Yanmen Commandery

Yanmen Commandery was an administrative subdivision (jùn) of the state of Zhao established c. 300 BC and of northern imperial Chinese dynasties until AD 758. It occupied lands in what is now Shanxi and Inner Mongolia. Its first seat was at Shanwu (near present-day Youyu, Shanxi); its later seats moved southeast to the more defensible sites at Yinguan (within present-day Shuozhou, Shanxi) and Guangwu (near present-day Daixian, Shanxi).

Yanmen Commandery
Traditional Chinese雁門
Simplified Chinese雁门
Literal meaningWild Goose Gate Commandery


The name derives from Yanmen Pass in Shanxi's Dai County. Yanmen, meaning "Wild Goose Pass"[1] or "Wildgoose Gate",[2] takes its name from the wild geese that migrate through the area.[3]


Zhao KingdomEdit

A map of Zhao (w "Chao"). The commandery was organized following King Yong's military reforms and expansion into Loufan and Linhu (shown in outline to the northwest).

Yanmen Commandery was first established around 300 BC during China's Warring States Period by the state of Zhao's King Yong, posthumously known as the Wuling ("Martial-&-Numinous") King.[4] It covered territory in what is now northern Shanxi and southern Inner Mongolia.[5] He created Yanmen Commandery along with its companion commanderies of Dai and Yunzhong to consolidate his conquests[4] from invasions of the Loufan (t 樓煩, s 楼烦, Lóufán) and "forest nomads" or "barbarians"[6][7] (, Línhú) in 306 and 304 BC.[8] He protected these new lands by raising earthen walls along their northern border,[4][9] close to what is now Hohhot in Inner Mongolia.[10][11] Garrisons and forts were also placed at strategic spots within the new territory, such as Yanmen Pass[3] between the northern plains and the Hutuo Valley. In the mid-3rd century BC, the Yanmen governor Li Mu, relocated there under the command of Handan used these interior defenses and drills the commandery's citizens to minimize casualties to good effect when he lured more than 100,000 Xiongnu horsemen into the heart of the commandery before defeating them with 160,000 chariots, cavalry, and archers.[12]

Qin EmpireEdit

Commanderies of the Qin Empire, with Yanmen in the central north

Under the Qin, Yanmen was one of the commanderies which made up the principal divisions of the empire.[13] Its seat was at Shanwu, south of present-day Youyu in Shanxi.[5][14] Its territory ran from present-day Shanxi's Hequ, Wuzhai, and Ningwu Counties in the south to Inner Mongolia's Huangqi and Dai Lakes in the north; its eastern border was near Mount Heng.[14] The Zhao wall was connected to those of the other former states as part of the Great Wall.[12] This territory was divided into:[13]

Qin-era Counties
English Chinese
Trad. Simp. Pinyin
Shanwu 善無 善无 Shànwú Xiàn
Pingcheng 平城 平城 Píngchéng Xiàn
Mayi 馬邑 马邑 Mǎyì Xiàn
Xincheng 新城 新城 Xīnchéng Xiàn
Loufan 樓煩 楼烦 Lóufán Xiàn
Woyang 沃陽 沃阳 Wòyáng Xiàn
Guo Guō Xiàn
Fanshi 繁畤 繁畤 Fánshì Xiàn
Wangtao 汪陶 汪陶 Wāngtáo Xiàn
Lie Liè Xiàn

Western Han EmpireEdit

A Chinese-language map of the Han Empire in 87 BC, showing Yanmen (雁门) on the main route north through the valleys of Shanxi
The Han Empire around AD 1

Under the Han, Yanmen Commandery maintained its seat at Shanwu.[14] It was part of the realm of Dai, used as an appanage of the imperial kings and a title of rebels like Han Xin and Chen Xi. Han-era Yanmen included the Qin-era counties above, excluding Xincheng and Wangtao, with the addition of:[15]

Additional Han-era Counties
English Chinese
Trad. Simp. Pinyin
Zhongling 中陵 中陵 Zhōnglíng Xiàn
Yinguan 陰館 阴馆 Yīnguǎn Xiàn
Wuzhou 武州 武州 Wǔzhōu Xiàn
Bintao 鬓陶 鬓陶 Bìntáo Xiàn
Juyang 劇陽 剧阳 Jùyáng Xiàn
Qiangyin 彊陰 强阴 Qiángyīn Xiàn

Eastern Han EmpireEdit

Under the Eastern Han, the commandery seat was moved to Yinguan, present-day Xiaguancheng Village[14] southeast of Shuozhou in Shanxi.[5]

Wei KingdomEdit

During China's Three Kingdoms Period, Wei moved the commandery seat to Guangwu, southwest of present-day Daixian in Shanxi.[5][14] The district is recorded as having 12,600 households around AD 285.[5]

Eastern WeiEdit

During China's Northern and Southern Dynasties Period, Eastern Wei had the commandery seat at Daixian in what is now Shanxi.[5] During the 540s, the district is recorded having 30,434 people living in 6,328 households.[5]

Sui EmpireEdit

The Sui Empire's district capitals in AD 610. Yanmen lies in the central north.

Under the Sui, Yanmen Commandery was abolished in 583, then revived in 607.[5] It was recorded as having 42,502 households in 609.[5]

Tang EmpireEdit

Under the Tang, Yanmen Commandery was part of Hedong Circuit until it was abolished and replaced by Dai Prefecture in 618, although it was temporarily restored between 742 and 758.[5] During the Tang, the name was retained as an honorary title: the generals Tian Chengsi, Tian Xu, Tian Ji'an, and Wang Zhixing were created "Prince" or "King of Yanmen" (Yànménwáng).

In 882, Yanmen Defense Command (Yanmen Jiedushi) was also briefly established to oversee local defense. It had its seat at present-day Daixian, Shanxi. In 883, its name was changed to Daibei.[5]





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