Outside the Wall

This past week I made a quick trip up to Changchun, they city where I lived for most of the 1990's. I had a bit of a new experience getting there in that I took one of the new "D" trains — a high speed line — that makes the run in 6 and a half hours.  The newness of this experience lies in the fact that when I lived up there the trip took 15 hours, always an overnight run. When they can lop off 9 hours off of a train ride you know that the old train was either going really slow or this new one is going really fast.  I think it's a bit of both, but probably more the latter.  We hit a top speed of 289 kph.

About 2 hours out of Beijing, perched between the edge of a mountain range and the ocean is the city of Shanhaiguan. This town is famous for being the eastern terminus of The Great Wall, where it marches down from the mountains and into the sea (literally). Both the seaside sections and mountain sections have been restored and turned into tourist spots. The wall in between has been urbanized out of existence. 

But not entirely. As our train (slowly at that point for some reason) moved through the gritty industrial part of town, I spotted an old section of the wall still visibly standing in a slum area. I could see the ramped earth inner core and a few of the outer bricks (although most have been hauled away by now).  It comes up to the edge of the tracks, then forlornly stops. 

The name Shanhaiguan means "mountain ocean pass" because this narrow strip of land between the mountains and the ocean marked the transportation route into what is now northeastern China.  The wall here was built by the Ming rulers of China (1300's to 1600's), to mark the northern boundary of the empire.  To the south was a civilized land — China — and to the north were the barbarians (Manchurians). 

In the 1600's the barbarians eventually got into China proper (legend has it that they bribed a guard at one of the gates in Shanhaiguan), took control, and established the Qing Dynasty.  They managed to stay in power until 1911. The Qing didn't do any further wall building since there was no one else to keep out, but the wall, in this area particularly, came to be a demarcation line between China proper and the Manchurian ancestral lands.  The area south of the wall was called "Guan Nei" (inside the wall, or pass) and the area north of the wall was called "Guan Wai" (outside the wall, or pass). 

Even though Guan Wai today is officially referred to as Dongbei (the Northeast), the terms guan wai and guan nei are still used.  In train station ticket offices in northeastern China, ther are giant charts on the wall listing train destinations, and there are always two categories of destinations:  guan wai and guan nei.  Outside the wall and inside the wall. "Inside the wall" referrs to destinations south of Shanhaiguan and "outside the wall" referred to dstinations north of Shanghaiguan, in Dongbei proper.  

As the train left Shanhaiguan, and sped away from the wall, I could tell by the distinctive village architecture that I was back in Dongbei, outside the wall.