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Great Wall of China FAQs

Beijing Great Wall
Badaling Section, Beijing

  Where is the Great Wall?

 Answer:  It is a huge construction which starts from Hushan, Liaoning in the east and ends at Jiayuguan Pass, Gansu in the west, across Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai Provinces. Beijing boasts the most existing sections, including both well-preserved and wild ones, like Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan, Jinshanling, Simatai and Jiankou, making it the most popular destination to visit this ancient historical relic.

 Which section to visit?  
 Answer: The top 10 parts include Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, Juyongguan, Jiankou, Gubeikou, Shanhaiguan, Laolongtou, and Jiayuguan. 

 Which one is better, Badaling or Mutianyu?
 Answer: As the most famous and best-preserved section, Badaling is a must-see for first-time visitors to China, and is highly recommended to visitors on normal days. In constrast, the well-preserved Mutianyu is a nice choice during some big holidays to avoid crowds.

 How to get to the Great Wall from Beijing?
 Answer: The best-known sections, like Badaling and Mutianyu, are located in the outskirt of Beijing. You can get there by public transport, private cars or tours.

 See How to Get to Badaling from Downtown Beijing
 See How to reach Mutianyu from Downtown Beijing

 How to get there from Shanghai?
 Answer: It is about 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) from Shanghai by air and 800-900 miles (1,287-1,448 kilometers) by train. First of all, you need to get to Beijing from Shanghai by air or train. Then, take a bus or train to it from downtown Beijing.  Among the various sections, Badaling and Mutianyu are highly recommended.

 How to get there from Hong Kong?
 Answer: You should take a direct flight or train to Beijing from Hong Kong at first. Or, take a high speed train to Beijing from Shenzhen North Railway Station. Upon arrival, take a city bus or train to reach the destination.

 Who built it?

 Answer:  The construction was ordered by rulers of more than 20 dynasties. Slaves, soldiers, ordinary young men, and criminals were called together to complete the work.

  When was it built?

Answer:  The construction work lasted on and off for over 2,500 years from the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911).

 Why was it built?

 Answer:  The earliest sections were built in the Warring States Period by different kingdoms to defend attacks of other states. After Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified the whole nation, he had the different sections connected and since then, the wall served as the defensive line on the northern border, resisting the intrusion of northern nomads.

 See more: Who, when and why built the Great Wall?

 How long is the Great Wall of China?

 Answer:  The total length of sections built in all periods reaches 13,170 miles (21,196 kilometers) traversing many regions of China. Among these, those built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) are the most commonly seen and best-preserved sites till today, stretching 5,500.3 miles (8,851.8 kilometers) from the east to west.

  How tall is it? 

 Answer:  The height of the ramparts is various according to different terrains. Sections at relatively flat regions are higher than that at lofty mountains. The average height is 25.6 feet (7.8 meters) with the highest point of 46 feet (14 meters).

Great Wall Brick
Great Wall Brick

 What was used to build the wall?

Answer:  In early times, materials varied in different regions. For example, constructers often used stones in mountainous areas, earth in plains, sand and weeds in deserts. In the Ming Dynasty, brick-making skill became mature and sections built of bricks became common.

 How many bricks were used to build the wall?

 Answer:  There is no accurate number of it. But it is conservatively estimated that if using all the bricks to build a one-yard wide and 16-feet high wall, the wall is going to be as long as the equator.

 How many people built the Great Wall?

 Answer:  The construction work was implemented intermittently by several states, involving countless labors. The total number cannot be found in any historical material, but the recorded labors only in the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BC) nearly reached one million.

 How many people died during the construction?

 Answer:  There is no accurate number in the historical materials. But it is estimated that the number should be no less than 11 million. The construction work was extremely difficult. Most of the sections were built along lofty ridges and bricks used to build the wall were carried by labors. A large number of labors died because of heavy workload, or fell down from the mountains. Moreover, they worked a lot but ate a little, so some were died from hunger.

 It is often said that many ancient people were buried under the root of the wall. Is that true?

 Answer:  Legend has that, labors died during the construction were simply buried under the wall mainly for the following reasons: first, to save funeral expenses; second, to save building materials; third, to deep fertilize the soil around the wall to make the roots of plants go deep to protect the foundations; the last and the strangest, the wall was said to have the power to intimate the avenging spirits of those who died for building it. But it is just story passing by for generations. There is no historical record about it.

 How to decide where to build the wall?

 Answer:  The wall was generally built at the boundary line of the day. In normal conditions, taking the commanding position was the most important factor to win a battle. In this case, lofty mountain top was always the preferred location to build the wall.

Steep Great Wall

 What were the towers on the Great Wall used for?

 Answer:  There are many outstanding towers distributed along the wall, called beacon towers. They formed the initial alarm system with each tower guarded by a squad of soldiers. Once enemies were sited, soldiers would alarm the next tower by burning smoke in the day or raising torches at night. Along with gunshots, the number of enemies can also be told. For example, according to historical records, one smoke column and one gunshot meant more than 100 enemies and two columns and two gunshots for over 500. If the number exceeded 1,000, three columns and three gunshots were required.

 How much did it cost to build the Great Wall?

 Answer:  There is no record of the total expense. However, located on steep mountains, stretching thousands of miles in distance, requiring countless materials, and repairing during over 20 dynasties; all these factors make it hard to estimate how much the construction really cost. Someone once made a rough estimation, and it cost USD $360 billion.

 Can it be seen from the space?

 Answer:  It is definitely impossible to see it from the space. The wall measures less than 7.1 yards (6.5 meters) wide on average, and is easy to be covered by the surrounding landscape. Merely to the naked eye, it is hardly recognizable from 66,000 feet (20 kilometers) high. It is totally invisible at a height of 197,000 feet (60 kilometers), not to mention from a space ship whose orbital altitude is on average 1,312,000 feet (400 kilometers) high.

 What makes the Great Wall great?

 Answer:  It is the longest man-made construction in the world. In the old times, it was of great military importance of preventing the enemies' intrusion and was regarded as the 'Guardian Angel' of the central plain in the past.

Great Wall of China

 How long does it take to hike all the way across the Great Wall?

 Answer:  The wall stretches more than 10 thousand miles in China. Seldom can a person finish the whole route. Usually, an average tourist would put one or two sections on their itinerary. However, Liu Yutian, a Chinese explorer, spent two years finishing the whole journey from Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan. He is also the first man on the earth to complete this challenge.

 When is the best time to visit the Great Wall?

 Answer:  Spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) are the most comfortable seasons to visit this great wonder. The temperature of that period is neither hot nor cold and the scenery is quite joyful. In spring, the wall would be surrounded with lush green plants. In autumn, the tree leaves always turn into red and the wall would look like a dragon swimming in a sea of fire. But, make sure to avoid the public holidays, especially the National Day Holiday (Oct. 1st to Oct. 7th).

 Who of the world leaders have visited the Great Wall?

 Answer:  The Great Wall is the most popular sight of China, receiving tens of millions of visitors annually, including many world leaders. Only the section of Badaling has accepted more than 400 leaders in total, including President Nixon, President Ronald Reagan, President George Walker Bush, President Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, President Yeltsin, President Putin, and President Mandela.

Further Reading:
Fun Facts about Great Wall: 25 Things You didn't Know