Stretching from Shanhaiguan, by the Yellow Sea, to Jiayuguan Pass in the Gobi Desert, the Great Wall is an astonishing feat of engineering. The practice of building walls along China’s northern frontier began in the fifth century BC and continued until the sixteenth century. Over time, this discontinuous array of fortifications and ramparts came to be known as Wan Li Changcheng (literally, “Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li”, li being a Chinese measure of distance roughly equal to 500m), or “the Great Wall” to English-speakers.
Today, the wall is big business, and is touted by the government as a source of national pride. The restored sections are now besieged daily by rampaging hordes of tourists, while its image adorns all manner of products, from wine to cigarettes, and is even used – surely rather inappropriately – on visa stickers.
Even the most over-visited section of the wall at Badaling is still easily one of China’s most spectacular attractions. The section at Mutianyu is somewhat less crowded; distant Simatai much less so, and far more beautiful. To see the wall in its crumbly glory, head out to Jinshanling, Jiankou or Huanghua, as yet largely untouched by development. For other trips to unreconstructed sections, check out wildwall.com or contact China Culture Center.