Along the Hexi Corridor to Jiayaguan

Part 3 of the Silk Road journey

Posted 18th May 2017 by David McGuinness

My train trundled through the famous Hexi Corridor, flanked to the North by the Qilian Shan mountains and to the South by the Mazong and Longshou mountains. After the Han era adventurer Zhang Qian returned to China from his monumental trips to the fringes of the Greek world bearing news of vast trading opportunities and exotic goods, Wudi, the then emperor decided it was time to drive the Xiongnu people from the Hexi Corridor and lay the groundwork for the Silk Road to begin. As we skirted the edges of the Gobi desert we pulled into Jiayuguan, my stop.

I was here to see Jiayaguan Fortress. Built during the Ming Dynasty, this was the final frontier of imperial China. To the Chinese this was the end of the civilised world, beyond which lay only immense impenetrable desert and barbarian hordes. Exiles were cast out from the Western gate, known as the “Gate of Conciliation” to face their demons and invariably never to be heard of again. Inside the outer walls of the fort is a theatre decorated in Taoist style, but it is more than that, my guide Liu tells me. On either side are “peeping Tom” Buddhist monks surreptitiously looking on as a lady undresses. This is pure Ming era Taoist propaganda. “Don’t trust those Buddhist monks, they spout holy words but they’re just perverts underneath.” At the time the battle for souls was at its zenith, with both faiths evenly matched.

Between the outer and inner gate is the “killing area”, where invading armies would be trapped, and vulnerable to attack from above. The gates at right angles to each other was an innovation to protect against battering rams. 3000 soldiers lived here, but as the majority of their time here was during peacetime, they also moonlighted as farmers. The on-site museum here looks at both the history of the Great Wall and where it met the Silk Road, and includes some fascinating artifacts and superb photographs, though a guide is needed as most exhibits do not have any English explanations.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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