The Great Wall and the Ming Tombs

Listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Great Wall stretches over 4 thousand miles, rising and falling with the undulating terrain, traversing mountain ranges, vast deserts, and grasslands. If the earth, stones, and bricks making up the wall were used to construct a smaller wall, only five meters high and one meter thick, that wall could circle the globe at the equator. When China was made up of small, independent kingdoms, during the period from 770 to 221 B.C. the rulers of those kingdoms built walls to defend their own lands from nomadic tribes outside their borders, as well as from one another. Then, in 221 B.C., when Qin Shi Huang, the founding emperor of Qin Dynasty, unified China under his own rule, he conscripted men above the age of fifteen to join these separate walls into a single, longer structure. Legend tells many tales of the anguish suffered by the families of the conscrpted workers. Later dynasties--most notably, the Han (206 B.C.--A.D.220) and the Ming (A.D.1368--1644)--extended the wall and added battlements, guard towers, and sentry posts. Several sections of the great wall, particularly those built under the Ming dynasty, still stand intact in the outskirts of Beijing, testifying to the high quality construction during that period. The sections of the wall at Jinshanling, Badaling, Mutianyu, and Simatai are some of the best-known, the most attractive to tourists. The Jinshanling section of the wall, built along the ridge of a mountain to give Chinese soldiers the advantage of high terrain when resisting invading armies, is kept with towers in different styles--sixty-seven can be found within a ten-kilometer stretch. The most impressive of these is the store house tower, which was used as a garrison headquarters and is protected by special defensive barriers and an extra wall 60 meters downhill. The grandiose Badaling section of the wall is 8.5 meters high, and rests on a foundation of granite blocks weighing 1,000 kilograms each. Ten people can walk shoulder-to-shoulder across the pathway on top. The section near Gubeikou, north of Beijing, is sometimes thought to be the most scenically impressive part of the entire wall. When the space shuttle, Apollo 11, made the first manmade lunar landing, it was reported that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure easily visible from space with the naked eye.

“You are not a great man yet before you climb the Great Wall." In China nearly every tourist knows the famous Chinese saying. The wall, zigzagging for about 600 kilometers in the mountainous area in the north part of Beijing, protected the ancient capital from invasions. The greatest man-made structure on earth, the Great Wall has its most wonderful sections in Beijing. As strategic importan posts, the Badaling, Mutianyu and Simatai sections were reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty. Now they have become highlights of a Beijing tour. The great wall was put on the World Heritage list by the UNESCO in 1987.

50 kilometers north of Beijing, at the foot of the Tianshuo Mountain, there is a resplendent and magnificent architectural group. It is the Ming Tombs where 13 Ming emperors and 23 empresses were buried. Each tomb has a Ling'an Hall, a Ming tower and a underground palace. Chang-ling is the tomb of Zhu Li, the third emperorof the Ming Dynasty. It is the largest among the 13 tombs. Ling'an Hall of Chang-ling is as big as the Hall of Supreme Harmony at the Palace Museum (Forbidden City). So far, only Ding-ling has been excavated and open to tourist. Tourists may walk into the underground palace to see the excavated cultural relics.

Buried in Ding-ling were Emperor Wanli and his two empresses. The 1,195 square-meter underground palace is a beamless stone structure. More than 3,000 cultural relics unearthed reflect that technology in textile, carving, casting and weaving in China in the Ming Dynasty has already achieved a very high level.

The whole tomb area starts from a stone archway and is linked by a seven-kilometer-long road flanked by stone statures. 12 generals and 24 animals. Worn by the changing weathers of the past 500 years, they still look very vivid today.