Story of William Edgar Geil - The First One Hiked the Entire Great Wall of China

William Edgar Geil was a well-known American traveler, geographer and writer in the early 20th century. In 1908, William Geil led his expedition along Great Wall of China from Shanhaiguan. After 3 months, he and his team arrived at Jiayuguan and explored the western most point of Great Wall of China. On the way, Geil took a lot of photos and recorded many legends about the Great Wall. After going back to America, he wrote a book “Great Wall of China”, introducing this precious ancient man made project to the western countries and made Great Wall the symbol of China.

Two Photos Provoked William Edgar Geil’s Interest on Great Wall of China

On February 14, 1907, a British diplomat in Russia wrote a letter to Geil with two photos of Gubeikou Great Wall, which provoked Geil’s interest on the Great Wall of China. One year later in April of 1908, Geil left his hometown for China.

Landed in Qinhuangdao and Started the Great Wall Hiking from Shanghaiguan on May 31, 1908

About one month later, William Geil landed in Qinhuangdao. On May 31, he started his Great Wall hiking from Shanhaiguan. He knew nothing about Chinese and needed help from the translator for everything. But he was very ambitious.

Recorded What He Saw and Heard on the Way

Leaving Shanhaiguan Great Wall, William Edgar Geil and his expedition team proceeded all the way to the west. They crossed the mountains, canyons, and plains whereever Great Wall passed by. On the way, Geil took notes about Great Wall anytime, but he was not satisfied with what he saw. He asked people about the length of the Great Wall and measured the height and distance on his own. Plus, he were willing to ask the locals about the story of the Great Wall. Moreover, he was keen to think about the cultural and national significance behind the Great Wall throughout the journey.

Reached Jiayuguan on August 21, 1908

Geil and his expedition arrived in Jiayuguan Great Wall on August 21, 1908. After arriving, Geil noticed that this was not the westernmost section of the Great Wall as people knew before, and there were more to its west. So he went to find the real Great Wall west end - 15 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Jiayuguan. Upon arrival, he found that the Great Wall once covered in masonry was left with its loess core only. He took a photo here and recorded the end of the Great Wall, finishing his Great Wall hiking tour.  

Went Back to America and Published the Book “Great Wall of China”

After finishing hiking the entire Great Wall, William Edgar Geil went back to America with lots of photos, notes, travel dairies. There, he gave speeches about Great Wall and his hiking experience while writing a book about it. In 1909, his book “Great Wall of China” was published, which was the first book written by a foreigner about the Great Wall. This book made the Great Wall a symbol of China since then.

His investigation also clarified the misunderstanding among foreigners on the westernmost end of the Great Wall of China. Jiayuguan was thought to be the west end of Great Wall, but Geil discovered that there were still continuous wall to its west.

 More Stories of Great Wall of China:
 Dong Yaohui Hiking Great Wall of China: He took 508 days and completed on September 24, 1985
 Liu Yutian – the first one to hike the Great Wall alone: He took 2 years and finished on April 5, 1986.
 William Lindesay: He took 8 months to hike in 1987, and then devoted himself to the protection of the Great Wall.
 Sally - the Only Woman Walked the Entire Great Wall Alone
 Stephen Robert Loken – the first one to walk to the east end of Great Wall Hushan Mountain: He took 601 days and completed in 2011.

- Last modified on Jul. 31, 2019 -
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