64km from Dunhuang at the edge of the Gobi desert, north of the Sanwei mountains, is the site of one of the most important post stations on the Han dynasty Silk Road in the Hexi corridor, Xuanquanzhi. Built between 2BC and 2AD as the Han consolidated their control of the Hexi corridor, the Xuanquanzhi Post Station was key to Han control of the Silk Road in this region.
There is little to see at what is essentially an archeological site nestled picturesquely at the foot of the Huoyan mountain range, but as the only such site of Han times to have been identified by modern archeologists, this is a place to let one’s imagination reach to touch the past. A raised wooden boardwalk runs around a 50sqm enclosed area with labels indicating different areas of the post station including stables, a watchtower, a waste disposal area and an ancient toilet. Frequent helpful notice boards in Chinese and English provide informative insights into the workings of a Han dynasty post station.
Among the 17,650 relics uncovered here was a wall epigraph from Emperor Ping of the Han dynasty which is considered to be one of the first edicts on environmental protection. An even more important find were 450 fragments of hemp paper, of which 10 are the oldest known survivals of paper with writing on them. There were also 35,000 mostly wood document slips, many with inscriptions, and a wide variety of high quality silks, wooden combs and brushes and other daily artefacts .
Xuanquanzhi Post Station (excavated 1990-1992) is located south of Road 314 from Dunhuang towards Guazhou. As no public transport stops here and the turn-off is not signed, it is really essential to have a car with a local guide.