Posts Tagged ‘great wall’

The Sun Always Shines On The Great Wall of China

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University, and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

Recently, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. This is her second of two posts from the trip. (See her previous post on Giant Pandas here.)


Mutianyu Section of The Great Wall

Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall. Photo by author

Originally we were supposed to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on Saturday, May 19, but drizzle and the forecast of a heavier rain caused us to postpone the trip to Sunday, our last full day in Beijing. As we made our way out of the city and headed northeast toward the predominantly 16th-century section of this famed structure, I glanced at the overcast sky and consoled myself with the knowledge gained after 14 visits to various sections of the Great Wall since 1980 that the Great Wall never fails to impress, even when enveloped in clouds or obscured by rain. However, our Tour Director, Mike Zhao, had predicted a bit of sun and perhaps even some blue sky for this visit to the Great Wall… and indeed, a few sunbeams appeared! Soon we were all admiring and walking on the Great Wall. And no, thank you for asking, I never get tired of visiting it!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall through the trees. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

World Heritage: China’s Great Wall

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

June Teufel Dreyer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. Her research work centers on ethnic minorities; the Chinese military; Asian-Pacific regional relations; cross-strait relations; and Sino-Japanese relations. She will be leading the March, 2010, departure of our Classic China and the Yangtze tour. Here, she tells us a bit about China’s Great Wall.


The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China.

First built in the sixth century and located northeast of Beijing, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China is one of the best preserved.

My first glimpse of the Great Wall was through a chilly gray mist early one fall morning. Standing on the ramparts gazing at the vast expanse of parched land beyond, it was easy to imagine the concern of Chinese rulers with destruction of their sophisticated culture by hordes of mounted warriors they regarded as barbarians.

I’d read about the wall from childhood–that it began at the sea in Shanhaiguan in the northeast, weaving dragonlike across fifteen provinces before ending we knew not where, in the sands of Central Asia. And that it was the only man-made structure that is visible from outer space.

Much of this proved untrue. The wall is not visible from outer space. And scientific advances have enabled us to track the end of the wall with far greater accuracy. Surprises still occur: in fall 2009, a new section was discovered near the Yalu River that borders present-day North Korea. The wall did not start out as a single structure, but as a series of fortifications built by different kingdoms, the first dating back to 500 BC Stitched together under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), it had not, nor had the walls before it, been able to prevent barbarians from entering China. The Ming itself was overthrown by a Manchu invasion that came through a crucial pass; the barbarians then founded the Qing dynasty. By mid-Qing the wall, in recognition of its deficiencies as a barrier, had fallen into disrepair.

When the government of the People’s Republic of China began to value China’s ancient heritage in preference to Marxist ideology, it made the shocking discovery that local peasants had been dismantling pieces of the wall, brick by brick, to use in constructing homes and pig sties. The wall, now repaired and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is again a symbol of pride. And the claims of revisionists and debunkers notwithstanding, it truly is a great wall.

What World Heritage Site would you most like to visit? The list is here. Share below.

See the Great Wall for yourself with Dr. Dreyer in March, 2010.

Click for all of our tours to China.