The Great Wall of China is one of the most famously celebrated human achievements, but what do we really know about it? Constructed by millions of people and witness to hundreds of military battles, The Great Wall has miraculously stuck around through them all and has been named the most visited place in China. Now, more of a huge touristic sight than anything else, the rest of the world is in awe of ‘The Stone Dragon’ attracting millions of people every year. Despite the huge influx in visitors to The Great Wall, there are still many mysteries surrounding its origins like how and why it came about. For those who can’t yet say, ‘I have been to The Great Wall of China’, or yet learned about its story, there are some facts we should all know about one of the world's greatest wonders, that not many do. Questions begin to flood in when trying to understand the construction and antiquity of the wall.
Today, we wanted to solve some of its mysteries and let you in on its secrets. As one of the world's most famous landmarks, there is a lot to be said and a lot to be learned about this wonderful feat and today we are uncovering them all. Continue reading below for the 20 little-known facts about The Great Wall of China we should all get acquainted with.
20 Building the Great Wall was a punishment
During the Qin Dynasty, construction of the wall was a community-service labour for convicted criminals. At the time of construction, no machines were available and construction was all down to manpower. According to Mentalfloss, 'Great Wall construction, maintenance, and surveillance were regular duties of outlaws'. Crimes like tax evasion was punishable by wall construction and the erection was often extremely arduous for its labourers (mentalfloss). Along with criminals, the Great Wall was also built by soldiers and common people (travelchinaguide).
19 The Great Wall failed to keep out invaders
As we've mentioned, it is common knowledge that the Great Wall was built to keep out its enemies, but how well did it actually do? The Great Wall's first and primary purpose was built to protect The Chinese Empire from outside forces, but, according to history, a lot of northern nomads managed to cross the barrier. The invasion past the Great Wall by Manchus, in fact, led to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty altogether (The Travel China Guide). Seems like the idea of the Wall was great yet the reality, not so much.
18 The Great Wall is disappearing
Comparable to many constructions around the world, The Great Wall faces many threats to its fortitude. Travel China Guide states that the Great Wall "is disappearing year by year." According to statistics from UNESCO, nearly one-third of the wall has already vanished. The main causes for such disappearances are commonly due to natural weathering and human-impacted erosion (mentalfloss). There are still, however, some well-maintained sections such as Badaling, nonetheless, these are said to be the "few rare exceptions" (Travel China Guide).
17 The Great Wall was built over thousands of years
The Great Wall was not built in a single sitting and it took many years for the structure to be the way we see it today. The fortified walls that we see today were built over many dynasties which together took place over 22 centuries (chinahighlights). The Great Wall as it stands today was majorly built by the Ming Dynasty who spent 200 years building and reconstructing the Great Wall (chinahighlights).
16 The Great Wall is more than 2,300 years old
Built in the 2nd century BC, The Great Wall is more than 2,300 years old. That is one pretty old monument! The Great Wall snakes its way across Northern China and was built by Qin Shi Huangdi (c.259-210 B.C.) who was the first emperor of China during the Ch’in dynasty (sites.psu.edu). Throughout history, although the Great Wall wasn't consistently worked on, China's dynasties have added to the Great Wall which served as a defence mechanism and protection against their enemies.
15 Visitors are as many as 30,000 per day
If you are planning on visiting the Great Wall, be careful with which section of the wall you choose to visit. At the Great Wall's most popular sections, you may see more of the back of people's heads than the Great Wall itself. Beware that the wall can see up to 30,000 tourists a day and over 10 million a year! (travelandleisure) That is a lot of people all walking in the same direction on the same wall! Badaling is the most visited section so if you're not wanting to get stuck in the crowds we suggest you don't go there (chinahighlights).
14 The Great Wall is known by many names throughout the world
Although we commonly know and refer to the wall as The Great Wall of China, it is actually known by many names throughout the world. The Great Wall's original name translated to “The Long Wall of 10,000 Li”. It is also known by the names "The Long Wall" and "The Earth Dragon" in China (mentalfloss). The Great Wall of China is the name most popularly used in America and the United Kingdom, whilst some countries choose to name the wall "The Chinese Wall" (mentalfloss).
13 The Great Wall is not one long continuous line
This point may be contrary to the image in your mind, but The Great Wall is not actually one long continuous wall! Who knew? It is instead a series of walls, yes, plural! Travel China Guide, explains it as 'a defensive network consisting of many walls and forts built in different historical periods, with some segments scattering while some running parallel. In some places, the wall doubles or even triples itself'. This little-known fact may have the image of The Great Wall in your mind changed forever!
12 A Chinese poem predicted the building of the Great Wall
The wall was declared to be made before its construction even begun. According to mentalfloss, a collection of Chinese poems did indeed predict one of the greatest man made structures in the world. Named Shijing or Kinh Thi and written between the 11th and the 7th centuries BCE, the poems spoke of China's need to defend itself from military intruders by building a shielding structure (mental floss). The poems are said to be the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry.
11 The Great Wall tells many legends and myths
A symbol of China, the Great Wall represents a lot about Chinese culture and history. After the construction of the Great Wall, many stories and myths have been told spreading Chinese culture around the world. Meng Jiangnu's story is the most famous and widely spread of all the legends about the Great Wall (chinatravellers). It tells the story of how a woman's sad weeping made a section of the wall collapse. Stories such as Meng Jiangnu’s have been broadcasted throughout China through books and songs (chinatravellers).
10 There are still bullet holes in the Great Wall
Considering the grand history the Great Wall has endured, it comes as no surprise that evidence of its past still remains today. Depending on which section of the Great Wall you are nearing, a testimony of the wall's past can be seen with your own eyes. The Gubeikou Great Wall section is told to have bullet holes in old bricks and damage to towers caused by shelling. This stretch of the Great Wall was home to a battle between China and Japan in the 1930s and it left more than one bullet hole as proof (beijinghikers).
9 The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever built by humans
One of the world's most iconic man-made constructions is also the world's longest. That's right, The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever built by humans. In fact, according to the daily mail, if we turned The Great Wall on its side, it would be long enough to reach global positioning satellites 12,000 miles away. So just how long is it? The total length of the Great Wall of China, built in different dynasties is a grand total 21,196.18 kilometres or 13,170.70 miles (travelchinaguide).
8 Rice was used to build the Great Wall
The majority of the Great Wall was constructed by earth, brick, wood, and stones, but we've read up on a secret ingredient! Yes, you saw the title correctly, rice was a key ingredient in holding the Great Wall together. Also known as 'sticky rice', and not only a staple of the Chinese diet but also of the building of the Great Wall, rice was used due to its cohesive properties (mentalfloss). Mental Floss tells us that "modern studies have indicated that the amylopectin of the rice (the same substance that makes it sticky) helps to explain the wall’s strength and endurance." Who knew rice had so many uses!
7 Bricks from the Great Wall have been recycled to build homes
Damage to the Great Wall has happened largely over time but not always due to outside forces. During the Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Empire was responsible for damaging large sections of the Great Wall. Between 1966 and 1976, miles of the Wall were destroyed as bricks were pulled to be reused for building civilian homes, farms and reservoirs (mentalfloss). The recycling of bricks left huge chunks of the wall destroyed which would otherwise be in much better condition today.
6 There is still more of the Great Wall being discovered today
Is the Great Wall bigger than we've been led to believe? According to National Geographic, there are still sections of the Great Wall being discovered with the help of Google Earth. As recent as 2012, researches looking into the Great Wall found a forgotten section deep in the Gobi Desert bordering present-day Mongolia. The expedition documented the ancient wall found was roughly 100 kilometres in length. Is there still more of the Great Wall to be found?
5 Over 300 celebrities have visited the Great Wall
Derived from a famous Chinese poem, there is a saying that goes, "he who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man"(China Highlights). Amongst those 'true men' who have graced the wall are many national leaders, sports stars, and celebrities. Some of the most iconic visits to The Great Wall of China have been by the Obama family, Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, Beyoncé Knowles, Olivia Newton-John, and Nelson Mandela, to name a few.
4 The Great Wall is a World Heritage Site
Marvelled as China's most visited tourist attraction and carrying symbolic and cultural significance, the Great Wall of China has been listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Meaning it is now legally protected as having cultural, historical, and scientific significance. UNESCO gives detail to such importance on their website stating, "It provides significant physical evidence of the far-sighted political strategic thinking, and is an outstanding example of the superb military architecture, technology and art of ancient China."
3 Roosters were brought to the Great Wall to honour the lost
Due to the many lives lost during the construction of the Great Wall, a farewell tradition of bringing roosters to the wall was commenced. It was said the rooster's singing helped carry the souls of those who had lost their lives at the Great Wall (Quora). Family members would come to the Great Wall to ensure their loved one's body was not stuck within the structure. They would often carry a rooster in hand which helped guide the souls of the lost (mentalfloss).
2 The Great Wall cannot be seen from space
Despite popular belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space by the naked eye. The Rumor started in the 19th century when the tremendous size of the Wall was imagined to be seen from space (travelchinaguide). Despite the fact that you've been told all your life it can, the Great Wall cannot be seen from space at all. Any images of the structure from space were taken with a very zoomed-in camera lens, something that the naked eye could never do. Can you see a hair from two miles away? Then you won't be able to see the Great Wall from space!
1 People have dedicated years to walking the Great Wall
Being such an astonishing sight it is no wonder that some people have been so fixated on the Great Wall. Some are so obsessed that they've spent years of their lives walking it. Some people have been so in awe of the Great Wall that they've dedicated years to trek it by foot, and often solo. A British man who wrote the book called "Alone on the Great Wall" hiked 2,470 km alone on foot along the route of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall (chinawhisper). Another man, Ooi Thean Hin, took eight years to walk the Great Wall, broken down by yearly hikes. His first excursion began in September 2009 and his last one ended in October 2016 (star2).
Sources: star2.com, whc.unesco.org, dailymail.co.uk, beijinghikers.com, sites.psu.edu, historyextra.com, news.nationalgeographic.com, www.travelchinaguide.com, chinahighlights.com, chinawhisper.com, mentalfloss.com