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11/04/2013

The Wall Less Traveled

The Shanhaiguan section of the Great Wall which is must-see for China travel deals 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. So you should not miss it for your China tours.

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.

Despite its relative solitude, Xiaohekou,though not contained on top 10 China tours by tourists, has attracted many enthusiastic fans, including Liu Fusheng, a photographer and Xiaohekou expert. Liu first visited Xiaohekou in 2001 when he was 49. The instant the wall met his eyes, he decided to settle down there and become its guardian. “I don’t know why,” ponders Liu when recalling the decision. “My intuition told me that this section of the wall was very special and that I had to stay.” Ten years have passed since then. Now, Liu appears similar to many local farmers, only his expensive camera setting him apart. He opened a small inn in the village to provide lodging for scholars, relic protectionists, photographers, and other visitors.

Xiaohekou is regarded as an extension of the Shanhaiguan section. Its special geological location causes some scholars to question the reasons Emperor Qin Shihuang (259 B.C.–210 B.C.), the first emperor of unified China, ordered the Great Wall’s construction. Was it only a political symbol Defensively practical Or, a simple expansion.

Standing in the Eastern Watch Tower looking west, 65 watch towers are visible, a vista only available at Xiao-hekou. From a peak in the south, the perspective reveals that the wall closes off three sides in the east, south, and west with 92 watch towers, a stunning military and architectural feat. Walls with different characteristics snaking in from the east, south, and west cross the sea, forest, and mountains before they melt into each other in the small village.

Like many others who love Xiaohekou, Liu hopes that more people learn about the existence of this original and unrestored section of the wall. “For the past decade, I have been soaking in happiness throught climbing and discovery,” illustrates Liu. “However, you risk mockery by claiming you’ve found new things about the much-explored and photographed wall. Since the Great Wall already became such a formalized concept, even I didn’t imagine it looking any differently before I came here. However, my first-hand exploration has changed the stereotyped impression I previously held. I am happy to share everything that I discover here.”

You can learn something about the Great Wall history through visiting Xiaohekou for your China tour packages.

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