One of the Seven Wonders of the World, past and present, the Great Wall of China, known to the Chinese as the "Long Wall of 10,000 Li" (Pinyin: Wànlǐ Chángchéng) is emblematic of China. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a history which dates back over 2500 years. It is now a major tourist attraction in China with sections of the wall being restored for this purpose - especially near Beijing. The total length of the wall is unknown. Its size, age, complexity and general state of disrepair mean that new sections of wall are still being identified and some sections my yet await discovery. In its last incarnation, during the Ming Dynasty, the wall reached its zenith in building quality and length measuring 5,650 km and crossing 17 provinces in North and Central China.
The principle of building large walls to protect regions of territory in China can be traced back to the Chunqui (722-481 B.C.) and the followingWarring States Period (403-221 B.C.). These were times when several large dynasties competed for control over what would later become China. The conflicts between these rival kingdoms explains why such defensive walls were built. One such example is the wall built in 408 B.C. to defend the Wei kingdom form their aggressive Qin neighbours. A large number of walls were build by each of the Qin, Zhou and Yan kingdoms throughout the 3rd century B.C. to defend against barbarians form the north and also to protect themselves form each other. The Qin, under the leadership of Emperor Shi Huang in 220 B.C., unified China into a single state. The Emperor directed further wall construction to defend the north of his new empire. Rather than the mammoth single construction feat that is often portrayed, this project was more like joining the dots, connecting together and repairing the existing walls to make a unified defensive line. The patchwork of pre-existing walls stretched form the region of Ordos in the west to Liaoning in the east. The Qin filled in the gaps and extended the line of the wall westward form the Huanghe valley as far as Lanzhou. In total, 2000 Km of wall was constructed during the Qin Dynasty's short rule and employed 300,000 men in the process.
The Qin were overthrown and replaced by the Han in 206 B.C. They continued the building of the wall. By the reign of Emperor Wudi (140-87 B.C.), the wall have expanded to cover 6,000 km. Its western end was Dunhuang and the eastern end reached the Bohai Sea. The wall served to defend against aggression form the northern tribes: In particular the Xiongnu Empire. Large numbers of people were displaced and relocated within the frontier areas. Building and maintenance of the wall ended with the collapse of the Han dynasty in 220 A.D. Over the next four hundred years, there were only sporadic recurrences in wall construction and maintenance. One example is a 1,000 Km stretch of wall built by the Northern Wei dynasty in 423 A.D. Other lesser additions were made throughout the 6th Century.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) china was strong economically and militarily. There was no need for the wall. Successive dynasties allowed the wall to crumble and it became forgotten. This would prove to be faulty. The Mongol barbarians to the north became unified under the leadership of Genghis Khan. The Mongol empire expanded south into China founding the Yuan dynasty. By the time of Kublai Khan, the third Emperor of the Yuan dynasty, all of china was under Mongol control. So was most of the rest of Asia. Kublai Khan's empire stretched all the way to the middle east and even into eastern parts of Europe. There was no need for a great wall.
Revolution against the Mongol aliens saw the Yuan dynasty overthrown and the beginning of the Ming dynasty. The Ming Emperors restarted the process of wall building. Never again were the northern people to be able to control china. This Ming wall is the Great Wall we are all familiar with today. It was 5,650 km long and to a large extent, stone built with crenellations. The top of the wall had road way along which troops and messengers could travel. Strong points in the defence and also shelter for the garrisons stationed on the wall was provided by 25,000 towers. A further 15,000 outposts provided defense in depth and advanced warning of trouble. At key mountain passes, river fords and near cities, fortresses were built on the wall to further increase the defensive strength. The wall was a expensive undertaking and similarly expensive to maintain. Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty the wall had been rationalized. The most important and most vulnerable sites were heavily fortified and defended: Other less important sections were allowed to decay. However when the Manchu armies came against the wall, they found it to be a significant obstacle. The weakness in the wall turned out not to be in the stone construction, but in the people guarding it.
The Ming Great Wall was not the boundary or frontier of China. The Ming Emperors controlled lands north of the great wall as well. The wall can be thought of as a line of control within the country. It served to control the north of the empire rather than to demarcate the edge of the empire. The lands to the northeast were where the successors to the Ming would to come form. Aisin Giorro Nurhachi was the son of a Ming court official descended form the northeastern tribe known as the Nuzhen. His father was killed, by mistake, by Ming soldiers. Nurhachi, at the age of 25, lead a revolt against the Ming. Over a period of ten years he united the disparate tribes of the Nuzhen people. Nurhachi then spent another 20 years conquering the Haixi and Donghai tribes. This formed a new ethnic group that was to be known as the Manchus. In the year 1616, the 44th year of the Ming Emperor Wanli, Nurhashi set up his capital at Hetu Ala and, declaring himself Khan, founded the Great Jin (known also as the Late Jin dynasty). The Ming Emperor sent an army to destroy Nurhashi. In total, it is claimed, 480,000 soldiers marched on Hetu Ala. However, Nurhachi, with an army of only 70,000, managed to defeat the Ming army in the battle of Sarhu.
A series of other victories against the Ming say Nuhashi's Manchurian lands expand right up to the Great Wall itself. However, the Wall proved to be a formidable barrier. In 1623, Governor Yuang Ch'unghuan prevented the Manchu army from breaching the wall. Nurhachi turned his attentions to the lands of Mongolia instead. However, the Ming Empire was falling apart. Revolts and rebellions flared up. In 1644, a Han Chinese rebel Li Zicheng captured Beijing and the Ming Emperor Chongzhen killed himself. In an attempt to restore order, the General Wu Sangui made a pact with the the Manchurians. The gates of the Wall at Shanhaiguan were opened and the Manchu marched in. The Manchu promptly marched on Beijing and took the country for for themselves. Thus forming the Qing dynasty. Stories are told about Wu Sangui to explain his motives. One such tail connects him with a woman called Chen Yuanyuan. She was renowned for her beauty and Wu Sangui had become her lover. The rebel, Li Zicheng, had captured Chen Yuanyuan. The love between Wu Sangui and Chen Yuanyuan is given as one of the reasons why the General opened the wall and allowed the Manchurians into China.
The new Qing dynasty had no need for the Great Wall. They controlled the lands of Manchuria and Mongolia to the north as well as China to the south. The wall was abandoned and left to decay into its present state. In the late 20th century, the Great Wall became a national symbol for china. Images of the wall are used extensively. Chinese visas and passports have an image of the wall on them. The badges of the Chinese police contain an representation of the Wall. Sections of the Great Wall have been restored and have become a major tourist attraction.
Form and construction
The Qin dynasty walls were radically different form the stone wall tourists climb in their thousands near Beijing today. It was to a great extent built from compacted earth, not stone. Wooden shutters were first erected along the side of the section to be built. A layer of earth was filled between the shutters and pounded hard. The shutters were then raised up and another layer of earth placed on top. This process repeated until the desired height had been achieved. Walls are still made in china today using this method which is both cheap and can be easily done by unskilled labour. Watch towers were build at intervals along the walls length. Beyond the wall, advanced watchtowers were placed to give early warning of trouble. Communication between the towers used a system of smoke signals. Firewood was kept stockpiled beside the towers for this purpose.
When the Ming dynasty built their walls, in the main, they opted for stone. The Ming walls were built under the direction of the army. Each division of the army designed their own section of wall. So the exact system of construction varies along the wall's length. To think of the wall as a sign construct is to misunderstand it's history of over two thousand years. Likewise the same can be said of the Ming dynasty Walls, and it should be plural. The Ming Walls were built at various times throughout the dynasty over a period of several hundred years by various people and so one section of wall is different form another.
The Walls take advantage of the terrain. They follow ridge lines and mountain ranges rather than take the most direct route. This means that the wall is often on steep and difficult terrain. The top of the Wall has a wide walk way along which troops could march. The edges of the walkway are protected by crenelated walls. Towers were constructed at frequent intervals along the wall. These jut out form the wall with windows facing down the length of the wall as well as to the front and rear. This allows the towers to defend the wall. Should a section of wall be breached, the towers form a barrier that prevents the breach expanding along the wall's length. They also provided a platform form which a counter attack could be staged. Many towers are small but some, at key points in the wall, are large. At some places, spurs lead off from the main Wall to connect to additional outlying towers. These outliers add additional defence to week points on the wall such as where neighboring hills overlook the Wall. The Ming wall is for the most part of stone construction. Some brickwork may also be seen. The sides of the wall and the towers were built of this masonry an the center infilled with soil and rubble. This infill would then be paved with stone or brick to make the walkway.
The Great wall has become a popular tourist site in China with both foreign and Chinese visitors. To facilitate the tourists, several section of the wall have been restored and made into museums. Most tourists visiting the wall will do so at one of these restored sections. The list below is only of officially open sections of the wall. There are other sections that can be access however the legality of walking on these non open sections may be problematic. There is also the moral question where tourist activity on closed sections causes permanent damage to this ancient construction. If we fail to look after the Great Wall then future generations will not be able to enjoy what we do. Such would be a loss to all mankind. The author therefore urges visitors to the Great Wall to keep within the confines of the open tourist areas. There is more than enough of the Great Wall that is open all across china for us all to enjoy.
Near Beijing and Hebei Province
Simatai ( 司马台; Sīmǎtái) a section of the Great Wall of China located in the north of Miyun County, 120 km northeast of Beijing, holds the access to Gubeikou, a strategic pass in the eastern part of the Great Wall. Originally built during the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) and rebuilt in the Hongwu years of the Ming dynasty by Qi Jiguang, this section of Great Wall is one of the few to retain the original features of the Ming dynasty Great Wall.
Gubeikou Gubeikou Great Wall of China is one of the best, though least visited, sections of the wall. If you want to get away from crowds and tourist hawkers, then go here. This area of the wall is much more remote, for a tourist, than others. Gubeikou's distance from Beijing and proximity to Jinshanling and Simatai mean that Guibeikou is often overlooked.
Jinshanling ( 金山岭; Jīnshānlǐng), This section of the wall is connected with the Simatai section. It was built from 1570 during the Ming Dynasty. The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is 10.5 km long with 5 passes, 67 towers and 2 beacon towers. The initial section of the wall has been restored to original condition, but the condition of the wall deteriorates towards its natural state as it approaches Simatai.
Mutianyu (慕田峪; Mùtiányù) is 60km north east Beijing. The wall was first constructed here in the 6th century during the Northern Qi dynasty. Later in 1404 during the Ming Dynasty, a new wall was build on top of the foundations of the old. The area was further extended in 1569 with the construction of a pass through the wall. This section of wall remains in good condition today. It is connected to other great wall tourist sites, Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. Entry to the site is 40 RMB for adults and 20 RMB for children. There is the option of a cable car up the hill side which costs 35 RMB and 18 RMB one way or 50 RMB and 25 RMB return for adults and children respectfully. For the youthful, a toboggan ride runs down the mountain. This costs 40 RMB per person. To get to the site, take No. 916 bus from Dongzhimin Long Distance Bus Station to Huairou City then take a taxi to the wall site. Alternatively you can join one of the many tour groups, details of which can be found on the official web site. 40°26′16.86″N 116°33′42.84″E or 40.437778N, 116.561667E
Jiankou (Chinese: 箭口，箭扣; pinyin: jian kou) is one of the most photogenic and atmospheric sections of the wall. Here the wall follows a high mountain ridge. This area is significantly less tourist orientated and the wall here remains largely in an unrestored state of disrepair. Walking here can be hazardous as sections are extremely steep (some with 70 to 80% inclines) with long drops down the mountain sides. Also the rock of the wall might not provide reliably secure footing. The effort in climbing will, however, be rewarded with spectacular views.
Huanghuacheng is a spectacular section of the Great Wall of China, noted for it steepness, with sharp cliffs on either side. The wall here is rough and not over restored but not dangerously rough. In the middle of the wall is a crescent shaped reservoir that makes for interesting photographs.
Badaling (八达岭; Bādálǐng) is 80km north west of Beijing city and the most popular section of the wall for tourists. This section of the wall dates to the Ming dynasty. It was extensively restored in 1957 and became the first section of wall to be open to the public. It is to here that many of the worlds most important people have visited including Richard Nixon and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain among others. The highest point on the wall here reaches an altitude of 1,015 metres. The admission fee is 45 RMB and the cable car costs 40 RMB each way of 60 RMB return. The site is open from 6:30am till 7pm in summer and 7am to 6pm in winter. 40°21′15″N 116°00′25″E
Shuiguan The Shuiguan Great Wall of China is just 2km from the most popular section of wall - Badaling. On the express way from Beijing, you will pass Shuiguan on the way to Badaling.
Juyongguan or Juyong Pass (居庸关; Jūyōng Guān) is located in an 18 kilometer-long valley named "Guangou" which is inside Changping County more than 50 kilometers from Beijing City. It is one of the three greatest passes of the Great Wall of China. The other two passes are Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan.
Elsewhere in China
Dunhuang Great Wall
Yumenguan Overhanging Great Wall
Jiayuguan or Jiayu Pass (嘉峪关; Jiāyù Guān; literally "Excellent Valley Pass") is the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China, near the city of Jiayuguan in Gansu province.
Overhanging Great Wall
Shandan Great Wall
Shanhaiguan, or Shanhai Pass is located in Hebei Province about 300km east of Beijing. It is accessible via the Jingshen Expressway. Shanhaiguan along with Jiayuguan and Juyongguan, is one of the three major passes in the Great Wall. The wall here forms a box 4km wide with gates on each of the four sides. The walls are 14m tall and 7m wide. Most of the gates have fallen into disrepair but the Zhendong Gate (East) gate remains. Above the gate is the writing "First Pass Under the Heaven" (天下第一关). It is near here that the great wall first touches the sea and this is generally considered to be the eastern end of the Great Wall. Only recently was the wall found to extend north and east into Liaoning Province and even as far as the North Korean border. Entrance to Shanhaiguan costs 40RMB and is open from 8am to 4pm daily. It can be accessed from Qinhuangdao City via bus No.25, 30 or 33.
Xifengkou & Sandaoguan
Great Wall in Zhangjiakou City
Jiaoshan Great Wall
Laolongtou (Old Dragon's Head)
Shanhaiguan Pass of Great Wall
Temple of Mengjiangnu
Zijingguan Pass & Daomaguan Pass
This region has the longest sections of the Great wall. About one third of the walls length is in Inner Mongolia. Here lies also some of the oldest sections of wall dating to 306 BC to 300 BC during King Wuling's rule. Much of the wall in this area is in a state of poor preservation of even vanished completely. For the tourist:
Baidaoling Great Wall is located in the suburbs of Honhot City (the capital of Inner Mongolia). The wall here is about 6.6m high and 10.9m wide. On one short section of just a few hundred metres, there are siz watch towers, which have become a well known symbol of the area.
Jiumenkou Great Wall is in Suizhong County near Huludao City of Liaoning Province in the east of China. It is here that the Great wall crosses a river forming an impressive nine-span arched bridge. On either side of the bridge stand forts. These features make this an idea location for those who want an unique and interesting Great Wall experience. Jiumenkou is just 9km from Shanhaiguan pass in Hebei province.
Hushan or Tiger Mountain, about 15km east of Dandong in Liaoning Province is one of the most recently identified and restored sections of the Great Wall. This section of the wall is just a stone's throw from the border with North Korea (which can be easily seen from the hill side.) The wall here is of a smaller scale than that found near Beijing but shouldn't be missed by travelers in the north east of China. Entry costs 40 RMB. To get there, take bus No.215B from Dandong Station.
It was in Ningxia, while atop Liupanshan that Mao Zedong famously said, "You are not a true man if you haven't arrived at the Great Wall." Many sections of wall are accessible in this region. The wall here dates to the Qin in Warring States and Ming dynasties. Much of the wall here is of the rammed earth format of the early walls and has had little restoration or protection.
Great Wall in Yulin
Great Wall of Wei Dynasty
Pingxingguan or Pingxing Pass (平型关; Píxíng Guān) is a mountain pass in the Shanxi Province of China.
Jumenbu (拒门堡; jùménbǔ) is a fortress on the Great Wall near to Datong City in Shanxi Province. It is sited on a small hill, about 2.5km from the main Great Wall. It was designed to be a frontal defence against attack.
Guguan Pass Great Wall
For further reading about the great wall of China, check out The Great Wall forum. This site contains details of all sections of the wall from all dynasties.
- The Great Wall of China (HTML). UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved on 15-12-2007.
- Advisory Body Evaluation (PDF). ICOMOS (December 29, 1986). Retrieved on 15-12-2007.
- Huang, Youyi; Xiao Ziaoming, Li Zhenguo, Zhang Zuoku (2006). Liaoning, Home of the Manchus & Cradle of Qing Empire. Beijing, Foreign Languages Press, 227. ISBN ISBN 7-119-04517-2.
- Modern Marvels - The Great Wall of China. Broadcast by the History Channel.
- Mysteries of Asia - Secrets of The Great Wall. Episode 2 of 3. Production date MCMXCIX
- Around the World in 80 Treasures - Japan to China. Episode 4 of 10. Narrated and Written by Dan Cruickshank. Produced for and broadcast by the BBC. Production date MMV