Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
The Chinese have walled their cities throughout recorded history, and during the Warring
States period (around the fifth century BC) simply extended the practice to separate them-
selves from rival territories. The Great Wall's origins lie in these fractured lines of fortifica-
tions and in the vision of the first Emperor QinShiHuang who, having unified the empire
in the third century BC, joined and extended the sections to form one continuous defence
against barbarians.
Under subsequent dynasties, whenever insularity rather than engagement drove foreign
policy, the wall continued to be maintained, and in response to shifting regional threats
grew and changed course. It lost importance under the Tang , when borders were extended
north, well beyond it - the Tang was, in any case, an outward-looking dynasty that kept
the barbarians in check far more cheaply by fostering trade and internal divisions. With the
emergence of the insular Ming , however, the wall's upkeep again became a priority: from
the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, military technicians worked on its reconstruction.
The Ming wall is the one you see today.
The 7m-high, 7m-thick wall, with its 25,000 battlements, served to bolster Ming sov-
ereignty for a couple of centuries. It restricted the movement of the nomadic peoples of
the distant, non-Han minority regions, preventing plundering raids: signals made by gun-
powder blasts, flags and smoke swiftly sent news of enemy movements to the capital. In
the late sixteenth century, a couple of huge Mongolinvasions were repelled, at Jinshanling
and Badaling. But a wall is only as strong as its guards, and by the seventeenth century
the Ming royal house was corrupt and its armies weak; the wall was little hindrance to the
invading Manchu. After they had established their own dynasty, the Qing , they let the wall
fall into disrepair. Slowly it crumbled away, useful only as a source of building material -
demolitions of old hutongs in Beijing have turned up bricks from the wall, marked with the
imperial seal.
八达岭 , bādálǐng • Daily 7am-6pm; museum closed Mon • 45, including wall and museum; cable car 60/
80 one-way/return
The best-known section of the wall is at Badaling , 70km northwest of Beijing, which was
the first section to be restored (in 1957) and opened up to tourists. Here the wall is 6m wide,
with regularly spaced watchtowers dating from the Ming dynasty. It follows the highest con-
tours of a steep range of hills, forming a formidable defence, such that this section was never
attacked directly but instead taken by sweeping around from the side after a breach was made
in the weaker, low-lying sections.
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