New survey's big surprise: China’s Great Wall much longer than previously estimated
The Great Wall of China, as seen near Beijing in March of this year.
June 6th, 2012
10:59 PM ET

New survey's big surprise: China’s Great Wall much longer than previously estimated

China’s first comprehensive measurement of its Great Wall shows it to be 13,170 miles long - thousands of miles longer than previous estimates - state news outlet Xinhua reported this week.

The length of the Great Wall of China - actually a non-contiguous series of defensive systems involving walls, natural barriers and trenches, built from 475 B.C. to 1644 in various areas to fend off invaders - was determined through surveys that began in 2007 at the direction of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Partial results of the survey, announced in 2009, showed that the wall systems built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were 5,499 miles (8,851 kilometers) long, Xinhua reported.

Teams then were instructed to identify and measure pre-Ming Dynasty wall systems throughout China. They found them to be 7,671 miles (12,345 kilometers) in length, said British researcher and author William Lindesay, who studies the Great Wall.

“The figure just announced (13,170 miles, or 21,196 kilometers) is a combination of the length of the Ming plus (the) length of pre-Ming Great Walls,” Lindesay wrote to CNN in an e-mail Wednesday.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reported in 2009 that before the initial survey results were announced, the wall’s length was commonly estimated at about 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers).

The new survey report shows that many of the walls are in bad shape. In some sections, only the foundation remains; and only 8.2% of the walls from the Ming Dynasty are whole, according to Xinhua.

Activities such as mining and infrastructure development have damaged the walls, as have people who have taken soil or bricks from the structures, Xinhua reported, citing the report.

The report said that “the saving and preserving of the Great Wall’s relics should not be delayed,” according to Xinhua.

“These surveys are important groundwork in the protection of the walls, as first they need to be identified, location-recorded and measured,” Lindesay wrote in his e-mail to CNN.

Not all of the 13,170 miles represent actual walls. Among the 5,499 miles reported in the Ming Dynasty section in 2009, 223 miles were trenches and 1,387 miles were natural defensive barriers such as rivers or steep hills that were incorporated into the wall system, according to National Geographic.

The Great Wall of China was put on the UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1987.

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Filed under: Architecture • China
soundoff (144 Responses)
  1. ChinaGeek

    What can I say? We Chinese are timid and insecure beings. 😀 Perhaps a little bit overcompensation, just a little bit.

    June 7, 2012 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. theresa

    I think they should only count actual wall structure & make designations for trenches separate – both are huge (likely slave labor, as were all giant projects all over the world) undertakings.

    June 7, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Fortunately, no one cares what you think.

      June 7, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. weezer

    Difference between Chinese and American men: Chinese say, "Wall about 3100 miles long", where it's really 13000 miles. American say, "Hell...our wall must go around the World twice!"

    June 7, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Owl96

      We have no wall. Some would want it built only from the Gulf to the Pacific.

      June 7, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. Tom

    As Robert Frost Said:
    "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
    That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
    And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
    And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
    The work of hunters is another thing:
    I have come after them and made repair
    Where they have left not one stone on a stone,.."
    But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
    To please the yelping dogs.

    June 7, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      Frost or no Frost...that is a really bad poem.

      June 7, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • fred wall-builder

      Where's the LIKE button?

      June 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. chilly g

    china has such great and long history, would like to visit some day

    June 7, 2012 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  6. honest john

    So who were they planning to export this wall to?

    June 7, 2012 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • fred wall-crumblin

      South Texas 40 but local politicos were wanting Hecho in Mexico

      June 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Duc749

    I agree with theresa – there should be a Great Wall measurement, a Great Trench measurement, and a Great River or Steep Hill measurement.

    June 7, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. maglor

    Some of the 'lengthening' is due to Chinese claiming walls and fortifications of neighboring independent non-Chinese kingdoms to be part of the Great Wall.

    June 7, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    @ Mary, 6:55 AM:
    I agree with you on borders and dumbing down. Also, bootleg whisky traditionally kept money in the sheriff's pocket.

    June 7, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      I'm not a drinker in any sense of the word, that's why I left that one out .
      Morning Joey. 🙂

      June 7, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  10. theolesarge

    Did they measure it with a fishing knife?

    June 7, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jim in Texas

    As the article correctly mentions, it's not a single wall, but a collection of walls. Satellite views in fact show series and segment of walls all over China in various states of renovation, collapse, decay.

    June 7, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • fred wall-measure

      They need to connect those walls together before it is too late! England has started adding new brick to Hadrians Wall. They are determined to surpass the length of THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA©™ BY THE YEAR 2040...

      June 7, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. yankeeshogun

    The Chinese are always claiming that certain things are longer than they really are.

    June 7, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  13. WeDon'tMatter

    Cool, and Venus passed between the Earth and Sun a couple days ago. Will wonders never cease?

    June 7, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  14. OhYeah

    In other news they found a big section of the wall is made up of Chinese Drywall

    June 7, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  15. chuck

    without the great wall of china, there might not have been one in game of thrones

    June 7, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • The Jackdaw

      The Game of Thrones wall is based on Hadrian's Wall in England.

      June 7, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
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