Yangguan (Yang Pass) was one of the two important western passes (the other being Yumen Pass) of the Great Wall in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC–24 AD). It was established and used as China's western frontier defense outpost by Emperor Hanwudi (156 BC–87 BC).
In ancient China, Yang meant the south, and Yang Pass got its name due to its location to the south of Yumen Pass. Together with Yumen Pass, Yang Pass protected Dunhuang from invasion from the northwest, and witnessed the prosperity of the ancient Silk Road as one of its important forts.
Yang Pass, also known as Southern Pass, is nowadays quite ruined with many of its sections buried in the shifting sand. Despite its hustle and bustle in ancient times, Yang Pass is now the biggest grape-growing base in Northwest China, and a historical attraction with numerous ancient ruins, vast desert landscape and Yangguan museum.
History: Yang Pass was built in the Western Han Dynasty as a frontier defense. In the Tang Dynasty (618–907), Monk Xuan Zang (602–644) returned via there after his pilgrimage to the west searching for Buddist scriptures. Yang Pass was known to most Chinese people through a poem written by Wang Wei (701–761), a famous poet and musician in the Tang Dynasty. In 'Farewell to Yuaner to Take Office in Anxi', he wrote 'My dear friend, I sincerely entreat you to have another cup of wine, because you will see no old friends west of Yang Pass.' In the Song (960–1279) and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties, Yang Pass was gradually forgotten because of the decline of the Silk Road.
Dimensions: At its heyday, Yang Pass had a system of beacon towers and walls that marked the western border of the Chinese empire. But today it is quite ruined, so that there are hardly any walls in sight, with the only visible sections being the foundations of some of the walls. Due to years of erosion by shifting sands, Yang Pass is left with only a broken beacon tower standing alone on the vast desert. The beacon tower measures about 5 meters (16 feet) high and 8 meters (26 feet) wide. To the south of the watch tower is an expanse where visitors can find millions of pieces of broken tiles, coins, decorations and weapons, spread over an area of 20 square kilometers (4,900 acres), some of the last evidence of civilization left there.
Yang Pass Museum: Yang Pass Museum was open to the public in 2003. It is an onsite museum with buildings of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) style. The museum introduces the culture of Yang Pass through exhibits of sculptures, frescos and historical relics.
When to go
Yang Pass has an elevated desert climate, dry with a daily temperature range of 15ºC (27ºF). It's hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Temperatures average at a comfortable 20ºC (68ºF) in May and September, so early and late summer are the best times to go. Dunhuang (see below) summer's are not too hot with the average July high at 33ºC (91ºF), but the sun is strong with cloud cover rare and altitude over 1,000m (3,300 ft).
Yang Pass is midway between Lanzhou and Urumqi on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, in northern Gansu Province, northern Central China. Yang Pass is located 70 kilometers (44 miles) northwest of Dunhuang City (the closest place with an airport), Gansu Province, or over 300 kilometers (450 miles) by road from the small town of Yumen (the nearest place with a railway station). China Highlights use high-quality air-conditioned private transport to take the hassle out of getting to the wall.
What to Wear
Dress for walking and dress for the weather. Choose comfortable footwear with good grip and support for the feet. Layers of clothes that can be taken on and off allow for greater comfort and temperature control. Wear/bring sun protection in the summer and dress for sub zero temperatures in the winter.
What to Bring
Umbrellas may be used here, but may be inconvenient in strong winds. Bring a camera and money for souvenirs and refreshments. Bring snacks and water if you want to walk in the desert a long time.
Yang Pass has almost no wall left and walking conditions pose no significant risks.
If you want to see more of the Great Wall of China, see here for a list of the sections.
There are also many attractions to see in Dunhuang City.