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The Great Wall of China  

Brief Introduction


Chairman Mao Zedong once said “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a plucky hero.” This shows how important the Great Wall is to the Chinese nation.

The Great Wall, also called 10,000 li long wall (Wan Li Chang Cheng, one “li” is a half kilometer), is one of Eight Wonders of the World. It is the China’s greatest engineering triumph and a must-see sight when visiting China, an embodiment of the ancient Chinese working people’s diligence and wisdom. It has a long history of more than 2,000 years and was designated as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1987.

Serving as the grandest military project in ancient China, the Great Wall is definitely a symbol of the country as well as Chinese civilization in general. It was first built in the Spring and Autumn Periods by some kingdoms in northern China in order to check those nomadic tribes living further north, and it was eventually extended to a total length of 21,196.18km (13170.7 miles) by the later dynasties. The construction of this immense defensive wall involved millions of Chinese and resulted in the building of a precursor to the current Great Wall of China by firstly connecting numerous state walls together.

Experiencing more than 2,000 years of history, some sections of the Great Wall have been destroyed or ruined over time, but its architectural grandeur and historical significance still attract millions of people from all over the world. The present Great Wall we see today in northern China was mostly built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), thus it is also called the Ming Great Wall. Stretching from west to east, it starts at the Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province and meets the ocean at the Hushan Mountain in Liaoning Province. It goes through 15 provinces and cities in China. There are 101 sections in different provinces, of which only ten are open to tourists.


History

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the dukes from the Yan State and Zhao State first built the beacon towers to watch and guard against enemies. Later, they connected these towers with ten-thousand- li long walls to protect their realm safe from ransacking invaders. According to history, Qin Shi Huang (the first Emperor of China) charged nearly one million labourers to build this wall, which was about 1/5 of the country’s population. Due to the lack of advanced building techniques,  construction was very slow and difficult with every bit of work being done by human. In total, more than 20 states and dynasties built the Great Wall, covering 10,000 li (5,000km) in distance through Xinjiang, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Henan, Shandong, Hubei, Hunan, etc.

The northern Great Wall began in the Warring Period. It was a time when a society based on slavery transformed to a feudal system in the Yellow River area and the down river area of the Yangtze River. Different cultures and customs from Qin, Chu, Wu and Yue States began interacting more and more with their cultures and customs merging and unification became inevitable. After the feudal reform, the seven great states became very powerful and they all sought unification of the region to the Yellow River and down river of the Yangtze River. Meanwhile the northern minority groups grew strong too. They constantly invaded the northern region of the Qin, Zhao, and Yan States. As they were very good at horse-riding and shooting, they were particularly advantageous in invading agriculture-driven states. In comparison the soldiers of the three states were mostly infantry, and their loose clothes and heavy chariots were a great hinderance to their defence.That’s why the idea of building a great wall emerged.

Following the political reform prompted by Shang Yang in the Qin State, the army was divided into infantry and cavalryman. Meanwhile, the policy that all the rewards and promotion went to anyone who made substantial contributions to the effort was applied, incentivizing and  strengthening the forces. In 332 B.C. the Qin State defeated the Wei State and occupied the Wei territory in the Luo River and Northeast of the Shaanxi Province. To protect these lands from the Huns’ invasion, the King ordered a Great Wall to be built and an army was requested to garrison it.

In 307 B.C., the Zhao State implemented political reform and required that people dress like the Huns and learn to ride horses and shoot. Later, the Zhao State defeated the Lin Huwang and enlarged its territory into the current North Shanxi Province and Inner Mongolia. The Zhao King ordered a Great Wall to be constructed from the Daqing Mountain to the Wujia River.

In the Warring Period, the Yan State was the least strong. It was located north-east of the Zhao State and adjacent to Tunghus. After a period of decline, King Zhao prompted reform like other nations to make his country strong. He made great progress in defeating Huns and saving his homeland from insult. To strengthen the northern defence systems, he ordered a Great Wall to be built from Zaoyang (current Kangbao Country) to Rangping.


1. Early Great Wall

The Southern Great Walls are mostly represented by sections built by the Chu, Qi, Wei, Han and Zhongshan States. These great walls were built for defence against the invasion of neighboring states. It’s hard to find any of them nowadays.

Great Wall built by the Qi State

The Qi Great Wall was built along the dikes and mountains, ranging from the northeast of Pingyin country in Shandong Province to the east of Dazhu mountain.

Great Wall built by the Zhongshan state

To protect its territory from the Zhao and Jin states, the Zhongshan state built a great wall in the cross section of the Hebei and Shanxi Provinces.

Great Wall built by the Wei State

The Wei Great Wall is comprised of two sections, one is the Hexi Great Wall, ranging from Mt. Hua in Shaanxi Province to Guyuang in Inner Mongolia, to defend against the Qin State and Huns. The other one was the Henan Great Wall stretching from Yuanyang country to Xinmi city to protect the capital city - Daliang.

Great Wall built by Han State

The Han Great Wall was built using the basic original great wall built by the Zheng State.


2. The Qin Great Wall

In 221 B.C., the seven states in the Warring Period were unified under King Ying Zheng of the Qin State and the first unified dynasty was established. Ying Zheng became the first Emperor in Chinese history. In 214 B.C, a famous general Meng Tian was appointed to fight against the Huns and forced them back to the north. To further protect the realm, the Emperor ordered a grand Great Wall to be built in 215 B.C. stretching from Linyao (present-day Minxian in Gansu Province) to Liaodong (in Liaoning Province). This is the Qin Great Wall. The sections in the Guyuan area were built on the original walls built in the Qin, Zhao and Yan States. It’s said that millions of subjects were forced to labor for this great course and many of them lost their lives. According to folklore, a farmer named Fan Xiliang was summoned to build the Great Wall three days after he was newly married. He died of hunger and great fatigue and his body was buried under the wall. His wife Meng Jiangnv missed him so much that she took on a journey of great difficulty to visit him only to find that he had died. She was devastated and wept for 3 whole days when the Great Wall collapsed revealing her husband's corpse. She  drowned herself after burying her husband again. It’s hard to verify the authenticity of the story, but from the legend we can imagine how hard it must have been to build this wall with the primitive technology available at the time.


3. Han Dynasty Great Wall

In the early Han dynasty, the Huns took advantage of the domestic chaos in the southern regions and made their journey across the Great Wall built in the Qin dynasty and forced the demarcation line to be Southern Great Wall built by the Yan, Zhao and Qin states. To seek peace, the early Emperors in the Western Han Dynasty all married their princesses to Huns and bestowed them with generous gifts of treasure. Meanwhile, capable generals were appointed to protect the Great Wall. During the rule of Emperor Wu in the Western Han Dynasty, a couple of famous generals defeated the Huns several times and forced them back to where they came from. The Qin Great Wall had contributed a lot to defending against the Huns until the Emperor Wu ordered his subjects to restore the Qin Great Wall  and built the outer Great Wall.

In later dynasties, the Great Wall has undergone several times of restoration, nothing massive until the Ming Dynasty.


4. Ming Dynasty Great Wall

After the foundation of the Ming Dynasty, the previously defeated Inner Mongolian tribes constantly launched raids towards the southern region. In the middle period of the Ming Dynasty, the rising Jurchen also threatened the safety of the empire. To strengthen the defence systems in the north, the Ming Dynasty Emperors never stopped repairing, rebuilding and expanding the original fortifications for 200 years. In the early years, it was just repairs and reinforcement. In later years, more passes and watchtowers were added. Eventually, the 6300 km Ming Great Wall was completed, stretching from the Yalu River in the east to Jiayuguan in the west including 9 provinces and regions.The wall was also much stronger and elaborate due to the use of bricks and stones. The sections we visit today were all built in the Ming Dynasty.


Popular Sections of the Great Wall

There are nine sections of the Great Wall in Beijing that are accessible to tourists.

The Badaling Section is the best preserved part while the Mutianyu Section is also well kept and less crowded. Both of these parts are equipped with well-built facilities that can help people to go up and down easily. Cable cars and chairlifts have been built and neat stairs stretch from the car park up to the wall. Visitors can get up to the wall either by taking a cable car or by climbing the stairway.



The Badaling Section is the best preserved and most famous section of the Great Wall. The Badaling Great Wall was so named because its ridges stretch in all directions facing the enemy from far away. Indeed, this section was known as one of the most strategic key points to enter the Imperial city of Beijing from its North Gate. It runs 7,6 kilometers long and stands at more than 1,000 meters (3281 ft) above  sea level. It is about 6 meters (20 ft) wide, allowing around five horses to gallop neck to neck on the wall. Badaling is mainly made of tall granite slabs forming very solid walls. On the wall, visitors may see major city platforms, enemy-watching watchtowers, signal fire platforms and parapets, which provide a deep insight into what happened in ancient times on this fortification.

Badaling also provides high-quality services including restaurants, a museum, cinemas, hotels, a cable car or pulley, shopping and dining facilities. Some nearby attractions such as the Imperial cemetery of the Ming Tombs can also be visited on the way to Badaling.


Travel Tips

Location: Yanqing County, about 70 kilometers northwest from Beijing, Beijing Municipality, Northern China.

Opening hours: 06:30-19:00  (Summer)

07:00-18:00 (Winter)

Recommended time for a visit: half a day

Entrance tickets: Apr.1 - Oct.31 45 RMB;

Nov.1 - Mar.31, 40 RMB;

Cable car: 40 RMB for single way; 60 RMB for round way.



Mutianyu Section

The Mutianyu Section is better restored  and has less Chinese tourists  than  Badaling. It runs 2.25 km (1.4 miles) and overlooks the valley of the Jundu Mountain.

Originally built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 AD - 557 AD) and reinforced in the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), the Mutianyu Great Wall is the longest fully-restored section. There are 2250 meters of the Great Wall open to tourists in Mutianyu section. Watchtowers are built on the wall every 500 meters and such small intervals is a unique structural style. Parapets are built on the inner and outer sides as a way to defend invaders coming from both sides.

More than 90% of the area is covered with natural vegetation and offers the best scenery compared with other parts of Great Wall near Beijing.

With 26 watchtowers, the wall is impressive and manageable. It’s actually possible to hike from Mutianyu all the way west to the front section of Jiankou.

From the big ticket office at Mutianyu, shuttle buses (15 RMB) run about 3km to the main entrance, from where three or four stepped pathways lead up to the wall itself. There is also a cable car, a chairlift (called the 'ropeway' on the signs here), and a toboggan ride, giving access up and  down the actual wall, making this ideal for those who can’t manage too many steps, or who have kids in tow.


Best Time: Autumn and Spring

Location: Huairou County, Beijing

Distance from Downtown Beijing: 72.4km (45mi), car drive about 2 hours

Recommended time for a visit: half a day

Entrance tickets: 40 RMB all year round

Cable car: 100 RMB for a single trip; 120 RMB for a round trip.

Shuttle bus: 10 RMB for a single trip, 20 RMB for a round trip.


Simatai Great Wall

This section is located in Gubeikou town, in the northeastern part of Miyun Country, Beijing. As the only section that still holds its original appearances from the Ming Dynasty, the Simatai Great Wall is noted for steepness and peculiarity. It has incorporated all the features you can find in other sections, making it one of a kind. A famous professor dedicated to studying the Great Wall once praisingly said that Great Wall of China was the best architecture in the world, while the Simatai Great Wall is the best section of all sections. It has been added into the list of UNESCO heritage sites.

Originally built in the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577), the section was repaired in the early Ming Dynasty. The whole section is 5.4km long and equipped with 35 beacons. The western part is flatter and its 20 watchtowers are completely preserved.


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