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Piantour Pass

Written by Chris Quan Updated Jan. 6, 2021

Piantou Pass is near the Yellow River in Pianguan County. Piantou Pass, Ningwu Pass, and Yanmen Passare known collectively as "The Three Passes". Piantou Pass has a high east and low west, hence the name 'Slanting Head Pass'.

Quick Facts

  • Chinese Name: 偏头关 Piāntóuguān /pyen-toh-gwan/ 'Slanting Head Pass'
  • Location: north shore the Guan River (关河), Pianguan County, Xinzhou Prefecture, Shanxi Province
  • History: over 600 years


Piantou Pass has an irregular shape and is 1,100 meters long from east to west. At the east, west, and south gates are three ancient walls, where brick masonry stands approximately 10 meters high.

Between South Gate and West Gate, much of the brick masonry still exists and is quite magnificent. The fort wall next to the Yellow River was constructed in 1468 and later rebuilt during the reigns of the Jiajing Emperor (1796-1820) and the Wanli Emperor (1573-1620).

Forty kilometers north of Piantou Pass the outer section of the Great Wall begins at Laoniu ('Old Ox') Bay, where the Laoniuwan River joins the Yellow River. With the river cliffs as its natural shelter, this section of the Great Wall does not have walls built for the most part, but lookout towers were built along the river cliffs.

Stone walls were only built during the section from Si Gou (寺沟 Sìgōu /srr-go) to Heidou Nian(黑豆埝 Hēidòuniàn /hay-doh-nyen/) and Guanhe Kou to Jianchi Bay (尖刺湾 Jiāncìwān /jyen-tsr-wann). The walls were built with compacted red clay, and the exterior of the walls was faced with stone and bricks.

After hundreds of years of natural and human destruction, the only remaining wall is not as magnificent nowadays as it was in ancient times.

The average width of the wall measured seven meters at the base. 

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The Piantou Pass fort was constructed during Emperor Hongwu's reign in 1390 to act as part of the defense system of the Great Wall. For three years of the Wanli Emperor's reign (around 1575), the pass was modified into a fortress. Nowadays, along the shore of the Yellow River in the Hualin Castle (Huàlínbǎo /hwaa-lin-baoww/) section, there still exists much of the rammed earth of a wall of 30 km towering above the river and it's very spectacular.

Piantou Pass was at the northern boundary of Chinese territory during the Ming Dynasty, with the Mongolian Plateau to the north and Ordos Plateau to the west across the Yellow River. The inner and outer sections of the Great Wall met in Lao Ying castle (老营堡 Lǎoyíngbǎo /laoww-ying-baoww/), the east of the Piantou Pass fort..

In its early days, Mongolian attackers continuously entrenched the border, and then repeatedly attacked the north of Shanxi, which highlighted the importance of this pass. During the Ming Dynasty, Piantou Pass had more guarding forces than Ningwu Pass and Yanmen Pass.


Ling Xiao (Peak) Tower

One kilometer southeast from Piantou Pass, there stands a tower named Lingxiao Tower (凌霄塔 Língxiāotǎ /ling-sshyaoww-taa/) which was built during the Ming Dynasty.

Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1621, during the Tianqi Emperor's reign, Lingxiao Tower was repaired throughout 18 years of the Kangxi Emperor's reign and throughout seven years of the Xianfeng Emperor's reign. The tower has a masonry structure and is a hollow octagonal pavilion-style pagoda.

The first two floors of the base tower, with a perimeter of 29 meters and a height of 35 meters, are shaped like a pen, hence the name 'Pen Soaring to Heaven' (文笔凌霄 Wénbǐ Língxiāo /wnn-bee ling-sshyaow/). From the second floor, there were four windows on every floor and hidden stairs were built inside the wall. It has been well-preserved.

Yellow River Cliff Section of the Great Wall

The relics of the Great Wall in Pianguan County, along with the Yellow River Cliff (Huanghe Bian Fort), are known collectively as the Yellow River Shore defenses.

Zigzagging along the shore of the Yellow River, this section of the Great Wall from the Ming Dynasty measures 100 kilometers long. 'Old Ox Bay' is its north end and Shiti Pass (石梯口shítīkǒu /shrr-tee-koh/), Hequ County, Shanxi Province is its south terminus.

This section of the Great Wall was built with local stone. On the steep and lofty cliffs there are continuous Beacon Towers to signal enemy approach and numbers.

The Pianguan Great Wall SectionPianguan's Great Wall fortifications were broad during the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the basin, with its surrounding mountains, Pianguan Fort looks like a giant rhino resting its head on Taliangshan Mountain with its body lying in the river. This is due to the mountain's high east side and low west side; hence it is also known as 'Rhino Watching Moon' (犀牛望月 Xīniú Wàng Yuè /sshee-nyoh wung ywair/).

Ancient houses using cyan tiles were built using local clay, show the charm of ancient times, and can be dated back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Bell and Drum Tower in the city center is very magnificent with a strong base and arch, red walls, and cyan tiles.

There were also 108 grand temples within the ancient fort.

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How to Get There

You can take a bus from Taiyuan to Pianguan. There are four daily buses departing from Taiyuan Bus Station. It takes about five hours.

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