Diaries from the Far East – On the way to North Korea (Part 2) – Hushan

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Foto: weibo

Last week we talked about Dandong, the city on the Yalu River that separates China from North Korea. It’s also the city with the first Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge which stood witness to much historical turmoil. Now it’s a popular tourist attraction as well as one of the few transport links that the isolated country has with the rest of the world.

Yet “the largest Chinese border town”, as it’s affectionately known, is not only famous for these aforementioned reasons. It’s also a major centre for the production of silk, ginkgo and honey. These are definitely three reasons—especially the last one—why you should definitely travel to this region.

In the immediate vicinity is the Kuandian Manchu autonomous county which is home to an ethnic Korean group (one of many along the border with China and S. Korea). It’s also the home of an abandoned airstrip used by warplanes during the Korean War and also part of the Great Wall of China (Hushan)—which some consider its easternmost part.

Well, if you read the first article from my Far East Diaries, you’ll remember that I mentioned Shanhaiguan as the easternmost part of the famous wall; which ends in the sea at the Gulf of Bohai and happens to be over 700 km from Hushan.

The part we are talking about is a fortification that has parts that are literally five meters from the border with North Korea, and happens to be a subject of great academic controversy.

More precisely, the wall has fortifications that are very similar to those on the Great Wall of China. It runs for over 1200 meters and winds over the Hu mountain (also known as the Tigers mountain).

However, the proclamation of Hushan as the easternmost part of the Great Wall in 2009 was greeted rather skeptically by Korean academics. They accuse the Chinese of renaming the fortification Hushan from the original Bakjak, and of renovating the tower in order to declare it part of the Great Wall of China.  The Korean side claimed (and still claims) that China thus destroyed traces of the ancient Korean state of Goguryeo which had built Bakjak—or Hushan, as the Chinese call it.

Foto: Franka Gulin

Numerous articles and studies have centred around this subject. Both sides have accused the other of nationalism. At the same time, some scientists have criticized the attribution of modern national identity to those who lived in ancient times.

Now let’s get back to climbing Hushan. If you decide to do it in the winter try on a clear day with no precipitation. In the early morning hours the north side is fully shaded and so the 150m climb is very steep and very difficult because of the ice. You don’t want to slip and fall in the tragic style of Nancy Kerrigan!

Foto: Franka Gulin

It’s an understatement to say that the view from the highest tower is merely magnificent. If you make the climb at the crack of dawn on a clear and windy day, the view stretches far across the lowlands of the Chinese and North Korean sides. You can also see the surrounding mountains flanking the flat area around the Yalu River on both sides and the place where the Yalu flows into the Gulf of Bohai.

Another interesting thing for those obsessed with the borders along North Korea is the part of the Hushan separated by a small tributary of the Yalu River, which is barely 5m wide.

The first North Korean observation post is located some 150 to 200 meters from there. You and can look at soldiers on the other side with absolutely no problems because you’re almost eye to eye. At the time we were there a few of them were cleaning the channel only a hundred meters away from us. They looked at us as we looked at them, but they didn’t find us interesting at all.

Franka Gulin has been living life to its fullest in Beijing for four years. Since the summer she has been writing a blog and sharing her experiences from far-off China and the surrounding region. 

*The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of HRT.

Barbara Vid