Slideshow: A Really Great Wall


So, back around 221 BC there was this emperor named Shih Huang Ti who said, “We’re going to build a really great wall.”

What he did, actually, was join a bunch of existing walls with the aim of creating one really great one to keep out marauders from the north (Why do marauders always come from the north)? Thus began a 2 thousand year public works project that would create the 5,500 mile Great Wall of China. To put that in terms that Americans can understand, that is 175,000 football fields, give or take thousands.

The Great Wall 1987

This immense endeavor plodded along until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when some three hundred thousand prisoners, peasants and others out of favor with the emperor were conscripted to finish the job. The emperor raised taxes to do this.

I  can’t fully attest to this account as it came from several internet sources and I didn’t inspect the construction site until 1987, the year The Great Wall was placed on UNESCO’S World Heritage List, but I do swear that this wall is really big and pretty damn great.

When I was first visited, only a few people and a few touts wandered between its watchtowers. I bought a Mao cap from one for 25 cents. Much of the wall was in rubble. Today, some areas are pristinely restored. Badaling, which I just visited, gets millions of visitors a year but there are other sites, off the tourist track, that are more rubbly and original.

Slip across the border from Beijing county into Huialai Valley and suddenly you see old China, men with brooms sweeping the streets, stacks of corncobs and something new, vineyards. Wandering among the vines, I found crumbling watchtowers and portions of wall, some half-buried in earth. This area, beyond the major tourist stops, is emerging as a major wine growing region, determined by satellite pictures, climatologists  and viticulturists to be the best terrior in China. With high speed rail to the region, now under construction for the 2022 Olympics, this valley may one day become a touring and tasting hotspot.

Sip really great wines on a really Great Wall.


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