What is known as the Great Wall of China is in fact not one unbroken wall, but a sprawling series of walls built by various states and dynasties over many centuries. Tremendous efforts were made during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) to link these walls together. Its name in Chinese, 万里长城 (Wànlǐ Chángchéng), more literally means “long wall of ten thousand li” (a li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance equivalent to half a kilometer), which is actually a drastic understatement of the length of the wall. One survey calculated the combined length of all the sections of the wall to be over 13,000 miles.

Beijing - Great Wall - Badaling - Rafael Gomez - 187 x 140
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Rafael Gomez)

The primary purpose of the wall was to protect the Chinese empire from attacks by “barbarians” to the north (though it was not always successful in doing so), but it also facilitated travel and transportation, communication, trade, and taxation. One of humankind’s most impressive achievements, it was made possible only by engineering expertise, an advanced administrative system, sustained political will, vast resources, and the labor (and suffering) of countless individuals—not to mention the imagination and audacity necessary to envision such an undertaking in the first place.

Some of the more popular sections of the wall in the Beijing area are Badaling (八达岭, Bādálǐng), Juyongguan or Juyong Pass (居庸关, Jūyōngguān), and Mutianyu or Mutian Valley (慕田峪, Mùtiányù). Our tour packages that feature Beijing usually include a visit to either Badaling or Juyongguan. They do not include Mutianyu and some other Beijing-area sections of the wall because they are too far away from the city to fit into an itinerary with other popular attractions. However, if you wish to visit one of these other, less crowded sections of the wall, we will gladly make custom arrangements for you.

Other notable sections of the wall include Shanhaiguan (山海关, Shānhǎiguān), the easternmost section where the wall meets the ocean, and Jiayuguan (嘉峪关, Jiāyùguān), the westernmost extant section of the wall in Gansu Province. Silk Road-oriented tour packages, such as our Silk Road 16-Day Tour (CIT007), often include a trip to Jiayuguan.

Facts about the Great Wall:

  • The oft-repeated claim that it can be seen from the moon with the naked eye is not true.
  • The first sections of the wall were built during the Spring and Autumn Period (776-403 BCE).
  • As early as the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BCE), construction involved hundreds of thousands of laborers.
  • The Ming Dynasty construction project continued for more than 100 years, but the wall failed to prevent the Manchus from conquering China and establishing the Qing Dynasty.

Tips for visiting the Great Wall:

  • Be sure to wear good walking shoes, or even hiking boots for more adventurous walks along the wall.
  • The more touristy sections of the wall have the advantage of cable cars. Cable car rides up the wall are included in most of our tour packages, and they allow you to avoid a strenuous climb in what can be very hot conditions.
  • Good planning is essential, as Beijing-area Great Wall trips entail a substantial drive outside the city, and you will want to make sure you have adequate time to fully enjoy your visit.

Further reading and resources:

  • Read more general information about the Great Wall on Wikipedia.
  • Peter Hessler’s fascinating book, Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, recounts (among other experiences) his visits to many sections of the wall, including remote, unrestored, and almost forgotten sections seldom visited by anyone. He also wrote an article called Walking the Wall for the New Yorker (subscribers only).
  • The Great Wall is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Its UNESCO page has information and resources related to the history and preservation of the wall.

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Great Wall of China Photo Gallery

Click on any photo below to see a full-sized version.

The Great Wall of China climbing up the side of a hill at Badaling near Beijing Snow-covered stretch of the Great Wall of China at Badaling near Beijing
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Rux)
The Great Wall at Badaling in winter
(photo by Inyucho)
Great Wall of China at Badaling Old Dragon's Head, the eastern end of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan
A stretch of the wall at Badaling
(photo by Brian Snelson)
Old Dragon’s Head at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Like Yesterday)
Old Dragon's Head, the eastern end of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan Chenghai Tower, part of the Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan
Another view of Old Dragon’s Head
(photo by Caitriana Nicholson)
Chenghai Tower at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Daniel Ng)
The Great Wall of China at Shanhaiguan A gate at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall at Shanhaiguan
(photo by Daniel Ng)
Gate at Jiayuguan
(photo by Kevin Hale)
Fortress at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China Tower atop the wall at Jiayuguan, the western end of the Great Wall of China
Fortress at Jiayuguan
(photo by Kevin Hale)
A tower at Jiayuguan
(photo by Tom Thai)
Great Wall-Related Words

Study the words below on Quizlet:
Detailed Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English
Reversible Lists: Characters and English | Pinyin and English | Characters and Pinyin
Chinese Language Resources page

万里长城 (Wànlǐ Chángchéng): Great Wall of China (literally, “long wall of ten thousand li”), actually not one wall but a series of fortifications extending across northern China built during various dynasties as a defense against invaders, among other purposes; usually referred to simply as 长城 (Chángchéng)

Trees and plants with multicolored leaves in front of the Great Wall of China at Badaling near Beijing
The Great Wall at Badaling
(photo by Faqiang Wu)
  • 居庸关 (Jūyōngguān)
    Juyongguan or Juyong Pass, a mountain pass northwest of Beijing through which the Wall passes
  • 云台 (Yúntái)
    Cloud Platform, a gate at Juyongguan constructed of white marble and decorated with Buddhist carvings of figures, symbols, and texts
  • 八达岭 (Bādálǐng)
    Badaling, the most-visited section of the Wall; further northwest of Beijing from Juyongguan
  • 山海关 (Shānhǎiguān)
    Shanhaiguan or Shanhai Pass, the eastern endpoint of the Wall in Hebei Province (河北省, Héběishěng); shanhai means “Mountain and Sea”
  • 嘉峪关 (Jiāyùguān)
    Jiayuguan or Jiayu Pass, location of the westernmost extant section of the Wall in Gansu Province (甘肃省, Gānsùshěng); jiayu means “excellent valley”
  • 春秋时代 (Chūn-Qiū Shídài)
    Spring and Autumn Period (776-471 BCE or 776-403 BCE), the historical period during which the earliest sections of the Wall were built
  • 明朝 (Míngcháo)
    Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), the period during which most of the extant wall was built; a total of 5,500 miles of wall were built during the Ming
  • 丝绸之路 (Sīchóu Zhī Lù)
    Silk Road, ancient trade route protected by some stretches of the Wall in western China
  • 匈奴 (Xiōngnú)
    Xiongnu, nomadic people traditionally identified with the Huns whose military conflicts with China during the Qin Dynasty (秦朝, Qíncháo, 221-207 BCE) led to the building of long stretches of the Wall

For many more Chinese vocabulary lists and information about tools and resources for learning Chinese,
visit our Chinese Language Resources page.

CIT Tour Packages Featuring the Great Wall


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