct route would have gone through the fort. However, Chou En Lai ordered the railroad to detour around it to save this most significant fort and ancient culture heritage from being damaged!
The main tower was restored in 1978, having been burned in 1931, but the other 2 towers were from the 16th century. We took a long time to walk around the top of the inner wall, and eventually went out the west gate toward the desert.
sign at the Wei-jin tomb, no photography!
There were local people with camels waiting there for photo opportunities, and I took the camel further west to get a view of the Jiayuguan fort from a distance and a full view, which was well worth it. I think I paid 15 RMB for the camel ride.
We actually went to see something I had never heard of first, the éæ Wei-Jin tombs. Wei was one of the three states the Han Dynasty degenerated into around the 3rd century, and Jin was the dynasty which was established after the Han DynastyÂ by one of the generals of the Wei state, and it was a short unified Chinese Dynasty before the South North Dynasties of 16 states! So these tombs were from the 3rd century. More than 1000 tombs have been discovered about 25km from Jiayuguan since the 1970's, only 8 had been excavated, and only 1 of those is open for viewing.
outside the tomb building
If you go to Jiayuguan, don't miss this treasure if you have any love of arts! The tomb was 10 meters under ground and held the coffins of a couple. The walls of the tomb was covered with these bricks painted with really delightful and beautiful scenes of the lives of the couple. From kitchen food preparation, silkworm feeding to dancing and more were all displayed in vivid red or black on white background. No photos were allowed inside the tombs, but I got a book and some postcards later to remind myself of the many paintings there.
é·åç¬¬ä¸å¢© First base of the Great Wall was another spot to visit near Jiayuguan. What's left was nothing more than a mound of the base of the Great Wall, but because it was the western most part of the Great Wall, it was significant to visit.
the tomb is under the mound on the left, and the tiny building is the entrance to the underground tomb
And there was a very interesting and completely reconstructed military camp across the river canyon, and the scenery was very desolate and beautiful. All light yellow color of the plateau around, the steep, tall cliff of the river canyon, and you can imagine yourself being stationed there 2000 years ago to guard the border of Han China! Outside the military camp, there were huge stone statues of several soldiers drinking and war horses, and it quoted the poem:
Which says roughly " beautiful grape wine in the moon light cups, ready to drink but the pipa is sounded to hurry me along,
if I was drunk on the battlefield please don't laugh at me, since ancient times how many have returned from the battles?"
The Hanging Great Wall of Jiayuguan on the other hand can be missed, if you had see the Great Wall near Beijing, this one was not impressive at all.
tomb and its air vent (put in after the tomb was opened, of course)
There was a north section and a south section, supposedly restored by a private citizen.
This was a full day of sight seeing. We went back to my hotel to burn photos from Phil's camera cards onto DVD's, which took a while! Then we went to the night market nearby to have a very interesting dinner of grilled lamb on skewers and a conversation started by a Chinese guy sitting at a nearby table. He turned out to speak English by teaching himself from tapes and tv, and actually he did very well and had an uncommon vocabulary which surprised Julia and Phil.