The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall, symbolizing China 's ancient civilization, is one of the world's most renowned projects. The Great Wall is a distance of 75 kilometers northwest of Beijing . Its highest point at Badaling is some 800 meters above sea level.

Construction of The Great Wall first began during the period of the Warring States (476¡ª221BC). Formerly, walls were built at strategic points by different kingdoms to protect their northern territories . In 221 BC after the first Emperor of Qin Dynasty unified China , he decided to have the walls linked up and extended.

Historical records show that about 1 million people, one-fifth of China 's population at the time, were involved in the project which took more than ten years. When it was finished we call it ¡°Wan Li Chang Cheng¡± which means ¡°Ten Thousand Li-long Wall¡±. Now, nature has taken over most of the Great Wall.

The Great Wall which we are going to visit was rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty in the 16 th century. It extends from Shanhaiguan Pass , a seaport along the coast of Bohai Bay, to jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province . The Great Wall's total length is more than 6,700 kilometers.

There were many places of strategic importance along The Great Wall. Fortresses were constructed at strategic points. Beacon towers were built on both sides of the Wall at commanding points. Whenever the enemy was sighted, bonfires were lit on the towers to signal warning messages.

Before the Ming Dynasty, The Great Wall was built mainly of earth and rock. Under the Ming, it was rebuilt in most places with bricks and stones. For instance, the section at Badaling near Beijing was faced with slabs of rock and large bricks and filled with earth and stones. It is 6 to 7 meters high.

At regular intervals along the southern side of The Great Wall, there are gates with stone steps leading to the top of the wall. The top surface of the wall is paved with three or four layers of large bricks. It is 4 to 5 meters wide, enough for five horsemen to ride abreast. Along The Great Wall, there are parapets and battlements built of bricks and turrets and watchtowers at regular intervals.

The Great Wall traverses mountains and gullies. It was extremely difficult to build along steep slopes under harsh conditions. Some of the slabs of rock were as long as two meters and weighed as much as one ton. All the rocks, bricks and lime had to be carried up the mountains at the cost of backbreaking labor. The earth and bricks were passed up from hand to hand or carried in baskets by donkeys and goats. The large slabs were moved up slopes by means of rolling rods and hoisting bars. According to rough calculation, the amount of bricks and rock used to build The Great Wall would have been enough to build a wall five meters high and one meter thick around the world.

The Badaling section is the best preserved part of The Great Wall. Several renovations have taken place since 1949. It is listed by the Chinese Government as one of the historical monuments to be preserved.

The Great Wall runs 629 kilometers in the Beijing area. More than 100 kilometers are well preserved and two other sections at Badaling and Mutianyu have already been renovated for tourists both at home and abroad.

The Great Wall is the great creation of ancient Chinese people. It was listed by the United Nation's Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as one of the World heritages in 1978.

Juyongguan Pass and the Cloud Terrace

Juyongguan Pass is an important strategic gateway leading to Inner Mongolia . The slopes on both sides of this narrow pass are carpeted by a dense growth of foliage. It used to be one of the eight famous scenic spots in Beijing .

The 15-kilometre-long ravine, flanked by mountains, was the northern entrance to Beijing in ancient times. The cavalrymen of Genghis Khan swept through it in the 13 th century. The Yuan Emperors had to travel through the ravine every year to their summer resort in Inner Mongolia, staying overnight here at juyongguan Pass. Entering the Pass, you will see an ancient platform known as Cloud Terrace, built in 1345, and made of marble. It was called the Crossing-Street Dagoba, since its arch spanned the main street of the pass. There were formerly three dagobas on the top of the terrace. Unfortunately they collapsed along with the nearby imperial residence and other religious buildings during an early 15 th century earthquake. Later on, a new temple was built on the site, but it was also destroyed in the early years of the Qing Dynasty. Now only the terrace remains. The half-octagonal-arch gateway is unique and the Cloud Terrace is renowned for its marvelous artistry.

The exquisite relief on the facades and side walls of the gateway is most impressive. On both sides of the facades are symmetrically carved crossed pestles of the Buddha's warrior attendants. Above the gateway are images of elephants, lions, serpents and other fabulous beasts.

Engraved on the walls under the arch are daturascrols, images of Buddha and the four celestial guardians. Their vivid expressions are presented with exquisite workmanship. One shows a furious warrior with a snake wound round his arm. Such grandiose relief works, with several stones pieced together, are rarely seen in ancient Chinese carving. They are undoubtedly brilliant representation of the 13 th century sculpture.

These four majestic guardians were said to have magic power against evil Emperors. When Ming Emperor Zhengde was passing through the gateway in his sedan-chair on a pleasure-seeking tour, the horses heading the royal procession were scared by the awe-inspiring images on the Wall and refused to move. At last, one of the court officials had to cover up the terrifying images with a smoke screen. In this way the terror-struck Emperor and his entourage escaped. On the walls of the gateway, there are carvings of Buddhist sutra in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Uygur , Mongolia and Han scripts. They are valuable to the study of Buddhism and ancient languages.

Emperor Qin Shihuang (259¡ª210 BC)

Oin Shihuang was the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Upon the death of his father, he ascended the throne at the age of thirteen. His father's powerful chancellor Lu Buwei served as co-regent until he was 21 years old. He soon forced the former regent into exile and started launching military campaigns to unify the country.

He spent ten years from 230 to 221 BC wipe out all the six different states one after another and established the first centralized feudal state in the Chinese history. He proclaimed himself Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, and all important officials of the central and local governments were to be appointed by him. During his reign, he worked out a uniform code of low and standardized currency, weight and measures and even the written language. He also had the different sections of the walls built by various warring states along their frontiers linked up and had the Great Wall built. All these measures were helpful to the consolidation of unification and promoted economic and cultural developments.

Looking-Toward Beijing Rock

East of Badaling lies a big rock which is called Looking-Toward Beijing Rock. It is seven meters long and two meters high. It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi passed here on her fleeing to the north as the Eight Imperialist Powers were advancing on Beijing in 1900. At this rock she turned to look toward Beijing , thus it is called¡± Looking-Toward Beijing Rock¡±.

Great Wall at Mutianyu

Chinese and foreign tourists are very familiar with the Badaling section of the Great Wall, but not the Mutianyu segment of the wall in Huairou County 79 kilometers away from Beijing proper. The Mutianyu Valley in Huairou County on the outskirts of the capital city was such as strategic point that it was contested again and again through China 's history.

The first wall in this area was built some 1,400 years ago. Construction of the present wall began in the early years of Ming Dynasty (1368¡ª1644) and was not completed until the 15 th century. The mountains around the valley are heavily-forested, there are many natural springs and thick, beautiful foliage. In the past, these were important military considerations; today, they make this section of the wall a very pleasant place to visit. The watchtowers at Mutianyu are believed to have been designed by Qi Jiguang, the Ming general who won many battles in southeast China . A number of his soldiers were from south China , and perhaps they influenced the architectural style of the brick watchtowers¡ªthe shape of the lookout openings at the tops of the tower greatly resembles a fence design popular in that region.

In 1988, Mr. Albrecht Woeste, chairman of the Henkel Shareholder's Committee of Germany donated 200,000 marks ($125,000) to help Beijing to restore the 747-metre Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. It took 5 years and was completed on June 14, 1993. Beijing Municipal Government gave the Germans an ancient brick of the Great Wall and built a stone-tablet at Mutianyu to commemorate their assistance.

Simatai Great Wall

The simatai Great Wall, 110 kilometers northeast of Beijing , has 135 watchtowers. The 19-kilometre wall is dangerous to climb but splendid to view as it meanders up and down the mountain ridges that seem to have been sliced on both sides by a huge axe. The Wangjianglou watchtower on a steep cliff 986 meters above sea level is the summit of the Simatai Great Wall and also most dangerous place to reach, because the visitor must walk over some unrepaired paths, including the ¡°scaling ladder¡± and ¡°overline bridge¡± before reaching it. The ¡°scaling ladder¡± is a slope at an angle of 60-70 degrees: the visitor must climb on all fours and be extremely careful. The ¡°overline bridge¡± is a path about 100 meters long and less than one meter wide which crosses abysses about 500 meters deep. With nothing to hold on to, the slightest wind will make the visitor tremble with fear. Because of the dangers involved in reaching Wangjinglou, only a few people have ever set foot on the tower in modern times.

Gubeikou Great Wall

With a total length of 21 kilometers, the Gubeikou Great Wall section is located northeast of Beijing , 128 kilometers from the city centre. The section of the wall was first built in 1368 and expanded in 1576 by a famous general named Qi Jiguang in the Ming Dynasty. It still retains its past magnificence, although it was broken I parts by Japanese shelling during the War of Resistance from 1937 to 1945.

This section meanders through mountains 400 to 900 meters high. Unlike other sections, it varies in width, with the widest part able to accommodate five horses walking abreast and the narrowest spot allowing only a single person to pass. A road leading to the section to the wall has been built for tourists. Many cultural relics have been discovered in the preliminary digging, including arrows, bamboo guns, stone mills and knives. They are exhibited as par t of the tourist attraction.

The Great Wall Restoration Committee, jointly sponsored by Beijing 's five newspapers and the Badaling Administration Office, was established in Beijing and first launched the drive on July 5, 1984. By September of 1986, Chinese and foreign donors have contributed nearly 10 million yuan to rebuild the Great Wall. The contributions have come from thousands of people from China 's 30 provinces, regions and municipalities and from 26 foreign countries, in response to an open appeal to ¡°Love China and Rebuilt the Great Wall.¡± In addition, many donors have contributed art works such as calligraphy, painting and sculptures to the drive. As promised by the sponsors in their open appeal, prominent donors will have their names in scribed on plaques which to be erected at the Badaling and Mutianyu Great Wall sites. Out of the contributions one million yuan was used to build Great Wall Museum at Badaling. Construction of monuments to honour individuals and organizations whose donations exceed 500 and 1,000 yuan respectively is already underway. A major monument, with an inscription by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in Chinese meaning ¡°Love our Motherland and Rebuilt the Great Wall¡± has been erected near the entrance to the Great Wall at Badaling. A monument honouring Pakistan Government and other foreign contributions has been erected at Wangjingshi (Looking-Toward Beijing Rock) at Badaling.

Legends about the Great Wall

There are numerous popular legends and tales in China about the Great Wall. Though many are based on historical facts, they have survived the centuries because they expressed the wisdom and feelings of the ancient Chinese working people.

Brick at Jiayuguan Pass

Jiayuguan Pass is located at the western end of the Great Wall in Gansu Province and was a strategic point on the ancient Silk Road .

A single gray brick is fixed on the back wall of the western gate tower in the pass. It is said to be a souvenir left from a bet between a craftsman and a supervisor when the Great Wall was being built. A contractor named Yi Kaishan was so good at working out plans he could accurately calculate the number of men and materials needed without any waste.

The supervisor, who born him a personal grudge, didn't believe him and challenged him with a bet. ¡°I'll allow you just one brick more than you say you need,¡± he said. ¡°if there is one left over, I'll put it on the tower myself to leave a good name for you. If you need more, you'll be punished.¡±

Yi agreed. When the construction was finished, just as he predicted only one brick remained. This can be seen on the gate tower at Jiayuguan Pass today.

A Bird Spirit's call

In the city of Xiluo near Jiayuguan Pass , the base of the wall is wider than the top for strength and solidity. Strangely, when the high-quality bricks of a corner are struck with a stone, a clear and melodious sound like the song of a swallow can be heared.

People say that the wall was so heavily guarded that even a swallow could not get through. One evening years ago, a swallow trying to return to its nest was killed when it flew into the wall. Today, the sound is said to be the plaintive voice of the bird's spirit.

Length of the Great Wall

There are various measurements of the length of the Great Wall because in China 's history, more than twenty dynasties and states of dukes or princes built their own walls at different places. Of these, according to historical documents, three exceeded 10,000 li (5,000 kilometers). One was built during the reign of Emperor Qin Shihuang, starting from Lintao at the west end to Liaodong at the east end. The second one was built in the Han Dynasty (206BC¡ªAD 220) from present-day Xinjiang to Liaodong, consisting of inner and outer walls with beacon towers and bulwark, measuring over 20,000 li (10,000 kilometers) in total. The third, built in the Ming Dynasty (1368¡ª1644), was from Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu at the west end to the Yalu River at the east end. If added together the length of the walls built by various dynasties would amount to 100,000 li (50,000 kilometers) or more. The ruins of these walls are scattered over sixteen provinces, cities and autonomous regions. In Inner Mongolia alone, the ruin of the Great Wall extends to 30,000 li (15,000 kilometers).

Most of the walls built in the early historical periods are damaged or in a state of decay. Now only the one built in the Ming Dynasty is comparatively well preserved. So, the Great Wall we mention today is the Ming Dynasty which is in total 12,000 li (6,000 kilometers). However, this figure is based only on historical records, and, as a matter of fact, in some places double or triple walls were built. With its meanderings and loops the actual extent of the structure might be even longer.

Meng Jiangnu

Meng Jiangnu's husband Fan Qiliang was among those conscripted to build the Great Wall. One day while she was in the garden, a man trying to escape from the pressgang labor jumped over the wall and landed at her feet. Her family protected him, and they fell in love and got married.

On the night of their wedding, her husband Fan was seized by the court officials. Before they parted, Meng took a hairpin of white jade from her head, broke it into two halves and gave one half of it to her husband with the words: ¡°My heart is as white and pure as this jade. Keep this half and you will feel that I am with you¡±.

Fan was forced to work on the wall. During the construction, thousands upon thousands of laborers died of overwork and maltreatment.

Nothing was known about her husband. When autumn came, the birds began to migrate. She recalled that her husband was wearing only thin clothes. She made some padded clothes and left home to look for her husband.

At last Meng Jiangnu got to the Wall. When she found her husband had died. She was so sad that she cried and cried. Finally, the Wall split open, trapping the cruel officials and soldiers under it and the bodies of million of conscripted laborers were exposed.

Emperor Qin Shihuang got infuriated by what Meng did, but when he saw her beauty, he wanted to make her his concubine. She accepted on the following conditions: a proper burial for her husband, a tomb built for him, and a monument set up for all the laborers who died of hardwork on the wall. The Emperor himself was to wear mourning as a token of regret for what had been done to the laborers. The Emperor accepted all these. Having avenged herself and putting the Emperor to shame, Meng flung herself into the sea. To commemorate her death, a temple was built at Shanhaiguan Pass near the sea.


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