May 14, 2009

From Dunhuang we continued southeast through the Gansu corridor and stopped in Jiayuguan.

The Great Wall

When most people think of The Great Wall of China, they generally think of sites like this, close to Beijing:

Photo of Great Wall of China from National Geographic

Photo of Great Wall of China from National Geographic

But The Great Wall is, well, great – it stretches over thousands of kilometers, and Jiayuguan marks its westernmost edge.  For a long time the Chinese people regarded the fort at Jiayuguan as the edge of the Chinese empire, beyond which lay a terrifying wilderness.  This is interesting because today China owns so much more territory to the west that Jiayuguan is practically in the middle.

Anyhow, if you’re interested in seeing The Great Wall you imagine you’ll find in China, this is not the place to go.  It turns out that The Great Wall took many shapes from one region to another.  Here in Gansu it’s a simple wall made of mud-brick.  It’s not particularly thick and you certainly cannot walk on it.  But the fort, which is well restored, is interesting to see.  Also, the museum here is awesome for a number of reasons.  First off, it has beautiful photos of different segments of the wall from across China.  Besides that, it’s pretty informative.  We learned that construction of the wall began in 700 BC and lasted over the next 2000 years.  We also learned that, in total, the wall spans 25,000 kilometers.  The astute reader may point out that 25,000 kilometers is enough to go more than half-way around the Earth, and that’s true.  So how can The Great Wall be so long?  Simple – it turns out that what we call “The Great Wall” is not one but actually several walls covering different Chinese territories:

Map of various sections of the Great Wall of China from wikipedia

Map of various sections of the Great Wall of China from wikipedia

Anyhow, on with the photos…

This map shows the location of the fort between the two mountain ranges of the Haxi corridor.  The wall ran east from here to mark the northern border of the Chinese empire.  West of the fort was foreign land:

2009-05-14_12-16-06 Canon

Pnina in the fort:

2009-05-14_11-28-14 Canon

Looking out from the fort to one of the white-capped mountain ranges:

2009-05-14_10-59-06 NIKON D80

Sections of the great wall connecting to the fort:

2009-05-14_11-19-33 Canon

On the left side you see a segment of the great wall outside the fort.  As you can see, it’s not such a spectacular wall here:

2009-05-14_11-49-32 NIKON D80

We happened to catch a drum-and-dance performance inside the fort square:

2009-05-14_11-36-54 Canon

2009-05-14_11-35-31 Canon

For 200 yuan you could take a 10 minute microlight flight over the fort.  We decided to pass:

2009-05-14_11-49-48 NIKON D80

Inside the fort there were some incredibly life-like scenes showing what life was like back in the day:

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Bonus Shot

This is a photo of Chaka Salt Lake, located south of Jiayuguan (on the other side of a mountain range – to reach it you need to go around).  We were thinking about visiting this place but we ran out of time.  I’m not sure if we’ll reach this part of the world again anytime soon, but if we ever do, we’ll try to go there.

Chaka Salt Lake

In the News

Jiayuguan sits close to the border of Xinjiang province.  This province made news a few weeks later when local Uyghurs protested the mistreatment of their brothers in a factory in eastern China.  The Chinese police put down the protests violently, killing and arresting many people.  Meanwhile, Rebiya Khadeer, spokesperson for the Uyghur independence movement, has been traveling the world spreading the message about her people’s plight.  A Melbourne film festival was set to screen a documentary about her life: The 10 Conditions of Love.  China issued an official request to withdraw the film from the festival, but it appeared that the film would stay.


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