When Did the Great Wall Become Famous? – Early 20th Century

Badaling Great Wall
Badaling Great Wall

The earliest foreign record of the Great Wall of China can be traced back to the 4th century, in the historical materials of the ancient Rome, but with only a few words. The whole world started to have acquaintance with this huge man-made project not until 1909 when an American named William Geil published the book 'The Great Wall of China'. From then on, numerous foreign visitors, including hundreds of world's leaders, have visited renowned sections to take in the grand scene of this former military facility.

How Was the Great Wall Like In Foreign Accounts before 20th Century?

Early in the 4th and 10th centuries, there were already historical materials of the ancient Rome and the Arabic Empire, recording a few words of the China Great Wall. During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 – 1911), more and more foreign merchants and explorers came into China because of the prevalence of international trade. Records and travelogues of the Wall largely appeared in Europe since then. In the book '1563 Asia', the author stated that the construction purpose was to defend northern Mongolians. In addition, Great Wall in the south and east regions of today's Liaoning and Jilin provinces as well as Tianjin were recorded in detail in historical materials of the North Korea for envoys of the country always went through these sections to present tribute to the Chinese court.

Early records of the Great Wall objectively described its defensive function, but critical voices came out after the Age of Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries. For example, the British Politian George Macartney looked down on the defensive value of the Wall whilst admiring its grandness; the German philosopher Herder considered it the reflection of the feudal autocracy while the other German philosopher Karl Marx took it as a symbol of conservation, opposition to other races and feudalism.

Worldwide Acquaintance through William Geil's Book Since 1909

Before the 20th century, westerners couldn't understand the real situation of the Great Wall as written records was limited, let alone pictures. In 1909, an American named William Geil published his book 'The Great Wall of China' introducing details about this grand man-made project. To finish the book, Geil spent three months measuring the Wall from Shanhaiguan in Hebei to Jiayuguan in Gansu with his feet and accumulated a great collection of photos and dairies.

As Geil's book 'The Great Wall of China' circulated in Europe for years, this former military facility was widely known by more and more westerners and gradually became the name card of China. The book also stimulated numerous foreign visitors set out their own exploration to this world wonder. In 1987, the Great Wall was even listed as one of the world's heritage sites by UNESCO depending on its profound history, large scale and startling views.

What is the Great Wall Famous For?

Large scale: The Great Wall is the longest man-made building in the world with a total length of 21,196.18 kilometers (13,170.70 miles). It spans across 15 regions in China from the easternmost Heilongjiang Province all the way to Xinjiang.

Long history: Its construction work was carried out in almost every dynasty and the earliest wall section can be dated back to 2,700 years ago.

Complete defense system: Emperors ordered to implement this grand project mainly for defensive purpose against northern nomads, and some vital sections were even well equipped with various military facilities, such as watchtowers, beacon towers, crenels, barbicans, and trap doors.

Grand scenery: The Great Wall presents diverse scenery in different regions in China. It looks like a giant dragon traveling over hills and dales at most sections, including Badaling, Mutianyu, and Jinshanling in Beijing. At Laolongtou in Qinhuangdao, Hebei, you can see a totally different scene of the wall merging into the sea while at Jiayuguan, Yumenguan, and Yangguan in Gansu, the Great Wall offers a desolate view, standing among vast desert. 

 See more: Great Wall of China - One of the 7 Wonders of the World

- Last updated on Jul. 23, 2020 -
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