Shanhaiguan has been a district within the city of Qinhuangdao since 1954, and has many places of interest for visitors.

Until the 17th century the area was a strategic site that played a major role in the defence of the Beijing area from the north-eastern approach. Shanhaiguan (“Pass Between the Mountains and the Sea”) was the place at which the route from Beijing into Manchuria (Northeast China) passed through a narrow defile along the coast and where, at the same time, the Great Wall of China reached the coast. A pass (Linyuguan, or Yuguan) was built there in 583 during the Sui dynasty (581–618).

In 1381, early in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the old, deteriorated pass was replaced with a new one and was given the name Shanhaiguan. During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911/12), a county seat called Linyu was set up there (1737). It lost its strategic status in the 20th century, however, when the rise of nearby Qinhuangdao took away much of its importance while the Manchurian trade, which had previously passed through Shanhaiguan to Beijing, was diverted to Dalian (Dairen), in Liaoning province. Shanhaiguan’s capture by Japanese forces operating in southern Manchuria (January 1932) placed that entire region under Japanese control and helped set the strategic stage for the establishment of the Japanese-sponsored puppet regime of Manchukuo.

The name Shanhaiguan means literally “mountain-sea-pass”; it was the only area between the mountains and the sea through which people, or more specifically traders and armies, could pass. It was thus very important to the history of China, being fought over right up to and including the Japanese invasion. The Great Wall Museum in Shanhaiguan documents the history of the many significant military events which took place here. More details regarding the museum can be found on Travel China Guide.

The First Pass Under Heaven

This is the main tourist attraction in the centre of Shanhaiguan.

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Although access to the First Pass itself was free when I lived in Qinghuangdao, you now have to buy a ticket, which allows you to walk along the wall, south to the Jingbian Watchtower (靖边楼; Jìngbiān Lóu), which also serves as an entrance for the First Pass. You can also walk a complete circuit of the town walls (a combination ticket). The ticketing, I believe, has been introduced – at least partly – to help with crowd control, because it can get extremely busy in the main tourist season, especially now that there are faster trains as well as a new freeway connection direct to Beijing and Shenyang, with their huge populations. A different combination ticket also gets you into the Wang Family Courtyard as well as the renovated Drum and Bell Tower (钟鼓; Zhōng Gǔ) in the centre of the old town.

The old town itself has been extensively rebuilt since 2007, and not much is left of the real old buildings – which is a pity from the point of view of authenticity, but a great advantage for people living there, and much more comfortable for visitors, as it was a terrible slum with no modern amenities whatsoever. One considerable benefit is that Sitiao Baozi, an outstanding specialist dumpling restaurant, has moved to the new old town from its old (and much smaller, and slightly seedy) location near Shanhaiguan train station. It has a limited menu, but is well worth a visit for non-vegetarians.

This group of pictures is from about a year later and shows the new ‘Old Town’ under construction.
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Shanhaiguan is also well-known in China for its fruit, especially for peaches as large as grapefruit and really good cherries.

On a sad note, the Bull (Gongniu) Brewery was bought up and closed down by a hotel group while I was living in QHD, so the best Chinese beer (made with imported Australian barley) is no longer generally available. Instead there is yet another hotel.

No more bottles, but still available in a bag from the best street markets

Old Dragon’s Head / Laolongtou

Laolongtou is Shanhaiguan’s second major attraction; where the Great Wall enters the sea.

First visit
Second visit

My early visits to Laolongtou were with students, outside the tourist season, later ones with visitors. It’s worth seeing; even if much of it has been rebuilt, there are a few (small) sections of the original wall, and it is on the old layout, with various historical exhibits of interest. Unfortunately, such information as is available within the site is in Chinese only (a few Chinglish notices excepted), so take your own students!

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Just along the coast, and visible from the Wall, is a temple to the Sea God.

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Nearby Shanhaiguan:

Temple of Meng Jiangnü

Jiaoshan and Yansai Lake

Changshoushan, Famous Doctors and Five Buddhas


Lertao Seaside Amusement Park

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