Guǐtóushí, Ghost Head Boulder

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"Not long before Southern (Vietnamese) envoy reached the South Holding Frontier Post, they had to traverse a mountain pass where another frontier post had reportedly stood. Although there were no longer any signs of this structure, the area was still referred to by its old name, Ghost Gate Frontier Post. Ghost Gate Frontier Post was located in Chi Linh hamlet in the On region of Lang Son defense command. It took its name from the fact that once a large boulder resembling a ghost's head stood there where the mountains divided to form a natural gate.

Actually, there were more frightening aspects than one lone boulder. First, the water in the stream that floaded through the pass was said to be poisonous. Second, long tradition in the North demonized this locale. During the Jin Dynasty (265-420), for instance, it was said that south of the Ghost Gate Frontier Post the tropical heat and malarial mists became particularly intense. Northerners created a little ditty at the time: "Ghost Gate Frontier Pass is hard to pass, of the ten that cross, nine won't last." But the point was the same. Northerners had nver looked forward to crossing Ghost Gate Frontier Pass, and neither did Southerners." Liam Kelley in his book Beyond The Bronze Pillars, Envoy Poetry and the Sino-Vietnamese Relationship.

On January 20, 2006, driving south from Lang Son I reached 鬼門關 Guimenguan, Ghost Gate Pass, the Chinese name for the Chi Lang Pass. (Two days earlier, passing this sam spot on the new highway I found no sign of the Ghost Head Rock.) Now, turning off the highway I found the old road that parallels the river, which was thought by the Chinese invaders to exhude poisonous Qi. As I approached the pass, there it was, a massive head in profile jutting upward between two soaring cliffs! The Ghost's menacing nose protrudes over the road and its wild hair and flayed flesh dangles in the wind. A truly horrifying sight for any Chinese invader! From the south side it is just a jumble of rocks. The river today is truely poisonous and gray with sewage. In a small cave at the base of the ghost's head I found a used syringe and needle, left there by some heroin addict. Not exactly the kind of place one would want to spend the night!

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