August 30, 2009

 

J iuquan, or “Wine Spring,” is a major stopover on the “Silk Road” northwestwards from Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province. From the second century B.C., commissioners and high-ranking officers were dispatched by the rulers of Western Han Dynasty (306 B.C.- 34 A.D.) to develop the region. As the traffic along the “Silk Road” became busier and more important, the prefecture of Jiuquan was established more than 1,600 years ago to protect this vital artery. On a triumphant expedition, as legend has it, Huo Qubing, a celebrated commander of the Western Han army, visited the town with his troops. Emperor Wudi had decreed that they feast on wine, but there was not enough to go round. Commander Huo thenpoured his cup of wine into a spring so that it could be shared with his soldiers. That was how the city got its name.
The city’s Drum tower, erected in 343, used to be called “Night Watchman’s Tower” on the east city gate. As the city expanded, it was edged into the inner city and its name was changed to “Drum Tower.” It is the only remaining structure of the many Marco Polo praised in his writings. 
A few miles away from the city stands the Jiayuguan Pass, thewestern end of the Great Wall. The Great Wall used to end at Yumen (about 50 miles to the west of Jiayuguan) before the pass was abandoned during the Ming Dynasty. The walls in the northwest region were originally constructed under the Han, and remains of the Han wall have been found near Dunhuang, but the portions of the wall standing at Jiayuguan date from the early Ming, and are about six centuries old. Standing on the terrace of the gate tower, one can look back at the wall winding its way along the mountain ridges. To the south are the snow-capped Qilian Mountains, and to the west, the desert. 
In a tomb chamber at Dingjiazha, Jiuquan, are some of the country’s earliest murals, dating back to the East Jin Dynasty (317-430 A. D.).
Population: 1,000,000
Area: 191,000 square kilometers (73,746 square miles)