Interesting Facts About the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall would be the most visited attraction in China. But have you heard of the Wall on the river? Do you know the narrowest part of the Great Wall is only 40 centimeters wide? In this article, you will find some interesting facts about the Great Wall of China, which you may not know before.

As one of the wonders of the world, the Great Wall is the longest man-made structure on earth. The Great Wall promises both breathtaking scenery and cultural illumination. In a broad sense, “the Great Wall” refers to all the walls of the different dynasties. It has preserved more than 2,000 years of Chinese history.

1. The Earliest Defensive Wall

Many people believe the Great Wall was begun on the order of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC). But historians have discovered the earliest defensive wall was built 2,600 years ago by the Chu State during the earlier Spring and Autumn Period (771 BC to 476 BC). Other states at the time also built defensive walls. The lengths of the walls varied and the longest was only 1,500 kilometers.

2. The First Great Wall

According to Chinese conventional wisdom, defensive walls can only be a Great Wall if they have a total length of more than 5,000 km. Thus, the first Great Wall was built in the Qin Dynasty in order to stop incursions by northern nomads. The Qin Great Wall was accomplished by repairing, connecting and extending the walls built in the Spring and Autumn Period. But it was not the longest Great Wall. Three later dynasties – the Han, Jin and Ming – also built long defensive walls.

3. The Longest Great Wall

Built on the foundations of the Qin Great Wall, the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220) was extended more than 1,000 kilometers westward to today’s Xinjiang, adding beacon towers and watchtowers. It was the longest Great Wall, stretching more than 10,000 km.

4. The Northernmost Great Wall

Great Wall construction continued with the engagement of not only the Han people, but other ethnic groups. The Great Wall of the Jin Dynasty (1115 to 1234), founded by Manchus from northeastern China, is a typical example. Mostly located in the Inner Mongolian grasslands, the Jin Great Wall is the most northern Great Wall. Interestingly, this Great Wall was built to keep out the Mongols, who three decades later established the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368). From then the Great Wall seemed obsolete as both sides were united.

5. The Largest Great Wall

Learning from their predecessors, the Ming Dynasty emperors pinned their defensive strategy on strengthening the stone wall. After taking the country from the Yuan rulers, they constantly added to the Great Wall for the next 276 years. With many more watchtowers and beacon towers, the Ming Great Wall stretches 8,851.8 km through nine provinces from the Yalu River in the eastern Liaoning Province to the Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province. None of other dynasties had spent so much time on wall building; the Ming Great Wall was the largest and most sophisticated of these fortifications – and is what many visitors to Beijing see today. However, the Ming Great Wall finally failed to resist an attack from the northeast, when the Manchus invaded and established the Qing Dynasty.

Badaling Great Wall in Beijing

6. The Narrowest Great Wall

The narrowest part of the Great Wall is only 40 centimeters wide. It is on the Simatai Great Wall, in the north of Miyun County, 120 km northeast of Beijing. Simatai Great Wall is known for its steepness. One segment of the wall built on the mountainside at an 80-degree gradient is called the “Heavenly Ladder”.

Simatai Great Wall in Miyun County, Beijing

7. The Wall on the River

It is rare to see a section of the Great Wall built over a river like a bridge. The Jiumenkou Great Wall (Nine-Opening Great Wall) in Suizhong, Liaoning Province, is the only Wall on the river in China. The extant Jiumenkou Great Wall, built in 1381 during the Ming Dynasty, is 1,704 meters long. It is so named for its nine openings to allow water to pass. Ancient builders adhered to the principles of using local materials and using natural barriers as fortifications.

Jiumenkou Great Wall in Suizhong, Liaoning Province

8. The Westernmost Pass

The westernmost end is the Jiayu Pass (Jiayuguan) in southwest China’s Gansu Province. The Great Wall has 12 major passes. Some were built in the vast desert, such as Jiayu Pass, and some by the sea, such as Shanhai Pass. All the passes are named “Guan” or “Kou”, except Dajingmen Gate in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, which is a special pass on the major routes linking north China and Inner Mongolia. “Jingmen” literally means “gate on the border”.

Jiayu Pass, the western end of the Great Wall

9. The Easternmost Pass

Even today, many Chinese still wrongly believe that the eastern end of the Great Wall is the Shanhai Pass (Shanhaiguan) in Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province, where a huge horizontal tablet from the Ming Dynasty calls it the “The First Pass under Heaven”. But in 1990, archaeologists discovered a section of Wall in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, and confirmed that the eastern end of the Ming Great Wall went much further to Hushan Mountain, Dandong City.

Shanhai Pass in Qinhuangdao City, Hebei Province

10. The Largest Watchtower

A section of the Great Wall usually has four features: ramparts, pass, beacon tower and watchtower. The largest watchtower is a two-story square building with nine arrowslits on each side on the Jiuyanlou Great Wall in Beijing. It is known as the “Jiuyan Watchtower” (called Jiuyanlou in Chinese, literally “nine-eye watchtower”) as watchtowers normally have only three or four arrowslits per side. You can climb on the 450-year-old tower, which used to house weapons and provisions.

Jiuyan Watchtower in Yanqing County, Beijing

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