How Long Is The Great Wall of China

Is the Great Wall of China Longer Than Previously Thought?

Experts once believed that the Great Wall of China only stood 5,500 miles long, but a new archaeological survey done by China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage says the Great Wall is more than double than that length.

Jan Cobb / GettyImages

The report, released early June, estimates that the Great Wall extends 13,170 miles long and across 15 provinces. According to the Los Angeles Times:

That’s more than half the circumference of the globe, four times the span of the United States coast to coast and nearly 2 1/2 times the estimated length in a preliminary report released in 2009, two years into a project that saw the Chinese measure it for the first time.

Traditonally the Great Wall was thought to extend from Jiayuguan to Shanhaiguan, in the Bohai sea. That was amended in 2001 when Chinese archaeologists claimed it also extended to Xinjiang, where China’s Muslim Uighur people live. Now it’s been extended further east – practically to China’s very own border.

Unfortunately the new estimates are ruffling a few feathers, as it’s being seen China asserting its own grandeur. The announcement has upset neighboring Koreans, who contest that sections of the wall that Beijing is now laying claim were originally built by ancient Koreans from the Koguryo kingdom who occupied modern-day Manchuria. The new estimates bring the eastern end of wall straight to North Korea’s doorstep.

The problem lies in the fact that there is no consensus about what the Great Wall is, according to David Spindler, a leading expert on the subject. Indeed, Yan Jianmin, the office director for the Great Wall Society, a specialist nongovernmental organization, admits these ambiguous definitions are reflected in the new estimates. “The previous estimation particularly refers to Great Walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties,” says Yan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t valid new discoveries of the Wall. Just last year, British explorer William Lindesay stumbled across an unknown section sitting in Mongolia, where Genghis Khan often ran his military campaigns. A man named Zhang Lingmian, who resides north of Beijing, was collecting walnuts last fall when he discovered some strange stones that he thought must have been part of famous man-made structure.

But then again, it’s not as simple as it seems. The question remains, how do you distinguish the ruins of the Great Wall of China from what’s merely an old wall?

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How long is the Great Wall of China?

21,196 kilometers (13,170 miles)
The total length of the Great Wall of China built in different dynasties is 21,196.18 kilometers (13,170.69 miles), announced by China's State Administration of Cultural Relics in 2012. The length of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is 8,851.8 kilometers (5,500.3 miles), and there is about 526 kilometers (327 miles) lying in Beijing.

How long is the Ming Great Wall? - 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi)
The Ming Great Wall is the best-preserved among all, extending from Hushan in Liaoning to Jiayuguan in Gansu. It includes 6,259.6-kilometer (3,889.5-mile) artificial wall, 359.7-kilometer (223.5-mile) trench and 2,232.5-kilometer (1,387.2-mile) natural barrier. It is composed of 5,723 beacon towers, 7,062 watching towers, 3,357 wall platforms and 1,026 other related ruins. The Great Wall sections in Beijing are mainly left by the Ming Dynasty.

Many ancient dynasties have participated in building the Wall, and many sections are located in remote mountains, grassland or deserts which make the measurement a problem. Thanks to modern measuring techniques, and after a 5-year archaeological survey, the total length has been finally revealed, as 13,170.69 miles (21,196.18 kilometers). The surprising length is more than twice as long as the previous estimates.

The wall relics mainly distribute in 15 provinces and regions, including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai. There are 43,721 relics, including the walls, trenches, towers, and fortresses.

1/3 of the Great Wall has disappeared.
The wall is becoming shorter and shorter day by day due to the natural erosion and human activity. Some people tore down the wall in the name of modern construction, or even took the bricks from the wall for private use. All of these actions brought large damage to the wall and many parts became unrecognizable. The implementation of the Protection Regulation since 2006 stops some human damage, but the length of the Great Wall has been inevitably shortened.

The length of the Great Wall is increasing due to new finds and renovations.
40% of the restoration of Jiankou Great Wall in Beijing is finished by the end of 2016. Hefangkou, Xishuiyu, and many other wild sections are also under renovation, making the wall total longer and longer.

In 2012, a greater than 40-kilometer (24.9-mile) length of Ming Wall was discovered in Jixian County, Tianjin, which is one twentieth of the entire Ming Great Wall. Also in 2012, a 1.3-kilometer (0.8-mile) remnant wall was detected, which belongs to the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 - 577). In 2014, a wall of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC - 9 AD) measuring 46.585 kilometers (28.95 miles) was found in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia. In addition, the nine new sections of the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BC) were found at the boundary between Ningxia and Gansu in 2015. And around 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) long section was discovered in Liangcheng County, Inner Mongolia in 2017.

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