Tag Archives: Wonders

What’s so ‘Great’ about the Great Wall? A History of the Great Wall of China

News and Travel Editor

What’s so great about the Great Wall of China and why does it deserve its name?

Its size? The average height of the wall is 7.8 metres and the highest point is 14 metres.

Its length?  The total length of all sections of wall built throughout the dynasties reaches 13,170 miles. If stretched out in a straight line, the Great Wall could travel almost half way around the equator.

Its weight? Some people estimate an incredible 58,095,000 tons! That’s 9 times heavier than the collective weight of the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Or was it known by a different name when it was built and simply became the ‘Great Wall’ as time passed? We hope to answer all these questions and more by separating the facts from the legends and myths.

The Great Wall was, and remains, the longest man-made construction in the world. This might explain why today we’ve refer to it  as ‘Great’, but when it was built, it was simply known as the ‘Long Wall’ or ‘Long City’, as it was simply seen as a stretched out, giant, city wall.

Unsurprisingly, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, alongside Machu Picchu in Peru, the Colosseum in Italy and Petra in Jordan. But it was not built over one time period. Instead, the Great Wall has been built, modified or extended for around 2,000 years since the 7th and 8th centuries after regular invasions from the Mongols in the north.

We’ve all heard stories of workers being buried under the wall, but there are many other entertaining legends and myths surrounding the structure. The stories are incredibly wide-ranging and perhaps the most entertaining has been featured in a recent Hollywood-Chinese movie starring Matt Damon. The Great Wall film plays with the myth that the wall was not intended for keeping out the Mongol invaders from the north, but was in fact needed to protect China from supernatural forces.

But our all time favourite story is one that we think might just have a little bit of truth in it;

The Legend of Yi Kaizhan tells the story of the Yi, a mathematician who explained that it would take exactly 99,999 bricks to build the section of wall at Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province. His supervisor argued that if he was wrong, the entire workforce would be forced to do 3 years hard labour as punishment. Guess what? It took 99,998. Thankfully, good old Yi had a trick up his sleeve.  Even though the left over brick hadn’t been used in the construction, Yi quickly suggested that a supernatural being had placed it close by and that moving it would force the wall to collapse. Suspicious, the supervisor never moved the brick and, legend has it, the brick can still be found in the same spot today…

Whilst we can’t vouch for this story, one thing we can say is that, unfortunately and contrary to popular belief, the wall cannot be seen from space. This is probably because the original statement was made before anyone actually went into space… Even NASA admit that the Great Wall becomes somewhat less great when photographed from a low earth orbit.

Finally, did you also know that the wall is not really an ‘it’ but more of a ‘them’? The wall was very much built in sections, with many overlapping and some more ancient and wild sections crumbling away. That might also be because many sections of the wall are not built from bricks and mortar, but are sometimes moulded from the earth to create humps in the ground which are often reshaped by the weather.

Have you visited the Great Wall recently? Can you vouch for any of these stories? Please let us know if you go to Jiayuguan and find that famous supernatural brick still sitting there…

China’s Oldest Resident: The Ginkgo Tree

News and Travel Editor

Fall is my favourite season of the year, with darker, cosier evenings and the changing colours in the trees. But have you heard of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree? It’s famous in China for being one of the oldest living tree species and shedding its brilliantly golden leaves at the start of Fall (also known as autumn in other parts of the world!).

There are both ‘male’ and ‘female’ trees, with the female producing a strange, whiffy, fruit which is often described as smelling like ‘rancid butter’. Remember to take your nose pegs if you’re planning on visiting your local Ginkgo tree anytime soon…

The fruit can actually pose a massive problem in cities with people regularly slipping on it after it has fallen from the tree, resulting in male only trees being used in urban areas.

Nonetheless, the Gingko Biloba tree is often planted near temples, shrines and castles and can be seen as an object of holy worship as well as being able to ward off evil spirits.

The species is thought to be around 350 million years old, making the tree a symbol of longevity and vitality. Reports of the oldest individual tree are wildly varied, ranging from 1,400 years to 10,000 years!

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Image by CS76.

The leaves of Ginkgo trees are used for herbal medicine and are said to have a range of medicinal qualities including being able to improve blood circulation and relieve Alzheimer’s. It’s also a hugely popular drug in France and Germany, accounting for 1.5% of their total prescription sales!

The Ginkgo tree is known also to be exceptionally hardy and able to withstand disastrous events. Some trees in China show signs of lightning damage but continue to grow and blossom out of disfigured trunks.

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Image by travel oriented. CC Attribution 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

So there you have it, the Ginkgo tree is more than just a pretty sight. Choosing to ignore its pungent fruit, the tree is also an allegedly effective healer and keep away unwanted spirits (perfect, just in time for Halloween!).

Fancy a spot of ‘leaf peeping’ yourself? Here are our favourite places to go!

Dajue Temple, Beijing.
The Ginkgo tree here is reportedly 1,000 years old and is easily accessible in the suburbs of Beijing. There are 3 other Ginkgo trees at the temple, the tallest being 30 metres, with a diameter of 7 to 8 metres.

Stone Buddha Temple, Beijing.
This Ginkgo was planted in the Tang Dynasty, 1,200 years ago! This tree is female and produces fruit every autumn. You have been warned…

Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple, Xi’an, Shanxi Province.
This tree was also planted during the Tang dynasty and is on the national protection list of trees. Monks at the temple often meditate amongst the fallen leaves.