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Famous Chinese Passes

Passes were defense fortifications in ancient China. Born of war, they were built at points of strategic importance. In the early days passes were built of rammed earth and masonry at places easily defended and hard to be conquered. Later, cities were developed around the passes. Countless passes were built in ancient China. The nine best known ones are Shanhai Pass, Jurong Pass, Zijing Pass, Niangzi Pass, Pingxing Pass, Yanmen Pass, Jiayu Pass, Wusheng Pass and Youyi Pass.

The passes fall roughly in two types: those on the Great Wall and those on postal routes. The passes built on the Great Wall were regarded as national defense facilities. At the eastern terminus of the Great Wall to the northeast of Qinhuangdao stands Sanhai Pass, which holds vital access between northeast and central China.

Reputedly the most important pass on the eastern section of the Ming-dynasty Great Wall, Shanhai Pass is therefore billed as 'No. I Pass on the Great Wall'. On the western terminus of the Great Wall stands Jiayu Pass, an imposing citadel with the gobi desert to the north and the Qilian Mountain to the south. For its vital strategic importance as a major transportation hub on the celebrated Silk Road for economic and cultural exchange between China and the West in ancient times, Jiayu Pass is billed as 'First Formidable Pass under Heaven'. Other major passes on the Great Wall that played a major role in resisting foreign invaders and defending the national territory include Juyong Pass of Beijing and Niangzi Pass of Shanxi Province. Many of the passes on the Great Wall have been placed under government protection as key cultural heritage sites.

The passes on postal roads may be regarded as regional fortresses. A common feature about these passes is that virtually all of them were on provincial or county boundaries. Though not as large as those on the Great Wall, they were also strategically located for defense purposes. In warring periods they were often bones of contention between rivaling strategists. Major postal road passes in existence today are Loushan Pass of Guizhou, Jianmen Pass of Sichuan, Yanmin Pass of Shanxi, Tiemen Pass of Xinjiang, and Guimen Pass of Guangxi, which have all become popular scenic spots today.

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