The Great Wall of China

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					The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood,
and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern
borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire or its prototypical states against
intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions by various warlike peoples or forces.
Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; these, later joined together and
made bigger, stronger, and unified are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall.Especially
famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.
Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained,
enhanced; the majority of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty.

Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of
duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the
control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great
Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations,
signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great
Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc
that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The most comprehensive
archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that all the walls measure
8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi).This is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall,
359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such
as hills and rivers.

Early walls

The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring
and Autumn Period.During this time and the subsequent Warring States Period, the states of
Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan and Zhongshan all constructed extensive fortifications to defend their
own borders. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls
were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames.

Qin Shi Huang conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BCE, establishing the
Qin Dynasty. Intending to impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he
ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state
borders. To protect the empire against intrusions by the Xiongnu people from the north, he
ordered the building of a new wall to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire's new
northern frontier. Transporting the large quantity of materials required for construction was
difficult, so builders always tried to use local resources. Stones from the mountains were used
over mountain ranges, while rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. There are no
surviving historical records indicating the exact length and course of the Qin Dynasty walls.
Most of the ancient walls have eroded away over the centuries, and very few sections remain
today. The human cost of the construction is unknown, but it has been estimated by some
authors that hundreds of thousands,if not up to a million, workers died building the Qin
wall.Later, the Han, Sui, and Northern dynasties all repaired, rebuilt, or expanded sections of
the Great Wall at great cost to defend themselves against northern invaders.The Tang and
Song Dynasties did not build any walls in the region.The Liao, Jin, and Yuan dynasties, who
ruled Northern China throughout most of the 10-13th centuries, had their original power bases
north of the Great Wall proper; accordingly, they would have no need throughout most of their
history to build a wall along this line. The Liao carried out limited repair of the Great Wall in a
few areas,however the Jin did construct defensive walls in the 12th century, but those were
located much to the north of the Great Wall as we know it, within today's Inner and Outer

Ming era
The Great Wall concept was revived again during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century,and
following the Ming army's defeat by the Oirats in the Battle of Tumu. The Ming had failed to gain
a clear upper hand over the Manchurian and Mongolian tribes after successive battles, and the
long-drawn conflict was taking a toll on the empire. The Ming adopted a new strategy to keep
the nomadic tribes out by constructing walls along the northern border of China. Acknowledging
the Mongol control established in the Ordos Desert, the wall followed the desert's southern edge
instead of incorporating the bend of the Huang He.

Unlike the earlier Qin fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due
to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. As Mongol raids continued periodically
over the years, the Ming devoted considerable resources to repair and reinforce the walls.
Sections near the Ming capital of Beijing were especially strong.

During the 1440s–1460s, the Ming also built a so-called "Liaodong Wall". Similar in function to
the Great Wall (whose extension, in a sense, it was), but more basic in construction, the
Liaodong Wall enclosed the agricultural heartland of the Liaodong province, protecting it against
potential incursions by Jurched-Mongol Oriyanghan from the northwest and the Jianzhou
Jurchens from the north. While stones and tiles were used in some parts of the Liaodong Wall,
most of it was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.
Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the
Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Even after the loss of all of Liaodong, the Ming army
under the command of Yuan Chonghuan held off the Manchus at the heavily fortified
Shanhaiguan pass, preventing the Manchus from entering the Chinese heartland. The Manchus
were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, after Beijing had fallen to Li Zicheng's rebels,
and the gates at Shanhaiguan were opened by the commanding Ming general Wu Sangui, who
hoped to use the Manchus to expel the rebels from Beijing. The Manchus quickly seized Beijing,
and defeated both the rebel-founded Shun Dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance,
establishing the Qing Dynasty rule over all of China.

In 2009, an additional 290 km (180 mi) of previously undetected portions of the wall, built during
the Ming Dynasty, were discovered. The newly discovered sections range from the Hushan
mountains in the northern Liaoning province, to Jiayuguan in western Gansu province. The
sections had been submerged over time by sandstorms which moved across the arid region.

Under Qing rule, China's borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia was annexed into
the empire, so construction and repairs on the Great Wall were discontinued. On the other
hand, the so-called Willow Palisade, following a line similar to that of the Ming Liaodong Wall,
was constructed by the Qing rulers in Manchuria. Its purpose, however, was not defense but
rather migration control.

Early Western reports of the wall

The North African traveler Ibn Battuta, who was in Guangzhou ca. 1346, inquired among the
local Muslims about the wall that, according to the Qur'an, Dhul-Qarnayn had built to contain
Gog and Magog. Ibn Battuta reported that the wall was "sixty days' travel" from the city of Zeitun
(Quanzhou);Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb noted Ibn Battuta has confused the Great Wall
of China with that built by Dhul-Qarnayn.This indicated that Arabs may have heard about
China's Great Wall during earlier periods of China's history, and associated it with the Gog and
Magog wall of the Qur'an.But, in any event, no one of Ibn Battuta's Guangzhou interlocutors had
seen the wall or knew anyone who had seen it, which implies that by the late Yuan the
existence of the Great Wall was not in the people's living memory, at least not in the Muslim
communities in Guangzhou.

Soon after Europeans reached the Ming China in the early 16th century, accounts of the Great
Wall started to circulate in Europe, even though no European was to see it with his own eyes for
another century. Possibly the earliest description of the wall, and its significance for the defense
of the country against the "Tartars" (i.e. Mongols), may be the one contained in the Third
Década of João de Barros' Asia (published 1563).Interestingly, Barros himself did not travel to
Asia, but was able to use Chinese books brought to Lisbon by Portuguese traders.One of the
earliest records of a Western traveler entering China via a Great Wall pass (Jiayuguan, in this
case) may be that of the Portuguese Jesuit brother Bento de Góis, who had reached China's
north-western gate from India in 1605.

Notable areas

Some of the following sections are in Beijing municipality, which were renovated and which are
regularly visited by modern tourists today.

  "North Pass" of Juyongguan pass, known as the Badaling. When used by the Chinese to
protect their land, this section of the wall has had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing.
Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high
and 5 meters (16 ft) wide.

  "West Pass" of Jiayuguan (pass). This fort is near the western edges of the Great Wall.

  "Pass" of Shanhaiguan. This fort is near the eastern edges of the Great Wall.

   One of the most striking sections of the Ming Great Wall is where it climbs extremely steep
slopes. It runs 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) long, ranges from 5 to 8 meters (16–26 ft) in height, and 6
meters (20 ft) across the bottom, narrowing up to 5 meters (16 ft) across the top. Wangjinglou is
one of Jinshanling's 67 watchtowers, 980 meters (3,220 ft) above sea level.

  South East of Jinshanling, is the Mutianyu Great Wall which winds along lofty, cragged
mountains from the southeast to the northwest for approximately 2.25 kilometers (about 1.3
miles). It is connected with Juyongguan Pass to the west and Gubeikou to the east.

   25 km (16 mi) west of the Liao Tian Ling stands apart of Great Wall which is only 2~3 stories
high. According to the records of Lin Tian, the wall was not only extremely short compared to
others, but it appears to be silver. Archeologists explain that the wall appears to be silver
because the stone they used were from Shan Xi, where many mines are found. The stone
contains extremely high levels of metal in it causing it to appear silver. However, due to years of
decay of the Great Wall, it is hard to see the silver part of the wall today.

Another notable section lies near the eastern extremity of the wall, where the first pass of the
Great Wall was built on the Shanhaiguan (known as the “Number One Pass Under Heaven”). 3
km north of Shanhaiguan is Jiaoshan Great Wall, the site of the first mountain of the Great
Wall.15 km northeast from Shanhaiguan, is the Jiumenkou, which is the only portion of the wall
that was built as a bridge.


Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood.
During the Ming Dynasty, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were
materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to
work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more
weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than
brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for
the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost
portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and
about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide.


While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even
extensively renovated, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair. Those parts might serve as a
village playground or a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads.[28] Sections of the Wall
are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the
way of construction.
More than 60 km (37 mi) of the wall in Gansu province may disappear in the next 20 years, due
to erosion from sandstorms. In places, the height of the wall has been reduced from more than
five meters (16.4 ft) to less than two meters. The square lookout towers that characterize the
most famous images of the wall have disappeared completely. Many western sections of the
wall are constructed from mud, rather than brick and stone, and thus are more susceptible to

Watchtowers and barracks

Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall, including the ability
to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements, was of high importance. Signal
towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility.

Visibility from space

Visibility from the moon

One of the earliest known references to this myth appears in a letter written in 1754 by the
English antiquary William Stukeley. Stukeley wrote that, "This mighty wall of four score miles in
length (Hadrian's Wall) is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable
figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the moon."The claim was also
mentioned by Henry Norman in 1895 where he states "besides its age it enjoys the reputation of
being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the moon."The issue of "canals"
on Mars was prominent in the late 19th century and may have led to the belief that long, thin
objects were visible from space.The claim that the Great Wall is visible also appears in 1932's
Ripley's Believe it or Not strip and in Richard Halliburton's 1938 book Second Book of Marvels.

The claim the Great Wall is visible has been debunked many times,but is still ingrained in
popular culture.The wall is a maximum 9.1 m (30 ft) wide, and is about the same color as the
soil surrounding it. Based on the optics of resolving power (distance versus the width of the iris:
a few millimeters for the human eye, meters for large telescopes) only an object of reasonable
contrast to its surroundings which is 70 mi (110 km) or more in diameter (1 arc-minute) would be
visible to the unaided eye from the moon, whose average distance from Earth is 384,393 km
(238,851 mi). The apparent width of the Great Wall from the moon is the same as that of a
human hair viewed from 2 miles (3.2 km) away. To see the wall from the moon would require
spatial resolution 17,000 times better than normal (20/20) vision.Unsurprisingly, no lunar
astronaut has ever claimed to have seen the Great Wall from the moon.

Visibility from low earth orbit

A more controversial question is whether the Wall is visible from low earth orbit (an altitude of as
little as 100 miles (160 km)). NASA claims that it is barely visible, and only under nearly perfect
conditions; it is no more conspicuous than many other man-made objects.Other authors have
argued that due to limitations of the optics of the eye and the spacing of photoreceptors on the
retina, it is impossible to see the wall with the naked eye, even from low orbit, and would require
visual acuity of 20/3 (7.7 times better than normal).

Astronaut William Pogue thought he had seen it from Skylab but discovered he was actually
looking at the Grand Canal of China near Beijing. He spotted the Great Wall with binoculars, but
said that "it wasn't visible to the unaided eye." U.S. Senator Jake Garn claimed to be able to see
the Great Wall with the naked eye from a space shuttle orbit in the early 1980s, but his claim
has been disputed by several U.S. astronauts. Veteran U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan has stated:
"At Earth orbit of 100 miles (160 km) to 200 miles (320 km) high, the Great Wall of China is,
indeed, visible to the naked eye." Ed Lu, Expedition 7 Science Officer aboard the International
Space Station, adds that, "it's less visible than a lot of other objects. And you have to know
where to look."
In 2001, Neil Armstrong stated about the view from Apollo 11: "I do not believe that, at least with
my eyes, there would be any man-made object that I could see. I have not yet found somebody
who has told me they've seen the Wall of China from Earth orbit. ...I've asked various people,
particularly Shuttle guys, that have been many orbits around China in the daytime, and the ones
I've talked to didn't see it."

In October 2003, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei stated that he had not been able to see the
Great Wall of China. In response, the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a press release
reporting that from an orbit between 160 and 320 km, the Great Wall is visible to the naked eye.
In an attempt to further clarify things, the ESA published a picture of a part of the “Great Wall”
photographed from Space. However, in a press release a week later (no longer available in the
ESA’s website), they acknowledged that the "Great Wall" in the picture was actually a river.

Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American astronaut, took a photograph from the International Space
Station that shows the wall. It was so indistinct that the photographer was not certain he had
actually captured it. Based on the photograph, the China Daily later reported that the Great Wall
can be seen from space with the naked eye, under favorable viewing conditions, if one knows
exactly where to look.However, the resolution of a camera can be much higher than the human
visual system, and the optics much better, rendering photographic evidence irrelevant to the
issue of whether it is visible to the naked eye.

Travel Tips

No matter what you think it’ll be like the Great Wall will still blow you away. You can’t prepare
yourself for the awe, but you can prepare for experiencing this ultimate historical hotspot. Here’s

When to visit

  The best departure point for main sections is Beijing.

  Go early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and have great light for photos.

  Avoid weekends, especially in summer.
Places to visit the wall Badaling

  The most touristed section of the Great Wall. Lots of hawkers.

  While not as ‘pristine’ as other parts, it’s best for older travelers, families with small children,
those who don’t love sheer drops and those short on time.

  Leave Beijing early and do it as a half-day trip.

   If you take the Tourism Bus (tel 8353 1111) – direct to and from, but no guided tour attached
– you’ll have about two hours to visit.

  This is often coupled with a visit to the Ming Tombs, making a full-day trip.


  One o f the wall’s steepest and most beautiful points.

  Best for fit folks with sturdy, good-grip shoes and a penchant for stunning views – and the
requisite steep climbs.

  Bring a day pack (you need your arms free for the climb).

  Drinks are very pricey and food is scarce, so bring your own.

  Unless you really want a souvenir, avoid eye contact with the aggressive vendors.

  Remains relatively undeveloped.

  It’s the starting point of a 10km steep, stony hike to Simatai. Arriving at Simatai, you may
have to buy another ticket.

   You can do the walk in the opposite direction, but getting a ride back to Beijing from Simatai
is easier than from Jinshanling. Make arrangements with your driver to pick you up.


  When choosing a tour, check that the tour goes to where you want. If you don’t want to go to
the Ming Tombs, don’t pick a tour that combines Badaling with the Ming Tombs.

   Some tours make detours to jade factories, gem exhibition halls and Chinese medicine
centres (where tourists are diagnosed with bogus ailments that can be cured only with high-
priced Chinese remedies, supplied there and then). When booking a tour, check that such
scams and unnecessary diversions are not on the itinerary.

If you want to spend some significant time at the wall our recommended partners have three or
ten day hikes.


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