Welcome to The Long Wall of 10,000 Li
July 22, 2012 3:20 PM   Subscribe

The Great Wall of China (長城) took 2000 years to build, and stretches for 5500 miles. Yet pictures of that wonder of the world in popular media are typically restricted to the tourist-visited sections closest to Beijing. (There are several sections of the wall near that city.) Kuriositas has gathered some images that present the Wall from other areas.
posted by zarq (32 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
I loved the pictures of the wall as nature slowly devours it, like this one. Reminds me of a trip I made to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Many of the temples had been cleared of the jungle that was attempting to absorb them, but a few had been left to nature's devices; it was amazing to see tendrils of jungle flora gripping stone slabs the size of VW mini-vans, tossing up paving slabs in a slow-motion explosion or supporting arches and domes that long should have fallen to the trials of wind and rain.
posted by dazed_one at 3:40 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some beautiful pictures in the last link. Thanks
posted by francesca too at 3:58 PM on July 22, 2012

China is nuts. They want to tear down and remove anything that looks old and shabby. They will happily replace ancient worn stone with fluorescent-lit Formica-clad strip malls. We need to get some serious vote-with-our-feet tourism going over there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:01 PM on July 22, 2012

These pictures are spectacular. My favorites are this one and this one, which really show the scale of the wall and wildness of the landscape. I can't imagine doing anything one-hundredth that ambitious with pre-industrial revolution technology. Perhaps if I were emperor I'd think bigger.

Thanks Zarq.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 4:04 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you think someone could walk the entire length, given that it is overgrown and broken down in some places?
posted by Mojojojo at 4:08 PM on July 22, 2012

Some claim to have done so. More interesting to me is the work of leading wall scholar David Spindler. The New Yorker article is well worth the read. (Never seen the DVD)
posted by BWA at 4:21 PM on July 22, 2012

Mojojojo, the Great Wall isn't actually one wall, it's numerous fortifications built in layers and bits and pieces and construction took place over many years and many dynasties.
posted by dazed_one at 4:21 PM on July 22, 2012

My favorite is this one which is especially neat in context of all the other pictures of this ribbon of a fortress wandering around the land.
posted by wobh at 4:27 PM on July 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I understand that, dazed_one. As route? Thanks for additional info BWA.
posted by Mojojojo at 4:29 PM on July 22, 2012

I originally wanted to go all, "Winter is Coming" on this, but---! I stand in awe. I can't imagine the time, the toil, the pain involved in creating this. I love these views, these works, but I admit to feeling guilt.

To every worker that cut stone, moved it along, put it in place, broke a bone or lost a limb or life to this: bless you in your next life. And to your masters: begone!
posted by SPrintF at 4:35 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a pity that China and Google aren't on good terms. A circuit of the Wall by a Street View trike would be something to behold.
posted by acb at 4:47 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Amazing. Thank you for the post. And I must go to see some of these places, some day.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:12 PM on July 22, 2012

Imagine the logistics involved with manning the towers and supplying them.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 5:19 PM on July 22, 2012

This is so cool. The pictures in that last link are just transporting. I've wanted to do the Great Wall Marathon for a while, but it's expensive, run as a tour.
posted by OmieWise at 5:26 PM on July 22, 2012

Small correction, the the picture shown in the link in the first answer actually is taken in JianKou (箭扣) section of the Great Wall. I know because I stood at the exact same spot a year ago and that view is one of most photographed one on the Wall. That section of the wall is in its unrestored state from 15th century and it is wild and beautiful. It is contiugous with Mutianyu but in contrast receive little visitors. It's hard to get to from Beijing, but well worth the trip.
posted by Pantalaimon at 5:32 PM on July 22, 2012

China is nuts. They want to tear down and remove anything that looks old and shabby. They will happily replace ancient worn stone with fluorescent-lit Formica-clad strip malls. We need to get some serious vote-with-our-feet tourism going over there.

I kind of feel like this is a bit ignorant of the realities of actual Chinese sentiment regarding heritage sites, the endemic corruption and real estate boom that encourages urbanisation/gentrification, the inequalities that put pressure on rural populations to get through today rather than worry about things that are made for dead people, and the fact that our own, western, discourse around heritage sites and their reverance is in itself relatively new as a common and respected cultural phenomenon. Don't know what it's like where you came from, but there wasn't a whole lot of respect for most heritage sites here back even in the seventies, and very little - especially for indigenous sites - today.
posted by smoke at 5:37 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Is the Great Wall of China the only man-made object visible from space? Not really, but it depends who's looking, when, how, and why.

From NASA, China's Wall Less Great in View from Space, May 2005:
Of the wall visibility theories, Lulla said: "A lot has been said and written about how visible the wall is. In fact, it is very, very difficult to distinguish the Great Wall of China in astronaut photography, because the materials that were used in the wall are similar in color and texture to the materials of the land surrounding the wall -- the dirt."

It's questionable whether you can see it with the unaided eye from space. "The shape, the age of the structure, the resolution of the camera, the condition of the atmosphere -- all these factors affect the ability to detect an object from space." But, he added, "you can see the wall in radar images taken from space."
(P.S. — Don't tell the Emperor his new wall can't be seen by the gods.)
posted by cenoxo at 5:45 PM on July 22, 2012

I really like these as a series. I like the ones that show a piece of the wall in the foreground to give a sense of the size of the wall and then show it winding off into the distance.

I'm also struck by Just how different the terrain is along the whole length.

But my favorite is also the one of an end. It seems so...anti-climatic maybe? It would have been awesome* to continue it into the sea so it would look like it just kept going under the ocean.

*awesome only without the massive toll in human suffering the whole thing caused.
posted by VTX at 5:59 PM on July 22, 2012

When my wife and I visited Beijing in 2004 we wanted to see the Wall, but we didn't want to go to the usual tourist places. The Lonely Planet mentioned a place (I forget what it was now) as a good alternative so we thought we'd give it a go.

We hailed a taxi and told the driver where we wanted to see the Wall. He'd never heard of it. We showed him on a map, and after a while he sort of got it. We negotiated a fee, and we set off. First of all though, we had to make a stop for him to give some money to his daughter so she could buy her lunch, as we were going to be a while. We drove and drove, heading north through Beijing for about 2 hours. Eventually we started to hit the outskirts of the city, and then farmland. After a while we could see sections of the Wall crawling over the mountains around us. It was quite a moment - mostly one of thinking "how the fuck did they build that?!?!?!?".

Our driver was getting a bit lost, so he stopped in the middle of a bridge, where a young man was sitting on the bridge rail. The young guy hopped in the taxi. We were feeling a bit uneasy because of the communication gap, and we had no idea where we were really.

After a while, the young guy directed the taxi to pull up in the driveway of someone's house. Now we really didn't know what was going on but the taxi driver eventually managed to communicate that we should follow the young guy. Not really having any other option, we followed. He led us through the back of the village, and then through a grove of chestnut trees. After about 20 minutes we came to the base of a pretty steep hill. He gestured upward and we craned our heads up to see an indistinct jumble of stone and bushes at the summit of the hill. He gestured again, and we started climbing. He didn't come with us. Eventually we made it to the top and hauled ourselves up onto the top of the Great Wall of China. It was overgrown, about 2 metres wide, and broken down, but it was recognisably the Wall and it was really incredible. We could see the Wall streching off into the distance, in a couple of directions.

We sat there for a while, drinking some water, admiring the view and listening to the bangs of fireworks being set off in the broad daylight in the village below.

We headed back down the hill, and then back to the village. The taxi driver was having a great old time eating fruit and talking to the villagers. They gave us some fruit too and then we headed back to Beijing. We tried to give the young guy some money but he wouldn't take it.

It was pretty dark when we got back to Beijing, and just before we got back to our hotel the taxi driver pointed out a section of particularly well maintained fortifications. "That's the Great Wall too!" he said, and then cackled uproariously until we got to the hotel entrance.

Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 3
posted by awfurby at 6:18 PM on July 22, 2012 [22 favorites]

BWA's New Yorker link was locked to me, but I found a repost here: http://www.readability.com/articles/mjhmybzl
posted by notseamus at 6:18 PM on July 22, 2012

Too bad the Great Wall was rendered obsolete by the Mongol's GAPOK technology (giant anthropomorphic pitcher of kool-aid).
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:43 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've hiked rural segments of the great wall a few times with friends while living in BJ. It really is an amazing experience and the views are out of this world. Here are a couple of self-links to images of one such hike.

The trail

View back down to the valley

View across the top

In the village

Dinner options after the hike
posted by michswiss at 7:29 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

View across the top link should have been this one.
posted by michswiss at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The other day I expressed a desire to go hiking on one of these forgotten stretches of the Great Wall, and my wife (who is Chinese) nodes and says, "You need some donkey friends."
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:49 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the summer of 2010 I went to Beijing with some friends after a study abroad trip. A few days into our stay we decided that we wanted to visit the Great Wall but, much like awfurby, we didn't want to go to the usual touristy sections of the wall. We decided on hiking from the Jiankou section of the wall (which, as Pantalaimon describes, is a beautiful, overgrown, unrestored section of the wall) to the adjacent touristy Mutianyu section of the wall.

Hiking this route was easier said than done. First of all, it was nearly impossible to find a driver to take us there. It seemed like many people had heard of that section of the wall, but few knew exactly where the entrance was. We ended up car pooling with two English teachers who wanted to visit the Mutianyu section. The drivers dropped the teachers off, we picked up sandwiches from the Subway that was at the bottom of that section of the wall, and then they drove us a few miles to a tiny village. They explained (or at least, I think they explained. I wasn't quite sure of what they were saying) that the entrance to the wall near where they were dropping us off, but they weren't exactly sure where. No problem! We started off down a path near where they dropped us off. A few hours later, tired and sweaty, we realized that the drivers definitely pointed us in the wrong direction. We turned around and stopped at a small restaurant. We used the toilet, ate some watermelon, and then tried to ask directions from locals. An old woman with dark, leathery skin eventually walked us through the length of the village until we reached a path that, very clearly, led up to the top of the mountain. It was the middle of the afternoon by that point so we (attempted) to thank her and started up the mountain, this time on the correct path.

It is at this point that, if you haven't realized it already, I'm going to tell you that we weren't particularly prepared for this endeavor. We didn't really know where the access point from that part of the mountain was and we had water, our Subway sandwiches, and some sheets to sleep on...but beyond that no other supplies. We were hiking in the middle of the summer, so it seemed perfectly fine, but in retrospect I think we probably should have thought about our trip a bit more. The idea of preparation didn't really occur to us until we were nearing the top of the mountain (and, the access point to Jiankou) when we encountered a group of Chinese hikers with all sorts of equipment hiking the route opposite of us (Mutianyu to Jiankou). They laughed at us, we all took pictures together, and then we headed our separate ways.

Once we got to the top of the access point we had to climb a ladder to get to the top. Not a big deal, and totally worth the view. We hiked on, stopping in the early evening to eat half of our sandwiches. Most of the path was fine, but it sometimes got a little rough and we had to climb up sections (fortunately one person in our group was a rock climber and was able to guide us on the easiest/safest path to take) and there were more than a few times where the wall was completely gone, so we had to tread lightly as we made our way to the next part of the wall. In retrospect, it doesn't seem that difficult, but I distinctly remember being incredibly worried that I (someone who is athletic, but not particularly outdoorsy) was going to hurt myself. When the sun started to set we stopped in one of the small towers along the way, climbed to the top, and, once it got dark, slept on our sheets under the stars. It was amazing and, supisingly cold for August weather.

We woke up early the next morning (4am? No later than 5am). It was still dark and you could see every star perfectly. We ate the rest of our sandwiches and watched the sunrise. Complete tranquility.

Once the sunrise was over, we decided to continue on our way. It was still relatively cool and we knew we had a distance to cover before we were done, plus we were almost out of water. This is where the wall got a little more dangerous. Instead of being worried that I'd injure myself along the way, I became convinced that I was going to die, broken into a million pieces, at the bottom of the mountain. As I type this I realize it sounds a little melodramatic (okay, a lot) but there were parts that were extremely difficult. The best example of this is a section where both the mountain and the wall had completely collapsed. A few ingenious hikers had crafted a ladder out of wood and metal twine one side of the wall to the other. Unfortunately, they had crafted it quite a while ago and some of the steps of the ladder were gone. If we hadn't have gone so far already and I wouldn't have been letting the rest of my group down, I totally would have turned around. I was terrified. Convinced I was going to die. Once again, thinking back on it I feel a little silly but...at the time the fear was very real.

Anyways, we crossed the ladder and kept hiking. Around 9am or 10am we reached the Mutianyu section of the wall. The difference between the unrestored Jiankou and the restored Mutianyu section was enormous. I remember there was a saleswoman on the restored section of the wall who saw us cross over. Technically, there are supposed to be no visitors on that side of the wall, so she yelled at us and demanded that we buy water from her, otherwise we wouldn't be allowed to pass (once again, I think this is what she was trying to say...). By this time we were completely out of water and were willing to buy it from her, no threats needed. We paid around 20 yuan (~3 USD) for a small bottle of ice cold water. Totally worth it, even if the water we purchased in town was only around 3 yuan (~$0.50) each.

The Mutainyu section of the wall was unremarkable after hiking Jiankou. There are only two things I really remember, besides the woman selling us the water. The first is an American tourist who we ran into as we neared the entrance/exit of Mutianyu. He was a large man and was having difficulty climbing the stairs up and down the wall. He saw us (remember--we had been hiking for two days in the heat. We were disgusting and sweaty and pretty exhausted) and, after exchanging pleasantries, asked us, "Is the rest of the wall really that hard? I'm not sure I can make it up any more stairs!" We laughed and told him he'd be fine. The other part I remember is exiting the wall. Jiankou was this amazing unrestored wilderness and Mutianyu was the opposite. Lots of tourists and vendors and all sorts of things. One of the ways tourists got from the Great Wall to the parking lot was a chairlift. The other way, the way we chose to use, was this giant metal slide that you rode down on a tobbagan. I remember as I slid down the mountain on this hard, plastic tobbagan thinking that this was very Chinese. No where else in China would you find such a clear example of Chinese culture--an historic cultural landmark juxtaposed alongside a plastic and metal slide and a Subway sandwich booth.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 8:20 PM on July 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

I went on a site visit to an anti-desertification project in Ningxia some years ago and saw some of the sections of the Wall out there (pics); definitely more romantic than the more familiar section here in Beijing for my money.
AFAIK the confusion over the exact length is because various branches were built or demolished as the empire expanded and contracted in the disputed borderlands over the centuries. Have an impression it was the great Polish sinologist Witold Rodziński who was the first Western historian to suggest t was more about marking the boundaries of the agrarian heartland and keeping the peasants in than keeping the horse peoples out, but ages since I read his book and am probably remembering wrong.
posted by Abiezer at 2:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many, many men and animals were killed in the building, rebuilding, and re-rebuilding of the Wall. During the Han Dynasty, Chen Lin wrote the following poem, and it's stuck with me ever since I first read it 15 years ago:

I watered my horse at the Long Wall Caves,
water so cold it hurts his bones;
I went and spoke to the Long Wall Boss:
“We’re soldiers from T’ai-yuan –
will you keep up here forever?”
“Public works go according to schedule –
swing your hammer, pitch your voice in with the rest!”
A man’d be better off to die in battle
than eat his heart out building the Long Wall!
The Long Wall — how it winds and winds,
winds and winds three thousand li;
here on the border, so many strong boys;
in the house back home, so many widows and wives.
I sent a letter to my wife:
“Better remarry than wait any longer – server your new mother-in-law with care
and sometimes remember the husband you once had.”
In answer her letter came to the border:
“What nonsense do you write me now?
Now when you’re in the thick of danger,
how could I rest by another man’s side?”
“If you bear a son, don’t bring him up!
But a daughter — feed her good dried meat.
Only you can’t see, here by the Long Wall,
the bones of the dead men haped about!
“I bound up my hair and went to server you;
constant constant was the care of my heart.
Too well I know your borderland troubles;
and I — can I go on like this much longer?

posted by 1adam12 at 3:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

"It is truly a great wall".

Richard M. Nixon
posted by Marky at 4:40 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wow. Those are just achingly beautiful photos.

Seeing the variety of climates and landscapes contrasted with the continuity of the wall gives a greater sense of the vastness of the land and the enormity of task of building it.
posted by Katherine Kimber at 1:40 PM on July 23, 2012

Among my favorites is this photo. I never knew the wall actually reached the sea.
posted by CancerMan at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2012

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