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Climbing the Great Wall: Badaling Bada Boom

Of all their many enduring and  archetypal  rites of passage, none is more important or regarded than the Chinese belief in ”bú dà Chángchéng fĕi hăo hàn” — which means, essentially, you are not a real man until you have climbed the Great Wall.  We’re not sure about all the technicalities; specifically, whether any credit is bestowed for being carried up it by your mom… in utero.  Whatever the particulars, on May 12, 2010, Laura stout-heartedly (you might even say with headlong, if not belly-wide, abandon) climbed all but a few steps of the 4.7 mile stretch of the Great Wall at Badaling. 

The Wall. It defies the imagination—really, it listens unmindfully to what the imagination has to say and then just goes about its own business winding all over mountains that stretch infinitely far away.  The wall is so paralyzingly vast and distant that it spans in multiple directions beyond the reach of sight. Seriously, its truly great.

Parts of the Great Wall were first built by princes and overlords in the Seventh Century BC as regional border defenses when China was divided into many small states. After the unification of China in the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang (who commissioned his Teracotta Army), linked the walls of the three states in the north (Qin, Zhao and Yan). Since then, the Great Wall was rebuilt, modified or extended throughout Chinese history for over 2,000 years by millions of Chinese people. Most of the Great Wall surviving today was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The construction of the Great Wall continued until the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644).

The Great Wall has been called “the Ten-Thousand-Li-Long Wall” for centuries. One li is about a third of a mile, so 10,000 li is the equivalent of over 3,000 miles. This measure is actually low compared to modern estimates of 5,500 miles. These estimates include trenches and natural barriers like mountains rivers and lakes. Estimates of the length of actual wall come to over 3,900 miles. However, this includes many side branches that don’t contribute to the west-to-east length.

The most impressive fact is that if all the fortified walls built in the different dynasties around northern China are included (including the parts eroded, built, rebuilt and extended), the total length would exceed 31,000 miles.

We visited the Great Wall at Badaling, about 50 miles northwest of Beijing. The Great Wall at Badaling was built in the 18th year (1505) of the reign of Hong Zhi, an emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). Badaling is the section that has been open to the public the longest (since 1957).

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