The Jade Gate in Dunhuang
2014-03-17 Sum Other Dunhuang 1356
In the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the Jade Gate (Yumen pass) was a frontier pass of Han territory leading to the Western Regions, mostly referred to the Central Asia. It was an important pass on the Silk Road, a famous trade route between Asia and Europe. Jades were transported from the Western Regions to Han which gave the pass its name. The Jade Gate was of military significance as well. The western border of Han was constantly suffered from invasions of Xiongnu, an ancient state located in the north of China. Many Chinese people knew the gate because of the classic piece “Beyond the Border” written by a poet called Wang Zhihuan (688-742). The poetry depicts how barren and rough the situation is around the Jade Gate and the border soldiers’ homesickness.
Here I found one of the translations of the poetry,
The Yellow River goes all the way up to the sky.
A lone fort sits amid numerous mountain tops.
The Qiang flute need not envy the willow trees.
The spring breeze never sweeps beyond Gate Yumen.
(The Qiang flute: a musical instrument of the Qiang ethnic group)
Although I am not too satisfied with this translation, it is sufficient in giving you the idea of what the poetry is about. I really like the last sentence. There is no spring breeze or blossom flower or willow tree, or whatever beyond the Jade Gate. The desert-like landscape will only worsen the soldiers’ homesickness and depression. To be exact, spring breeze will not even reach the back of the Jade Gate, not to mention beyond the Jade Gate.
Nowadays, Jade Gate is no longer at the frontier of Chinese border. Its relic locates inside Dunhuang, Gansu province. This region has rich tourism resources. Dunhuang is home to the well-known Mogao Grottos and Gobi desert. And to its southeast, there is Qinghai Lake. Plenty of tourists visit this region by train and by car. For those who came to this region, the Jade Gate is an attraction that tourists do not want to miss due to its rich historical and cultural meaning. They came here to feel the lines of Wang Zhihuan.
Southern dwellers are likely to find the landscape around the Jade Gate very unique, or even bizarre, as it has nothing similar to the south. The Gobi landscape is just stunning. It is barren, but beautiful. Of course, if you go there as a soldier without knowing your returning date, you might not feel that way anymore. Maybe all you have are the same sadness and depression the guarding soldiers had more than one thousand years ago.