Legend of Shanhaiguan Pass

Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall was also called the First Pass under Heaven. It was a formidable military stronghold during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Have you ever wondered who built the pass? Here you may find the answer.

Six hundred years ago, during the Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang came to the throne. He issued a royal edict ordering his Marshal, Xu Da and his military counselor, Liu Bowen to find a suitable place for the construction of defense walls to the north of Beijing City. He decreed that the project should be completed within two years.

Accepting the Emperor's instructions Xu Da and Liu Bowen set off immediately for the country's northern boundary. Soon they reached their destination and on the day following their arrival, they climbed to a mountaintop looking for the best place to build the fortification.

Legend of Shanhaiguan Pass

Although Xu Da was an accomplished soldier and military leader he was just a layman when it came to the construction of fortifications. Liu Bowen, the military counselor of the empire, was rich in knowledge about almost everything so, he was more capable in choosing an appropriate location for the fortifications. Xu Da praised the place. A good battlefield, a good place for fortification! Liu Bowen just kept silent, saying nothing. On the third day they returned to the same place and Liu remained silent once again. Nothing differed from the former day.

On the fourth day, they came to the mountain once again. This time, Xu Da could not hold his tongue. He asked Liu Bowen why he just kept silent without saying a word. Liu Bowen answered, It is because of the countryside and you .

Why because of me? Xu Da felt confused.

Liu Bowen continued to say, Look, there are mountains in the north and the Bohai Sea in the south of this place. If we were to build a fortification wall here, it will be easy to defend and hard to attack.

Realizing the wisdom of Liu Bowen, Xu Da asked what kind of wall Liu Bowen would build. Liu Said the wall should be a solid one. It should be bigger and higher than any other wall. And it would be built as a wall within a wall, with walls connecting them, with a tower facing a tower and a tower watching a tower. Liu raised his horsewhip and pointed to the distant spot and said,

Legend of Shanhaiguan Pass

It is also a good place in which to build a home as it has fertile soil and a mild climate. It is really a good place for living. Xu Da understood the meaning of because of you . He liked Liu Bowen's idea very much. As soon as they got back to the barracks, they figured out a plan for the fortification and sent it to the emperor the next morning. With the plan approved by the emperor, they started the construction. Within one year and eight months, the pass was completed.

They returned to the court where in an audience, the emperor saw Xu Da and Liu Bowen. He asked, Is the construction project finished? they answered, Yes, thank you your Imperial Highness, as they bowed before the throne.

Have you named the pass? the Emperor asked. Now, Xu Da and Liu Bowen were struck dumb by these words. The royal edict just gave them an order to build the wall, not to name it as well. Xu Da wanted to say something to the emperor but was stopped by Liu Bowen. Liu Bowen stepped forward and answered, We did not rush into action without your approval. The pass goes into the sea at the south end and relies on the mountain at the north end. It is really a pass of mountain and sea! Please name it as such. The emperor nodded to them and said, Good idea! Just call it Shanhaiguan Pass (Mountain and Sea Pass).

After their audience with the emperor, Liu Bowen and Xu Da went to Xu Da's house where Liu told Xu that he was preparing to leave. Xu asked where he was going.

Liu Said, I am actually a freeman so I am going to travel anywhere I please. Xu Da did not understand why he should say that and said, We followed the emperor and fought for him. In addition, we built the Shanhaiguan Pass for him. We are the men that achieved much for the empire. We should enjoy our lives from now on but as you are such a hero, the emperor will never let you leave.

Liu shook his head and said, It is not as you say. The Emperor did not order us to build the Great Wall within two years if he meant us to lead a happy life. Had we refused to obey the order, we were sure to die; if we accepted the order but didn't complete the work on time, we would have been charged with cheating him. If we completed the work on time and named the pass, we would have been charged with paying no attention to the emperor's explicit orders. By not naming the pass we could be regarded as being inept at the job. Our lives are in his hands whatever he decides. This is just a beginning.

Legend of Shanhaiguan Pass

Counselor, you mean... Xu Da fell into confusion.

Have you noticed the many examples of what has happened between the Emperor and his vassals? Vassals can experience the adversities of the Emperor, but they cannot share the fruits of success with him The Emperor won't allow that , Liu Bowen said.

Hearing these words, Xu Da was struck dumb again. What shall I do after your departure? he said after a short pause.

You stay by the Emperor's side. Never leave him, even if he wants to drive you away. Furthermore, you'd better send your son to the Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall, where he won't suffer in battle and can lead a comfortable life.

Good idea! I will let my son to set off tomorrow. Xu Da agreed with Liu Bowen.

As they were talking about the matter, a man broke into the room. That was Hu Dahai, one of Xu Da's faithful friends. He had overheard the conversation, and on entering the room he said, Marshal, I have followed you through fire and water and worked myself to the bone for you. Would you please send my son also to the Shanhaiguan Pass for safety?

As they were talking, Chang Yuchun, another general entered the room. Realizing that all three men were the best of friends, friends as close as the legendary Damon and Pythias, Liu Bowen told them his thoughts. Chang Yuchun insisted that he also should send his son to the pass.

A short period later, Liu Bowen left the court without saying goodbye. In accordance with what Liu had said, Xu Da remained with the emperor never leaving his side and thus he saved his life. However, Hu Dahai and Chang Yuchun and other men of great merit and who played a vital role in the founding of the empire all died in a fire during a triumphal banquet.

As for their sons, they reached the Shanhaiguan Pass of the Great Wall in Hebei and settled there. Later their descendants built the Xu Da Temple at the pass, here too is the Hu Tomb (Hujiafen) at the northeast and the Chang Tomb (Changjiafen) at the southwest of the pass as well as stone statues of these people, horses and torii to their memory.

Virtual Field Trip: The Great Wall of China

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