YUMEN - JADE GATE - DIRECTIONS / HOW TO GET THERE:
Already described as part of the ancient westernmost border of native (cultural and historical China) since the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC) and as situated in the desert northwest of the county town of Dunhuang in Gansu Province, directions are given from the center of the town of Dunhuang which is the also the largest population center in the wider area and, as the only location with proper hotels, serves best a tourists base for further explorations.
Having said, that the Yumen location is not a part of the town of Dunhuang proper but is situated at quite some distance from the center of Dunhuang Town and, dealing with the fact that most of the surrounding lands resemble a (nearly) featureless desert, initial directions to the site are best explained making use of a schematic
This page was last updated on: July 29, 2017
The Yumen or Jade Gate is the ruins of ancient building situated in what today is mostly gobi and desert outside of the small city of Dunhuang, itself in history a well known Oasis town situated along the "Chinese sections" of the famous "Silk Road". The town of Dunhuang located in a crucially strategic part of the western-most regions of what today is recognized as western China's Gansu Province functioned for well over a millenium as the last stop-over point before westbound travelers were to pass through notoriously deadly desert regions known as the Taklamakan (Never return) Desert.
As the town was situated strategically at the eastern rim of the Taklamakan Desert and was the last point protected by the Han Dynasty version of the Great Wall of China i.e. "the end of China" it also became a splitting point of the main pathway of the Silk Road, that being the point where the main road out of the Chinese Capital of Chang'An (Xi'An) has passed the area known as the Hexi Corridor (also very appropriately nicknamed the "neck of China" and no longer flanked
Jade Gate - Yu Men Guan
(1) Introduction& Directions to the Jade Gate (Yu Men)
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Overview of the current day site of the Jade Gate (Yu Men) out in the desert due north west of Dunhuang. Although in its time of function, probably more structures would have been visible, today only the thick pounded earth walls of the Jade Gate Toll House remain. In modern times, the Cang River which the outline of which may be seen in the distance behind the toll house and which in the past guided those arriving from the wastes of the Taklamakan desert to the location of the toll gate, is mostly dried up, having sunk underground. As is best seen on satellite imagery (see bottom page), the ruined outline of the Han Dynasty Era (206 BC - 220 AD) Great Wall of China passes very near the Toll House, to continue its way from this location westward to a location near the famous wandering lake known as Lop Nor.
by high mountains split into a southern and a northern trajectory to go around this desert before continuing westward into Central Asian territories.
With the town of Dunhuang lingering as a living relic of the once vibrant transcontinental Silk Road, today the ruins of the Yumen Gate and its nearby ruined Han Dynasty Great Wall, are the remaining
2000 year old markers of the beginning of the northern route of the Silk Road around the Taklamakan Desert.
In addition, strictly historically speaking, the Yumen, the adjacent Cang River, and the adjoining Han Great Wall of China - which is westernmost extension of all Great Walls in history recognized to date -also mark the western and outermost border of the Han Nation, which as first established under Qin Shi Huang of the (Gansu native) Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC) would be recognized -at least as the true cultural border of (native) China, well into the 20th century.
As (rare) stories by western travelers in the regions relate, as late as in the 1920's, when the adjacent "Turkestan" as it was then mostly known became a hotbed of rebelry and international contention, the borderposts west of Dunhuang remained manned, the border was actively controlled and patrolled and the whole region was still treated as the de facto border of (Han) Chinese Territories. As related
Reflecting the ancient historical situation, today a road leads from Dunhuang through the desert up to the location of the Jade Gate Toll House where it splits in the two directions following up- or down the Cang River. Viewing in the western directions the road leads from the Toll House away to the Gate of the Great Wall of China at a location on the horizon of this image, hence also making the Yumen the Yumen Guan, or Jade Gate Pass of the Great Wall of China. For 2000 years after its construction, the Great Wall and tollhouse would remain the outer border of the land of China also identified in the (medieval) west as Cathay.
vividly by Mildred Cable and Francesca French in their tales of the Gobi Desert today bound as the Book "The Gobi Desert" (also known as "Through Jade Gate and Central Asia. An Account of Journeys in Kansu, Turkestan and the Gobi Desert" even then, the Camel Caravans, as they had for over a millenium already continued to ply the old routes, heading either west or east, following in the footsteps of generations. As night fell, the Caravans would take to the desert road and, guided by stars and mostly the planet venus or just by relying on the instinct of the animals, made their way to the next watering hole which should lie at an average of some 30 miles away. However, as invariably related by those passing there through the centuries among them not only Cable and French but also the revered Monk Xuanzang (602 AD - 664 AD), west beyond the Yumen Gate there was no little or no fresh water and only a collection of brackish wells in the desert allowed for penetrating the Taklamakan and reaching the next major destination in Xinjiang, the Oasis town of Kumul (Hami).
map of Dunhuang and all relevant nearby (historic) locations in the vicinity there of.
As one may tell from adjacent schematic map, in the historic situation the Han Era Great Wall of China started at some point along the Cang River far north west of Dunhuang at the site of a now ruined ancient fortified city now identified as the City of Cang. From there it extended westward along this fresh water stream for 11.2 kilometers to the point where the Jade Gate (Yu Men) Toll House stood just within the protective confines of the Great Wall of China, and as one may also see on the map, from the point of the Yumen the Great Wall of China extended much farther westward then the pityful ruined remains today officially recognized at the official location of the "Han Great Wall of China" which are situated at roughly 4.5 kilometers from the toll house. Although this falls outside of the map, the ruins of wall sections curve along through the desert for many more kilometers.
To get from the town of Dunhuang to the Jade Gate and its monuments, the easiest method is to hire a local cab for a day, and instruct them, making use of a tourist map, to drive you and your party out to the desired location. This also allows for further reconnoitering of other tourist sites in the area, as mentioned the Han Era Great Wall ruins and the far less known Cang River Ancient City Ruins (Hecang City), the latter of which lie to far away from the Jade Gate Toll House for any comfortable hike.
As there are no local bus routes that pass near the location, and hitchhiking is nearly out of the question the only viable way to reach the Jade Gate from Dunhuang is hire a cab, or to drive your own private car or other vehicle.
Heading westward out of town from the central point of the Shazhou Commercial Square (roundabout) and then following the Yangguan Dong Lu (Sun Gate east road
Gansu Province - Dunhuang + Area - Schematic Map tourist locations
Schematic Overview Map of the City of Dunhuang and surrounding Area's in far western Gansu Province.
A 1950's Era Map that depicts the Main Sights, Landmarks and Monuments of the immediate area of Dunhuang as well as the location of Dunhuang's City Center, the new modernized Railway Station of Dunhuang and the nearby Dunhuang City Airport.
Subjects of interest are Sighing Sands Mountain, Crescent Moon Pool, the White Horse Dagoba, White Horse Temple, Han & Tang Dynasty Great Wall of China, the Jade Gate (YuMen), YangGuan Pass, Mogao Caves and Sanwei Mountain.
Withered road signs at the Jade Gate Toll house give directions to the other local locations; 75 kilomters to Dunhuang, 4 kilometers downstream to the Han Great Wall and 13 kilometers upstream along the Cang River to the ruined ancient Cang City. Today, it did over two millenia ago, a hostile world lies beyond and it is pretty much the end of civilization.
China Report's Best efforts at information regarding remote and small Dunhuang and Oasis, the home of the Han Dynasty Great Wall of China remnants in China, The Yu Men or Jade Gate and YangGuan or Sun Gate Pass, the two military and civil control points and access gates to the North- and South- Routes of the ancient Silk Road in China.
Use the Google Map, the Satellite Image options and all other available features to find your information, judge the rugged terrain of Dunhuang, Jiayuguan and the Hexi Corrdior and/or even find adresses and streets in the Village.
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View of the featureless road and landscape that lie between the area of the city of Dunhuang and outskirts and the site of the Jade Gate and Han Great Wall of China. Although some swampy areas in the desert can be identified by the small brush growing up on the horizon, no shade may be found along the entire road. In fact, apart from the usually parched brush no signs of life appear and not even birds fly in the sky. The road was established in 2007 where previously only a rough barely visible path existed.
out of town across the Dang River bridge and the route leads past the the various "western monuments" of the town of Dunhuang all of which are set along the main provincial road concurring with the ancient road out to the Sun Gate (Yanmenguan). Along this route, still set within the suburbs / outskirts of Dunhuang Town sits the complex of the historic White Horse Temple and further on west out in the desert one passes along the so called "Ancient Town of Dunhuang" - a film set and tourist attraction, not a real town, and finally the last tourist attaraction which in modern times is known as the so called "West Ten housand Buddha Caves".
Beyond this, a more tricky road then leads to the main toll route cutting through the desert and straight onward to the Yu Men Gate. In principle, the main destination of the S215 Provincial Road is the county town of Anxi, which counterintuitively lies to the to the north-east of Dunhuang, however before the road turns back it splits off three roads. The first of these is the growingly important road leading southward and past the Dang River Reservoir up to the Aksay Kazakh Autonomous County center and then up into the mountains of the Tibetan Plateaux. The second route to be taken leads away to the so called "South Lake" - a crucial historic natural fresh water spring lake - and the Yangguan Village beyond. Although these are certainly worthwhile destinations, they are far away from the Jade Gate, which can only reached by making use of the third turn off, which is a rather unclearly marked turn off road leading into absolute nothingness, or so it seems.
Altogether, the travel distance from Dunhuang to destination is 72 kilometers, which amounts to 85 following the proper roads, which may be identifed in more detail making use of available (Google) Satellite Image Maps.
Although usually Google Maps will do fine to point your way to any destination in the Peoples Republic of China today, in this case one may find that although there is indeed a (toll) road leading from (west of the) town of Dunhuang to the Jade Gate and the Han Great Wall, this road -as yet- is not depicted on Google's schematic maps of the area.
This does not come entirely as a surprise, since historically there was no such road, and as evidenced by descriptions in an acclaimed Chinese written guide book to the Silk Road as translated known as "The Silk Road; Past and Present", as late as the 1990's, the road now leading to the monument had not even been planned yet. Previously, for some 2000 years, the "road to the Jade Gate" was via the county town of Anxi and the natural grean highway of the Shule River, along which the travelers and caravans passed to- and from the Jade Gate, as one may find described in more detail below.
Since as yet, Google Maps does not display the trajectory of this tourist purpose toll road, for proper navigational purpose, one must switch to satellite imagery and find the appropriate roads by ones self.
Stone Pillars forming a Gate and the halfway point marker along the route out from Dunhuang and the Jade gate and Han Dynasty Era Great Wall sites. Although at first glance seemingly rediculous, it proves a welcome point of recognition in the featureless gravel desert that extends beyond in seemingly all directions.
to follow the route to Jade Gate and Han Great Wall. In addition, it may be smart to take along the simple navigational aid to help avoid blunders. In recent times, side roads have been laid in the desert leading westward and away from the main route. The main key is to avoid any turn offs when driving out towards the Jade Gate, in
which case no frustrating, time consuming and possibly dangerous mistakes can be made.
One is sure to be on the correct road when passing the official halfway point along this toll road, which as shown in the photos is marked by large stone gate and of course, a little toll house which kind of serves as a modern day Jade Gate and collects fees from current day passers by.
Once having covered the remaining distance one will meet some low hills amidst of which stands a large wooden gate with at some distance behind it the dwindling remains of the mud toll house known as Yu Men.
Admittedly, for those who are not- or at least less familiar with the history and the historic geography of the location, at the site there seems little to explore but the monument itself.
Although, in fact equally relevant to the history of the Jade
Gate, the Cang River which flowed behind it is usually overlooked by the arriving flock.
Having come the distance however, best take your time to look around. Among things one may appreciate how both to the south and to the north of this location, the high mountains have retreated to appear on the horizon only as shimering lumps. With the Qilian Shan, the northernmost rim of the Tibetan Plateaux retreating south and westward, a wide open space lies to the west and the northwest of the Jade Gate, with the Horses Manes mountains ending giving way to territories that are today part of Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region and in the past were inhabited by various nomadic tribes.
Because the local geography does not allow for it to viably go any further, the main defenses of the Great Wall of China as erected by the Han ended
here, which is also why the toll house is situated here. The wall that extended westward and beyond to Lop Nor was a more difficult to defend trajectory passing through various small river beds and (formerly) watery patches in what even then was already a dangerous
Loiter about the parking space and vicinity of the Yumen Tollhouse in order to appreciate its true remoteness. As one may find, this is the remotest outpost along the entire length of the Great Wall of China even today. The featureless desert contains little but a dried up river, endless gravel extenses and the faint glimmer of the high mountains of the north rim of the Tibetan Plateaux on the southern horizon.
Although in that far past the location was less arid, it was still a daunting idea to fill out a post in a location as remote as this.
Minimap of the early western Han Dynasty territory, clearly showing how the neck of China extended as far as Dunhuang, and how beyond Dunhuang the northern route of the silk road led from the Yumen away into vast open spaces which connect in various directions, among things to Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
and featureless desert. This very last section, was likely added at a later time when more of the Tarim River Basin was put under the control of the Han Dynasty military and the subsequent extension of the Silk Road more to the west.
In order to gain some understanding of the difference between the local geography and features in the past versus those in the
current day situation, make your way beyond the Jade Gate toll house proper in order to reach the Cang River. Although not depicted on current day google maps because in modern times it is mostly dried up during most of the year, in the history of the silk road the Cang River was a minor fresh water stream that flowed out of the general direction of Dunhuang to join the larger Shule River as tributary at a distance slightly more than a kilometer from the Yumen site. At walking distance from the Jade Gate it used to form a desert lake which so served as a convenient water source for the station. Although by today no longer a continuous stream, a marshy and salt encrusted basin holding plenty of dried out desert grass can however clearly be identified even in winter.
CANG RIVER AND SHULE RIVER:
The Cang River is the secondary attraction of the Jade Gate site. Remarkably, the Cang River is one of those unexpected water sources along the Silk Road which, at least according to general expectations of passing human travelers, should not exist out here in the otherwise lifeless desert. Nevertheless, unlike the Dang River and the Shule River which flow directly from the mountain glaciers down into the desert lowlands, it exists as a river that, fed by gletjers atop the southern mountains which, after forming aquifers and flowing for miles underneath the earth, emerges from underground into the middle of a desert.
From the point of its uprising to the surface it used to flow for some distance passing the Jade Gate and forming a small desert lake before joining as a local tributary with the larger Shule River only a kilometer or so from the Jade Gate site.
The Shule River - although to say the least today heavily threatened by the dwindling of the glaciers atop the Qilian Shan and mandmade obstructions - still runs straight through the desert to pass westward and across the current day provincial border into neighboring Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region, where in the current day situation, the waters are swallowed by the earth again, or evaporate into the dry air that reigns throughout the year.
As evidenced by the sparse shrub-like vegetation found in the vicinity of the Jade Gate toll house, in this deserted area water does exist. Fed by ancient aquifers coming off the southern mountains the Cang River fills, mostly in spring and early summer.
HISTORY OF THE JADE GATE (YU MEN) :
To find out more about this westernmost end of China and the structures established here, first make your way through the tourist purpose ceremonial gate and out to the so called Toll House which today is the only remaining structure of what 2 thousand years ago the site of a larger market. Established in or around the year 111 BC during the reign of the Martial Emperor Wu Di of the (western) Han Dynasty, this market, apart for serving local customers was mostly intended for the use of inter regional traders and thus is an early example of local market as they would become numerous along the trajectories of the silk road.
In case of the Jade Gate market, those who lived outside of China mostly in Xinjiang or in Mongolia to the north, could be assured to sell their goods at the
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Although, since the Republic of China layed claim to the territory as "Chinese" and subsequently after it the Peoples Republic of China absorbed it into its territory by manipulation and ultimately force, many of the above described distinctions have faded, one may still find the factual existence of the ancient border reflected in the local (political) geography.
That is, on Chinese Maps of the area, one will find that the ancient border near Yumen has been layed down in the modern day form as the territorial border between the Province of Gansu in the east, and Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region in the west. Although none of this is much highlighted by Chinese parties (including tourist agencies and agents), to the immediate south lies the entire Nation of Tibet, i.e. the Tibetan Plateaux, which as one will understand until very recently was the exclusive domain of the Tibetan People. Although, since 1949 suffering a slow suffocation and today a military occupation as part of the Peoples Republic of China, before the southern mountains of the Qilian Shan, only just visible in the daytime desert air from the Jade Gate, marked the border of Tibetan Territories, beyond of which lived mainly nomadic tribes, some Hui People and beyond the Koko Nor (today; Qinghai Lake as named by the PRC) the various Tibetan Peoples of the Amdo Province of Tibet.
In addition to the larger international and inter-regional borders, at a lower political level, today one may also find that the former ethnic identities of the regional area's
Chinese ethnicity, but of Central Asian, Tibetan, Mongolian and other origins. In other words, they were familiar but essentially Foreigners to the Chinese.
Those Chinese who did roam the realm of Xinjiang in the 18th, 19th and early decades of the 20th century, were mostly traders, settlers left behind by previous Chinese conquest and officials and soldiers left to deal with the protection of trading routes through the territories, and accordingly, the disputed international borders and rivalries.
As one will find reflected in the ethnographical map of the beginning of the Era of the Peoples Republic of China, even by the year 1949 AD, Xinjiang indeed remained the "New Territory", that is an uncertain mix of Nationalities held together by the presence of the Silk Road, common customs and a -at times- active but mostly nominal civilian administration.
The deserted Jade Gate toll house in November of the year 2007. With at the time dunhuang stil a difficult to reach outpost, the Jade Gate went mostly undisturbed. Owing much to easier transporation today, more visitors visit the Jade Gate than in decades.
It pretty much was the wild west in those days. As one may find when studying the histories relating to the Dunhuang Region in more detail, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the uncertain political situations of Xinjiang eventually extended eastward up the Silk Road to Dunhuang itself, allowing for a bunch of rowdy Russians to camp out in a Cave near Mogao, damaging it, while also allowing such western explorers as (later Sir) Marcus Aurel Stein to visit Dunhuang, make appropriate pay offs and take away invaluable historical artifacts.
Even as late as the 1940's, the only viable way for western Spies to reach Xinjiang and the vicinity of the hostile border of the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) was still by passing up the one road leading though the Hexi Corridor eventually passing through Dunhuang. All of these later day tales illustrate the border status of the town of Dunhuang, long after the initial Jade Gate and its toll house were abandoned.
(See also: "History of Dunhuang")
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remain confirmed (although in a twisted form) since across the Provincial border lies the Baiyin-Gholin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, designated as the ethnic home of (western) Mongolian Tribes.
Down the Silk Road from the Yumen heading north-west, the next major station is the town of Hami (in the last millenium Kumul), the realm of Kazakh Nomads and those interested in the local tourism around the town of Dunhuang will also find that to the south-west of Dunhuang, in the pastures of the foothills of the westernmost extenses of the Qilian Shan (Mountain Range), lie the additional Aksay Kazakh Autonomous County and the Subei Mongol Autonomous County (both of Jiuqan Prefecture), the ethnic homes of various nomadic peoples who clearly are not of Han Chinese origins. As adjacent satellite Image clearly illustrates, beyond and to the south lies Tibet.
Although the Yumen and the Yangguan no longer mark an international border, nor a real and stark cultural divide today, the memory of it the events of two millenia past still lingers in the common memory of locals and traveling visitors to this very day.
Thus, according to the above brief outline firmly established as a two millenia old cultural marker and situated near adjacent the westernmost point of the Great Wall of China as it can be found today, the lone ruins of the Yumen Gate out in the desert is a fairly well preserved relic of the ancient era of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 09 AD) in which the Silk Road was first opened, and knew knowledge and new opportunities for trade, discovery, conquest and learning were found by the Han Nation and the adjoining world(s).
Although situated at an incredibly remote location, in total a road distance of about 85 kilometers north-west of the already remote Oasis town of Dunhuang and altogether 1900 kilometers from the current day Capital of Beijing, after 2000 years the reputation of- and tales attached to Yumen or Jade Gate speak enough to the imagination of the Chinese and world public to draw tourist travelers and even crowds out for a visit to its location.'
Helped by a the economic boom of the last decade in China (PRC) as well as the according improved transportation and connections within the nation, in the current day, the town of Dunhuang and its Yumen Gate and Han Great Wall rank as very popular among the many historical travel destinations within China. Although not ranked as the top site to see in Dunhuang, for connaisseurs, a visit to the Jade Gate is still a must and so the Jade Gate is indeed one of the most prized tourist destinations within the western Province of Gansu.
GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO YU MEN - JADE GATE :
The scenery behind or north of the Jade Gate Toll House structure. Clearly visible by its icy and frozen remains in late fall of 2007, the Cang River bed is near empty only holding a little frozen water and an abundance of parched desert grass. In the history of the Silk Road, the abundance of the fresh water of the Cang River puring through the gritty desert was recognized as a welcome sight for anyone appearing out of the death zone of the sandy, extremely arid Taklamakan Desert with its few brackish water wells.
The Shule river ends in northing and in recent decades dries out more frequently and longer than before. With it, is tributary, the previously forever fresh water spring of the Cang River, suffers similar problems of dwindling water volumes. Depending on season one may find it a shallow stream, a marshy stretch or a parched river bed.
Although it is hard to tell today due to diversion and damming of the river in its most upstream sections, in the past, the length of the Shule River ran from the Qilian Mountains via a point west of Cangzhou (Anxi County Town) to turn westward and eventually flow past the ancient Cang River city ruins (also Hecang City) to the location near the Yumen where the smaller Cang River flows in from the south to join the Shule flowing towards the west.
As described above, from near the Jade Gate, the Shule River then makes it way far into the desert to some point that may still be identified from the dried up riverbed visible on satellite imagery.
As one may understand from the regional geography, the water in the river flows westward into the desert. Quite possibly, fed by what were then larger glaciers atop the nearby southern mountains in the far past its stream may have been powerful enough to penetrate into the wastes today identifed as the Lop Nor Basin of the eastern Taklamakan Desert far enough to reach near to Lop Nor.
Fading eroded line of the Han Dynasty Great Wall of China leading away into what appears to be nothing and nowhere just a few kilometers beyond the Jade Gate. As it appears now at some time in history, the end of the wall may have reached as far west as the shores of the Lop Nor wandering lake although today no one is exactly sure.
According to an article which ran in the (inter)National Xinhua (New China) Newspaper, as recently as 1998 AD "Chinese archaeologists working in Xinjiang Autonomous Region found a wall that ran from Yumen Pass (Jade Gate) near Dunhuang in Gansu to the northern edge of Lop Nur, skirting one of the trajectories of the Silk Road. As with other sections of the Great Wall in the far west including the Yumen Wall remnants, these were earthen ramparts made of rammed yellow sandy soil and jarrah branches. There is little or no doubt that this is part of the Great Wall - most likely dating to the Tang Dynasty Era (618 AD - 907 AD), as it comprises a complete defensive network. This discovery extended the length of the Great Wall by 500 kilometers to bring the wall to a total length of 7,200 kilometers."
Whatever may have been the changes that have occurred overtime in the
path and length of the Cang, what is certain is that since the beginning of the openings of the silk road it was a strategic water source of enough importance to include much of it behind the protection of the local Han Dynasty Great Wall of China thus keeping it out of the hands of invading and opposing armies. In addition, as mentioned it was of course a crucial water source necessary not only to keep alive those passing through the Gates of the Great Wall but also for the men assigned the duty to guard the wall, a considerable number, and also those residing at the Jade Gate Toll House proper.
Last but not least, although made redundant by motorized traffic and modern roads, the length of the Cang River or more particularly the Shule River also created a natural road in the desert, providing for a route bypassing the current day town of Dunhuang and connecting directly east to west from current day Anxi County, in Han times known as Cuazhou (also Guazhou or Melon Prefecture), to the Jade Gate.
This road, now forgotten, was in fact the most natural and thus most traveled route from the east to the Jade Gate.
For those who wanted to pass out of the twin gate of the Jade Gate the Sun Gate (Yanmenguan) which is situated more to the south, and who intended to travel along the southern route around the Taklamakan Desert found it more appropriate to pass along the ways of Dunhuang.
Thus, with the river serving as a convenient natural highway and the route to Jade Gate usually passing from the east and Cuazhou rather than the south and Dunhuang, in the Han Era the Hecang City was established along the Shule River. In this location it served not as an actual city but only as a strategically situated supply depot and food storage for the use of the military manning the Great Wall and patrolling the many small routes between the desert wells beyond.
Final views of the approach to the ruins of the Jade Gate as in modern times. Fast eroding the historic structure is expected to crumple in the next decades.
Satellite Image of situation just west of Dunhuang and Yumen. In the center lies the Lop Nor, in modern times a dried out basin. Seeing the gletsjers atop the Qilian Shan in the south (top part of this image) one may see how the Shule River, flowing from these glaciers may have reached the Lop Nor from the east (left of the image). As this satellite image reveals, an outline of a river bed reaching Lop Nor from the east still exists and is visible as a thin black line here.
With sufficient knowledge, one may realize how geography would even allow for the Cang River to have contributed via the Shule River to the Lop Nor wandering lake, such as may have been the case (at some time) during the early years of the western Han Dynasty (209 - 206 BC). Satellite Imagery certain suggests how this was the case, although the shifting sands of an advancing Taklamakan Desert makes visible clues disappear.
The thought remains intriguing since this would then allow for the possibility of the fire beacons of the extended Han Great Wall to have been placed along the river, with the wall - or at least the beacons - actually ending at Lop Nor, not the Jade Gate or Sun Gate.
Heading northward and away from the S215 / G215 Provincial Road leading eastward and back to Anxi, the sands that collect around Dunhuang make place for a gravely empty waste in which today has little or no vegetation. It is the this kind of landscape which was traversed by the Camel Caravans heading west or north-west out of the Jade Gate.
The ridges visible in the desert are not evidence of the ancient Han Dynasty Great wall but manmade lines created at around the time the road was established (2007 AD).
Looking at the Satellite Image version (overlay) of the below Google Map, the road to the momument is best found by focussing on the Jade Gate location and then tracing it back in the south to south-west direction to its connection with the road network in the more immediate vicinity of Dunhuang town. Ignoring all other features, as one may find the road connects in a nearly linear fashion, with a few minor corrections, to the National Road S215 (confusingly also S314 and G215) at a location not too far due north of the dam and reservoir of the Dang River which is the main river flowing into- and through Dunhuang City.
Following the Dang River valley, which mostly flows in sight of the road albeit flowing in a deep Canyon, in the north-eastern direction one may then find ones way to center of Dunhuang.
When traveling vice versa, the main S215/G215 Road is easily followed, however make sure to take the turn off northward
official Government established market town, whereas those traveling from the east and China to the border need not go further, but could sell their wares at this border market from whence other traders could take the valuable commodities of China further along the silk road in the general direction of the west.
Established by the Han Chinese Government as a conduit for the all important silk road trade, the
market was protected by the nearby Great Wall of the Han and Tang Dynasties as well as an on site military posting. The Government market was also taxed by the local authorities hence thus explaining the peculiar dual military- and civilian use characteristics of the block house structure. Gone defunct at some time, most likely
during the declining period of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, the site was famously "rediscovered" by (Sir) Marcus Aurel Stein who subsequently unearthed some
spectacular finds at this location, among them ancient bamboo slips carrying script. With his name already established as an acclaimed old relic hunter, the reports of Stein about his find brought the enduring existence of the Jade Gate to the forefront of world attention. Ever since the visit paid by Aurel Stein in the year 1907 AD, the Jade Gate is an internationally recognized historical relic and one of the treasures of the Chinese Silk Road. In the 1940's it became the site of yet additional archeological finds to be revered by silk road buffs since. In the current day the site survives mostly as a magical destination for those who have fallen in love with the many mysteries and tales of the silk road(s), some of which are told on the next page.
The Gate to the Jade Gate site proper is made of wood, a rare material in these parts.
Seen from afar, the Jade Gate block house seems like a puny structure, however the emptiness of the desert tricks the observer into assuming it is so.
Schematic Map of the geography of the regions surrounding the Jade Gate, marking its location along the Shule River. As shown, from tje Jade Gate the route could lead north to Hami and onwards, or due west to traverse the wildest and most dangerous route available passing near Lop Nor. This was the route taken by Xuanzang.
As illustrated by the experience of Xuanzang, a man who by now may held to have the most famous passerby ever to see the Yumen, after his arrival at Anxi, the town nearest the Gate, he was informed that in the 200 kilometers of the route beyond to the Oasis of Kumul (Hami) there was neither water nor grass.
The bleak picture thus painted by local townsmen caused the Monk to resolve to send his travel companions off, finally resolving to give it a die or try attempt himself.
As Xuanzang experienced, water shortage was not the only problem to be dealt with along what were in fact many unclearly defined pathways which ultimately all led to the same goal, the next water hole. Another deadly enemy was the wind, which frequently swept up into frenzied sand storms which erased the tracks of previous passersby in the desert. The Sand Dunes were featureless and ever shifting. Yet, another danger was the lure of fatamorgana's and at night, the appearance of ghostly magnetic lights which appeared to
reveal the proximity of other human beings so luring nightly travelers astray from the beaten path.
Beyond the Yumen and its twin Gate the Yangguan (Sun Gate) lay the semi-foreign and semi-hostile territory of (Chinese) Turkestan, or for Chinese "Xinjiang" which - although it was by then still a vital conduit of merchant goods at least on a local and regional level - was regarded a dangerous region of outlaws and the home of various adapt nomadic tribes which clung to their traditional ways along the various small Oasis found in the parched southern Tarim (River Basin) regions and beyond.
Underlining the reality of the border was the fact that in the regions beyond it, the Chinese population suddenly dwindled in numbers and thus, west of the Yumen the far majority of people were not of Han