First Pass Under Heaven

Located north-east of , Hebei Province, Shanhaiguan Pass connects northern China to north-eastern China. The northern portion of the pass lies against Yanshan Mountain, while the southern portions face the Bohai Sea (hence the name 'Shanhai', which translates 'sea and mountain').

Four main gates lead into the Shanhaiguan Pass: Zhendong Gate in the east, Wangyang Gate in the south, Ying'en Gate in the west, and Weiyuan Gate in the north. Of these, Zhendong Gate is the most famous, often used as a representative symbol for the pass.

Built in 1381, the gate is made up of a 39-foot rectangular wall platform built under a 44.9-foot gate tower. In the past, the area west of this gate was within the jurisdiction of central China, while the area to the west was beyond the control of the ancient Chinese government. The southern and northern portions of the pass connect to sections of the Great Wall. The gate's tower was made of bricks and wood, with 68 small windows built into the tower to allow surveillance and defense against those approaching from the north, east and south. These lookouts are called 'Jian Chuang' - 'arrow window' in English.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the gate tower is the inscribed board which hangs horizontally above the gate. It is over 5.3 yards long and 4.9 feet high. Here the five characters boldly stand out - 'Tian Xia Di Yi Guan' (The First Pass under Heaven). These characters were inscribed in 1920 by imitating the handwriting of Xiao Xian who passed the highest imperial civil service examination in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Today two inscriptions are housed in the tower, the original preserved on the first floor and a replica (made in1879) on the second floor.

If you look to the north from the second floor, you will have a panoramic view of the Jiaoshan Great Wall. On a clear day, if you look to the south you may be able to see the sea.

While you are visiting, don't forget to check out the Shanhaiguan Pass Great Wall Museum, located south of the First Pass under Heaven and regarded as one of the three famous Great Wall museums. Laolongtou (Old Dragon's Head) and Temple of Mengjiangnu are also places you should not miss.

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