The Jade Gate Pass Great Wall Fort — Yumenguan Fort

Yumenguan ('Jade Gate Pass') served as a strategic fort along the ancient Silk Road. If you are really interested in Chinese history or the Silk Road, then the 3½-hour drive there from Dunhuang is worthwhile. The main things to see are the vastness of the desert scenery and a large gatehouse relic.

Quick Facts

  • Chinese: 玉门关 Yùménguān /yoo-mnn-gwan/ 'Jade Gate Pass'
  • Location: 3½ hours northwest of Dunhuang (93 km), Jiuquan, Gansu
Yumen Pass GatehouseThe Yumen Pass Gatehouse relic
  • Gatehouse: rammed earth, roughly 25 x 27 x 9.7 m tall, built c. 121 BC
  • Activities: touring ruins and desert scenery, history appreciation
  • Best months to visit: early summer or fall

The History of Yumen Pass

This mountain pass was fortified by officials of Emperor Wudi (156–87 BC) of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD) about 121 BC, and used as a military garrison outpost. 

Aided Han Empire Expansion

Yumen Pass and Yang Pass, 60 km to the south on the opposite side of the desert valley, played a part in the Han's successful campaigns to defeat their enemies the Xiongnu (a Mongolia-based nomadic league of that time). The Han Empire doubled in size during Emperor Wudi's reign through the incorporation of this territory and others.

This fort and Yangguan controlled a vital pass in the great Gansu Corridor valley that stretched between Central Asia and the Han Empire, with giant mountain ranges north and south bordering the valley.

Yumen Pass helped defend Dunhuang from invasion from the northwest and helped bring prosperity.

A Silk Road Trade Post

The Silk Road at DunhuangJade Gate Pass saw many camels and Silk Road traders.

Yumen Pass is thought to once have been a key military and mercantile installation for their empire, where the Han traded for products such as jade and horses with the locals and traders who traveled from Central Asia.

It is thought the fort helped to guard a market area. This lowland route was the main Silk Road trade and travel route in the Han Empire.

It was called Jade Gate Pass, as it was said that the jade from Hetian in Xinjiang was transported through Yumen Pass.

Later History

During the 5th century the fort was abandoned. It was rediscovered in 1944.

The Poems of Yumen Pass

Isolated and bleak Yumen Pass inspired many old poems, of which Cool Province Words (凉州词) by Wang Zhihuan (王之涣) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) stands out:

O Yellow River afar in white clouds arising,

A wall'ed fortress alone by vast peaks abiding.

O Qiang flute why poplar and willow a-whining,

Spring winds ne'er pass Jade Gate Pass.

黄河远上白云间,

一片孤城万仞山。

羌笛何须怨杨柳,

春风不度玉门关。

How to Visit Yumen Pass

What to See/Do in the Area

Yumen Pass GatehouseThe mighty Yumen Pass Gatehouse

See the ancient ruin areas: Besides the gatehouse, there is a beacon tower called Majuanwan, and a portion of Han Great Wall. The Dunhuang Great Wall section and the beacon tower are about 5 km further west by road. The wall is made of sandstone and hay.

Visit the museum: There is a small museum behind the gatehouse structure that instructs about the history of the pass. It has exhibits from the Han Dynasty era (206 BC–220 AD).

See the natural scenery: Many people enjoy seeing the vast desert.

Travel Essentials

  • Open: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • Entry: 40 RMB (8 USD)
  • Taxi: A round trip taxi for four might cost 500 RMB (USD 80). Be sure you arrange transportation back.

China Highlights' Private Transfer Service

China Highlights driverYou can tour Dunhuang with a private driver

China Highlights offers private chauffeured transport and an English-speaking guide as a more comfortable and convenient alternative to public transportation.

Our private tours come with a private vehicle and driver suited to your group size. An English-speaking tour guide helps for all your communication needs.

Yumen Pass and Dunhuang Tours

If you are interested in traveling to Yumen Pass and Dunhuang, we suggest taking one of our Dunhuang tours.

If you would rather design your own Dunhuang and Yumen tour with our help, tell us your interests and requirements, and China Highlights will tailor-make your tour.

Yumen would fit in a Great Wall tour or a Silk Road tour.

Nearby Attractions

  • Yang Pass is 110 km (70 miles) west of Dunhuang. There is no direct road between the two passes, so tourists have to pass through Dunhuang to reach it.
  • If you like desert scenery see Dunhuang's Crescent Spring dunes and Yardang National Park.
  • The Mogao Grottoes are Dunhuang's best known tourist site. It is a historic collection of Buddhist art.
  • Jiayu Pass has a Ming Great Wall fortress, the "Great Wall's First Abutment", and "the Great Wall on the Cliff", about 400 km east (10 hours by road or rail).

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