25 Interesting Facts About . . . The Great Wall of China
A wall. How can a wall have 25 interesting facts about it? Well it’s that massive wall in China isn’t it, the Great Wall as it’s known, so of course it has a plethora of facts about it. Enjoy…
- While the Great Wall of China is not one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is typically included in the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World.
- In 1987, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) placed the Great Wall on its list of the world’s great national and historical sites.
- That the Great Wall is a single, continuous wall built all at once is a myth. In reality, the wall is a discontinuous network of wall segments built by various dynasties to protect China’s northern boundary.
- During its construction, the Great Wall was called “the longest cemetery on earth” because so many people died building it. Reportedly, it cost the lives of more than one million people.
- The Great Wall of China is also known as the wanli changchengor Long Wall of 10,000 Li (a li is a measure of distance, approximately 1/3 of a mile). The main wall is around 2,145 miles (3,460 km) long with an extra 1,770 miles (2,860 km) of branches and spurs.
- The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the world.d
- The most visited section of the Great Wall is in Badaling, close to Beijing, which was built during the Ming Dynasty. It was the first section of the wall to open to tourists in 1957. It is where Nixon visited and was the finish site of a cycling course in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
- As early as the seventh century B.C., a number of smaller walls that served as fortifications and watch towers had been built around the country. Initially each state (Chu, Qi, Wei, Han, Zhao, Yan, and Qin) that would be united in the first Chinese empire had its own individual wall.
- The length of all Chinese defense walls built over the last 2,000 years is approximately 31,070 miles (50,000 km). Earth’s circumference is 24,854 miles (40,000 km).
- The earliest extensive walls were built by Qin Shi Huang (260-210 B.C.) of the Qin dynasty, who first unified China and is most famous for the standing terra cotta army left to guard his tomb. It is from the Qin (pronounced “chin”) dynasty which the modern word “China” is derived. Little of those earliest walls remain.
- Because the Great Wall was discontinuous, Mongol invaders led by Genghis Khan (“universal ruler”) had no problem going around the wall and they subsequently conquered most of northern China between A.D. 1211 and 1223. They ruled all of China until 1368 when the Ming defeated the Mongols.
- The dynasties after the Qin which seriously added to and rebuilt the Great Wall were the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), Sui (A.D. 581-618), Jin (115-1234) and, most famously, the Ming (1368-1644). What survives today are the stone and brick walls predominately from the Ming dynasty.
- Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from the moon without aid. This pervasive myth seems to have started in 1893 in the American-published magazine The Centuryand then resurfaced in 1932 when Robert Ripley ofRipley’s Believe it Or Not claimed the Great Wall could be seen from the moon—even though space flight was decades away. It is questionable whether the Great Wall can be seen from a close orbit with the unaided eye.
- It is common to hear that the mortar used to bind the stones was made from human bones or that men are buried within the Great Wall to make it stronger. However, the mortar was actually made from rice flour—and no bones, human or otherwise, have ever been found in any of the Great Wall’s walls.
- According to legend, a helpful dragon traced out the course of the Great Wall for the workforce. The builders subsequently followed the tracks of the dragon.
- A popular legend about the Great Wall is the story of Meng Jiang Nu, a wife of a farmer who was forced to work on the wall during the Qin Dynasty. When she heard her husband had died while working the wall, she wept until the wall collapsed, revealing his bones so she could bury them.
- At one time, family members of those who died working on the Great Wall would carry a coffin on top of which was a caged white rooster. The rooster’s crowing was supposed to keep the spirit of the dead person awake until they crossed the Wall; otherwise, the family feared the spirit would escape and wander forever along the Wall.
- Uranus, or Tianwang, who was the personification of Heaven, is often portrayed on the reliefs found at strategic points and passes on the Great Wall.
- Historian Arthur Walden established that the popular concept of one Great Wall, and even the name itself, entered Chinese consciousness not directly from the Chinese tradition, but rather through European sources who idealized the Wall. In fact, the Wall rarely appeared in Chinese art before the twentieth century.
- Voltaire (1694-1778) discussed the Great Wall several times, but he remained undecided what the real point was. In one piece, he thought the Egyptian pyramids were “childish” compared to the Wall, which was a “great work.” In another place, he calls the Wall a “monument to fear.”
- Novelist Franz Kafka (1883-1924) praised the Great Wall as a great feat of human engineering. He even wrote a short story titled “The Great Wall of China” about an educated man who reflects on his life’s work overseeing the building of small portions of the Wall.
- During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-78), the Great Wall was seen as sign of despotism, and people were encouraged to take bricks from it to use in their farms or homes.
- President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 increased tourism to the Great wall. With increased tourism, sections of the Wall were restored, and after Mao Zedong’s death, the Chinese government recognized the Wall as a unifying symbol of the nation.a
- The Great Wall has often been compared to a dragon. In China, the dragon is a protective divinity and is synonymous with springtime and vital energy. The Chinese believed the earth was filled with dragons which gave shape to the mountains and formed the sinew of the land.
- During the Ming dynasty, nearly one million soldiers were said to defend the Great Wall from “barbarians” and non-Chinese.
Not bad for a wall, eh! If you’re a massive lover of facts take a look through our History courses spanning varying timescales. There will be facts. Lots of facts. Maybe a bit of China too, but you’d have to take a look here first!