The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall By the Numbers
- Approximate number of miles the Great Wall covers: 5,500
- Number of football field lengths equivalent to 5,500 miles: 80,667
- Percentage of the wall that has been officially restored: .05%
- Approximate number of years it took to build: 2,000
- The height, in feet, of the wall at its highest point: 25
- The width, in feet, of the wall’s base at its widest point: 30
- Approximate number of soldiers, prisoners and laborers used just during the Qin Dynasty to construct the wall: 800,000
- Miles per month, the rate at which laborers built the wall during the Qin Dynasty: 25
- The estimated number of bricks used to build the wall: 3,873,000,000
See the Great Wall on an A&K China Journey
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How well do you know this imposing symbol of Chinese history and architecture? A&K Tour Director Bill Hurst, a China expert and author, helps us tell truth from fiction when it comes to this massive monument.
“In China, it is known simply as the Long Wall,” says A&K Tour Director Bill Hurst. But how long is the Great Wall of China? By most estimates, the wall stretches for approximately 5,500 miles. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the round-trip distance by air from Miami to Seattle. What in the world possessed the ancient Chinese to embark on such an astonishing feat of architecture?
The History of the Great Wall
“Before the unification of China as an empire in 221 BC by the king of the state of Qin, there existed several small states, each vying for power and conquest,” says Bill. “By as early as 750 BC, there were several kingdoms, each of which had constructed defensive walls to protect their territory against incursions by the nomadic tribes dominant in the north.”
It was the Qin Dynasty – under the rule of Emperor Qin Shihuangdi, of Terra Cotta Warriors fame – that linked and reinforced all the wall fragments to create one continuous defensive structure. Yet while the wall has deterred small-scale incursions, it didn’t prevent a full-scale invasion of China by foreign forces along the country’s northern border. “Although the wall might have hampered China’s conquest, it was never totally effective,” Bill says. “In fact, it proved ineffective against the invading armies of Kublai Khan in the twelfth century AD, or when the Manchus crossed it and conquered China in the seventeenth century. Of course, these invasions were due to other factors as well, such as the Ming Dynasty’s decline into corruption and poor governance.”
Building the Great Wall
Despite its many failures as a fortification, the Great Wall is nothing if not impressive. Its ongoing construction lasted some 2,000 years. Watchtowers were built on steep hilltops for more visibility by garrisons along the structure. It is the longest man-made structure in the world – though not large enough to be visible from space, despite what you may have heard. The human toll its construction took boggles the mind. “The initial linking of the walls during the Qin Dynasty alone employed hundreds of thousands of laborers,” Bill explains. “Many more millions would have to work to maintain this defensive wall. The project is also often described as the longest graveyard in the world – thousands of laborers who died on the project were simply interred in the wall as construction progressed.”
The Great Wall Today
Nowadays, its upkeep is much less hazardous. In fact, there are many parts that remain wild or unkempt, as its sheer size makes restoration a difficult task. “Only about 30 miles of it has been restored, so practically nothing considering how many thousands of miles it stretches,” says Bill. Near Beijing, most visitors stop at Badaling, a well-restored but crowded section. But for the best experience, the wall at Mutianyu, about 50 miles from Beijing, is a treat. “You can access the wall by cable car in this area, and look out onto the Chinese countryside, wilder in this area,” says Bill.
No matter what part of the Great Wall you visit, there is no denying you will experience its grandeur and scope, one way or another. “The one word to describe it is ‘awe’,” Bill says. “The thing that impresses me most is the fact that this gigantic project was completed without the use of mechanical equipment, entirely by human endeavor. The wall is a testimony to the ingenuity and perseverance of the Chinese people.”