Is the Great Wall of China Really Great

Snaking through the northern areas of China, climbing mountains and going through the grassy plains is the “长城 (cháng chéng), 万里长城 (wàn lǐ cháng chéng)”. Don’t be surprised its nothing new it’s the Chinese name for the Great Wall in China, “The Long Wall of 10,000 Miles” when translated into English translation.

When constricted, its sole purpose was to defend the country from the invaders in the north, but time has transformed this marvel into a tourist site and an endurance test for daredevils. The wall has also become the measure of how long things are “Oh! It’s as long as the great wall of China”. A fact that you might not have known is that this marvelous structure of bricks is not held together by your conventional cement, but by an adhesive made from grounded rice. Incredibly strong isn’t it?  Here we bring you some further hidden secrets from the lengths of the Great Wall.

Measuring the Great Wall

How many of you know the length of the equator? Not many of you! Let’s enrich your knowledge. The equator is a staggering 40,075 kilometers, now what’s more aweing is that the Great Wall is just 1158 kilometers more than the equator’s half. So to be precise, that’s some 21,196.18 km of the wall you are looking at! If you were to run the whole wall, you would have ran nearly half the earth (Woah!). The current structure (8,851.8 km) displays the remains from the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).

Be surprised by this marvel of construction! As it was constructed nearly 2700 years ago, that means without the cranes and the mixers and the high tech engineering. Let’s begin the list!

  1. It’s not just long! It’s tall too! It averages to about 6 -7 meters, reaching a height of 14 meters at its highest. In the foot scale, it’s an average of 20 – 23 feet and a high of 46 feet.
  2. The width averages to about 6.5 meters (21.3 feet), which means you could drive two Mercedes C class easily side by side.
  3. Sea level is where a structure lies from the ground, and the Great Wall is equally diverse here too. At places like Laolongtou, it lies at just about the sea level, while at Huanglouyuan it reaches an astonishing altitude of 1,439.3 meters.
  4. A massive workforce was required to complete this feat of construction, comprising of an unbelievable 100,000 workmen.
  5. The length can show how many regions it might cover, but it precisely covers fifteen regions of China; Qinghai, Jilin, Gansu, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Liaoning, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang and Beijing.
  6. Although about the one-third of the wall has weathered, it’s still a huge tourist favorite and is annually visited by about 50 million people. An estimated 460 high profiles, VIP’s and state heads have visited it.

Remember: You need a group tour to the great wall, as it quite long to endure all alone. 

Astonished? Wait till you read below!

This historic engineering and construction it was ordered by Emperor Qin Shi Huang are incorrect.

A Wall System

As it is generally called the Great Wall of China, it is not so in reality. The structure is such that it does not really go in one piece from the beginning till the end, but is segmented. There are –laces that the wall pieces overlap each other twice and thrice and at places, they are scattered with gaps in between. The wall also has a number of forts constructed along it at some places.

What initiated the construction? Nothing serious, just a rumor!

The wall had been built in different sections by different states. Yet, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang is known as the one who ordered to build the wall. This is a misconception, the emperor maybe called the one who ordered to join the sections of the wall. This massive project became a reality all because of a rumor that Lu Sheng brought to him. The rumor was that the northern warriors would overturn his empire, Emperor Qin, in order to protect his realm he ordered for the joining of walls.

How old is the wall?

The wall that the tourists enjoy walking on and looking at is relatively new. The segments that are so well preserved today are about 400 – 600 years old. During the 2700 years of its life, the wall has been extended and renovated by a number of empires. The wall that displays the relics of Ming Dynasty began to be constructed in 1381 and is the best preserved. The famous sections of Badaling and Mutianyu have been transformed into tourist resorts.

Some Recognized while Others were Forgotten!

The sections that are open to tourists are quite well maintained, such as the one at Badaling. Yet, these segments make a very small amount of the original wall’s length. The greater length and longer sections lie in the wild forest growth, undisturbed and unpreserved. These are the sections that constitute the original length of the Great Wall.

A Wall or Not?

It has been so long been called a wall that its original construction has been forgotten. Structured like a wall, it is more or less a series of defences, containing walls, watch towers, barricades, fortifications, bunkers, barracks and etc. So when you look at the wall from now on, you’ll know that it is not what you see but far more than that.  

Defense against whom?

Another misconception! It was not built to push back Mongols. Constructed in sections, the wall had different purposes at different places, from defending against Northern Nomads to protect a state against its neighbors the purpose varied state to state. If it was to protect against Mongols, the wall had begun to be constructed 4 centuries prior to their rise in 11th Century AD. So now you know it wasn’t built solely for the Mongols.

Did the great wall really Protect China?

An answer is not always! Surprisingly the wall was not able to protect the states every time and form everyone. It became a source of mental dominance for the weak nomads yet the ones like Genghis Khan proved it to be nothing but a speed bump. He kept on striking the northern China for nearly a hundred years in the 13th century and the wall was not a problem, not just him but in the 17th century, the Manchus tribe overthrew the Ming dynasty and sadly the wall did not stop them as well.

Have we lost the Wall?

Yes, we have! What we can see is just the 2/3rd of what the wall originally was. We have precisely lost about 1/3rd of the wall due to both weather factors and human negligence. The preserved sections remain due to their relatively young age and the blocks used by the Ming Dynasty. The ancient mud and earth bonded wall segments are falling down due to cracks from the winds and rains. The wall that we recently see and walk on is about 400 – 600 years old.  

The marvel of ancient architecture has not only broken due to nature, but humans are equally responsible for the loss of this cultural heritage. The wall has been demolished for new construction, bricks being sold as souvenirs and the structure being altered to make room for new roads. This carried on for about 3 decades until 2006 when this cultural heritage was officially preserved.

Myth Busters!

The Great Wall of China is so full of myths and tales that it seems something from a fairytale. Let’s take sneak peek into some of the legends associated with the Wall.

Myth #1: I saw it from space!

The extensive light of the wall and its sheer greatness gave birth type the myth that the astronauts in space could see it with their naked eyes. No, Absolutely No! The wall is very long and big but you cannot see it from space, just like you can’t see an ant on the ground form a skyscraper. So myth #1 is busted!!

Myth #2: Carcasses on the Wall!!

The extensive 1,000,000 laborers that were put to work at the construction of the wall were either criminals or soldier and even civilians. The story is that this was forced labor and the men were not allowed to return home. This hectic work took the lives of more than four hundred thousand men, who are were buried in the very wall that they were constructing. Detailed surveys and during the repairs of the wall no remains of any human body have been found until now, therefore myth #2 also busted! Therefore calling it the “Longest Cemetery” remains a false tale!

Myth #3: The Cry of Meng Jiangnu

This is the most dramatic legend associated with the wall! It can also be called the most talked tale in China. So it goes like a woman Meng Jiangnu’s husband was taken by the emperor’s men to work on the wall. The twist came when he died and was buried there only, the heartbroken woman went to the wall and kept on crying at it. The power of her weeping and crying broke the non-living wall and it exposed the remains of her husband. No evidence of such an act has been seen, so we’ll count it as a tell-tale only!

The West Acknowledges this Eastern Marvel

UNESCO declared it as the World Heritage Site. However, what is astonishing is that such a great piece of awe that the Great Wall is, it was not given importance by the Chinese historians and painters as not many of them mentioned it in their literature and paintings. The western travellers acknowledged it way before the Chinese themselves owned it as a glory! Portuguese mentioned it in their travel tales in the 16th century while the Chinese themselves mentioned it in the 20th century. A painting by a British painter in 1793 marked the popularity of the great wall in the western world.

So, the Great Wall is really a piece of construction that will leave you in awe once you look at it after knowing these facts! Don’t forget to visit this on your next China tour!