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The Wall Less Traveled


Text by Wang Lei Photographs by Liu Fusheng

The Shanhaiguan section of the Great Wall includesmany fortresses and rolling stretches of ramparts that finally disappear into the seaafter forming a solid and complicated easternfortification. The section marks the eastern starting point of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Wall. Today, Shanhaiguan,along with Badaling, 300 kilometers away, has become an iconic piece of the Great Wall. Since tourists most easily find their way to one of the more famous stretches, they can incorrectly assume that the rest of the wall is the same. A visit to Xiaohekou, however, can open the eyes.

Tucked in the mountains of Suizhong County, Liaoning Province, about 100 kilometers northeast of Shanhaiguan, is the section known as Xiaohekou. Unlike the heavy-traffic Badaling section, Xiaohekou has been silently zigzagging across the Yanshan Mountains around Yong’anbao Township for centuries. The structure connects all three of the Liaodong, Shanhaiguan, and Badaling sections, which resemble three huge snakes coiling through the mountains to observe the world. The areas surrounding the ancient barrier have witnessed incalculable change over more than 2,000 years.

Taking a closer look reveals even more. Window frames, doors, and arches all feature carvings of a lion balancing on a ball, lucky clouds, colorful ribbons, and flowery patterns. Of all the carvings, a pattern depicting two tangled lotus flowers is the most complicated and striking. Accurately dubbed “entwined lotus flowers” by local farmers, the image is meant to symbolize the love

between husband and wife. Carvings and decorations of this type are rarely found at other sections of the wall, which was constructed with defensive practicality in mind. Some experts call it the section of the wall with “feminine beauty.”

According to historical records, the section was designed and built by generals and soldiers from the area around Yiwu in the south, which had already developed a relatively mature culture. With fortification in mind, they built the wall and temples and decorated them with patterns symbolizing peace. So contrasting its northern geography, a touch of southern culture was left on the buildings, setting apart Xiaohekou from every other section of the Great Wall.

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