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9 Interesting Things You May Not Know About the Great Wall of China

So, you think you know everything about the Great Wall of China? As one of the seven Wonders of the World, there’s so much to learn about this architectural structure that you may have missed out on some interesting facts that are not as well known.

The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the history of the world and is also known as the “the long and grand city of 10,000 li” (a li is half a kilometer). Every year, thousands of tourists flock to visit the 2,300-year-old wall that is built across the northern borders of ancient Chinese states and imperial China. 

Here are some interesting facts and trivia about the Chinese wonder:


1. It was built by over 6 different Chinese dynasties.

Based on records, the Great Wall of China was made over the course of hundreds of years. It was built over six different Chinese dynasties, namely the Warring States Period, Qin dynasty, Han dynasty, Ming Dynasty, People’s Republic of China, and Post “Opening-Up.” The most famous of all these dynasties was the Qin dynasty when the three northern walls, Qin, Zhao, and Yan, were connected by the order of Emperor Qin to prevent attacks from the Mongolians and Manchus.


2. It was built at the hands of a million laborers.

More than 1,000,000 laborers, including soldiers, convicts, and common folk, were recruited for its construction by order of Emperor Qin. It is said that as many as 400,000 people died during the wall’s construction.

3. It is said that a dragon traced the course of the Great Wall.

One of the most famous legends about the Great Wall is that a helpful dragon traced the course of the Great Wall for the workforce. Since the ancient Chinese believed that the earth was filled with dragons and gave shape to mountains and lands, the builders subsequently followed the tracks of the dragon. There was no reason for these people to doubt the creature as it has been a prominent figure in Chinese mythology that is depicted as a protective divinity and is a symbol of imperial power that is mostly linked to the Chinese emperor.

4. Its entrance is called “The Old Dragon’s Head.”

Ever wondered where the Great Wall of China starts? The answer lies in the small town of Shanhaiguan in Hebei province where the Old Dragon’s Head is considered to be the start of the Great Wall. Built during the Ming dynasty, it resembles a dragon resting its head by the Bohai Sea. Throughout history, it served as a military fort and a strategic defense from both land and sea attacks. 

The Old Dragon’s Head is slightly tilted down towards the sea. It was built using a mixture of glutinous rice syrup, earth, sand, and lime. Photo from Atlas Obscura.


5. According to legend, it’s made of human bones.

Another popular legend centers on Meng Jiang Nu, the wife of a farmer who was forced to work on the Great Wall under the command of Emperor Qin. Upon visiting the Wall herself and discovering that her husband had died during its construction, she started to weep until the Wall collapsed, revealing her husband’s bones for her to bury. This is also considered one of the greatest folktales of China.


6. The mortar used to bind the wall’s stones was made out of rice flour.

Due to the legend of the weeping woman, a lot of people assumed that the mortar used to bind the stones was made from human bones. Some believed that men were buried within the Great Wall to make it stronger. However, the ancient Chinese used glutinous rice flour for its mortar to help bind the Great Wall bricks. Very resourceful indeed.


7. Bullet marks from the last battle are still visible in its walls today.

In 1938, the Sino-Japanese War was fought at the Great Wall. This war between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan is recorded to be the last battle fought in its walls at Gubeikou and its bullet marks can still be seen on the wall today. 


8. It’s not a continuous line.

Although the Great Wall is said to be about 21,196.18 kilometers in length, it is not a continuous line. There are sidewalls, circular walls, parallel walls, and sections with no wall at all that in its place are high mountains or rivers that form a barrier instead. This was partially due to human damage and natural erosion that happened over time. On top of that, about 2,000 kilometers or 30% of the ancient fortification “disappeared” because people would steal the wall’s bricks to build houses.


9. More than 10,000,000 visitors visit it every year.

The Great Wall serves as the best tourist spot in all of China. Millions of people flock to visit the Great Wall every year to marvel at its architecture and cultural significance. The most visited section of the Great Wall is Badaling which stretches approximately 80 kilometers northwest of Beijing’s city center in Yanqing District. This portion can reach a visitor flow of 70,000 people per day during peak season. 

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