E-Travel Log #3: Beijing - The Great Wall

Attention Teachers: Please see teacher notes below.

Dear Students:

Ni men hao! Greetings from China's most famous landmark, the Great Wall. In this report, we're going to take a short stroll on the long wall. We'll also share an old Chinese poem about plum flowers, challenge you with two more guess-who poems about Asian animals and list some more answers to your questions, provided by students in China. Enjoy! (That's Lilia, by the way, in the photo.)


So, are you ready for a walk? A loooooooooong walk? The Great Wall of China, though no longer continuous, stretches across nearly four thousand miles of northern China, starting near the Pacific Ocean and ending deep in the Gobi Desert. Though some wall sections were built over 2,700 years ago, most of the construction was completed during the Qin (221 to 206 B.C.) and Ming Dynasties (1368-1644 A.D.), carried out by hundreds of thousands of soldiers, laborers, prisoners and slaves. The work was so hard and dangerous (those who the wall was built to keep out sometimes attacked) that many of the workers died - and legend has it - became part of the wall itself.


The wall was built to protect China from its Mongolian and Manchurian neighbors to the north. Despite all the effort, though, the Manchus crossed the wall in 1644 to defeat the Ming, establishing the Qing Dynasty. Since then, the wall has been slowly crumbling. Nowadays, its ruins serve as playgrounds and construction materials in bordering towns. In some cases, whole sections of the wall have even been bulldozed to make room for factories and other projects. Still, some stretches, like the one we are walking today, have been recently reconstructed for tourism.

So, while the Chinese students we see hiking the wall on school field trips might claim that it's the only man-made structure visible from space (since their text books say so), the truth appears to be otherwise. Even Yang Li Wei, who last year became the first Chinese astronaut to enter space, admitted that he did not see the Great Wall as he orbited the earth.


Nevertheless, as we climb this twisting, rolling mass of earth, brick and rock - a giant snaking stone river, it's mind-boggling to imagine how monumental the wall once was. Just look at one small section and consider how much work it took to make it. Then extrapolate! Speaking of extrapolating: Just for fun, try estimating how many bricks and stone blocks it would take to build a four thousand mile long wall!

Curiously, though, while it is clearly the most labor-intensive and far-reaching human construction project ever, the wall is not officially one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. That's because the Greeks who named those seven wonders probably didn't even know the Great Wall existed - and they picked wonders closer to their home - in Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq. Just for the record, the official Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are as follows:

The Statue of Zeus
The Temple of Artemis
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The Colossus at Rhodes
The Pyramids of Egypt.

If you are like most people, you probably have never even heard of most of those. (That might be because only one of them - the pyramids - still exists today!) Most scholars agree that an updated and more international list would certainly include the Great Wall. Other candidates would be the Temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, Machu Pichu in Peru, the Acropolis in Greece, the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt, Chichen Itza in Mexico, and the Taj Mahal in India.


Just for the record, here are the official Seven Wonders of the Natural World (though, again, there many other notable candidates):

Mount Everest
The Great Barrier Reef
The Grand Canyon
Victoria Falls
The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro
The Paricutin Volcano
The Northern Lights

According to the American Society of Civil Engineering, the seven greatest civil engineering achievements of the 20th century, known as the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (a list that is also hotly debated), are:

The Channel Tunnel (Between England and France)
The CN Tower (Toronto)
The Empire State Building (New York City)
The Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)
The Itaipa Dam (Brazil/Paraguay)
The North Sea Protection Works (The Netherlands)
The Panama Canal (Panama)


By the way, 'the eighth wonder of the world' is a phrase often used to describe any especially beautiful or amazing person, place or object. So who or what is your candidate for the eighth wonder?


During the Ming Dynasty, the main purpose of the Great Wall was not so much to keep people out of China, but to stop horses from entering. That's because the Mongolians and Manchurians had perfected the use of horses in battle. Interestingly, the concept of stopping horses by putting a barrier in front of them also occurs in Chinese chess. Horses in Chinese chess, like knights in western chess, can jump over other pieces: but, when an opposing piece is placed immediately in front of the horse, it cannot move at all. It is said to have a du ma jiao - stuck horse leg.


In China there is a saying, 'Your life is not complete until you have been to the Great Wall'. So, now that you've traveled there with us, sort of, you could say your life is virtually complete.


While walking the wall, we saw lots of plum trees in full bloom. They added a refreshing splash of brilliance on a hazy spring day. Here is a famous ancient Chinese poem praising the plum flower, which is usually the first bloom of spring and sometimes blooms while there is still snow on the ground.

Praising the Plum Flower

A single branch of plum flowers tucked away in a corner
Opens all alone in the crisp air
From afar, one knows it is not snow
For the subtle fragrance that passes

Since the plum flower opens when it is still cold, it is a symbol in China of faith and persistence in the face of hardship. Often Chinese poets connect the virtue of something in nature with themselves or other people. So, here, the poet is suggesting that he and others must follow their beliefs despite a hostile environment.

Look at the poem in pinyin, a phonetic way of writing Chinese:

Yong Mei

Qiang jiao yi zhi mei,
Ling han du zi kai.
Yao zhi bu shi xue,
Wei you an xiang lai.

The poem is an example of Chinese gushi, ancient poetry. Notice that there are five Chinese characters in each line. Each Chinese character has one syllable. The last words of the first and third lines rhyme (mei and xue rhyme with the English word way). Likewise, the last words of the second and fourth lines rhyme (kai and lai rhyme with the English word eye). These features of the poem are lost in translation.

Though gushi can be much older and have varying forms, it reached its peak of expression during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Poets Li Bai and Du Fu of this period are China's most famous poets. Tang gushi usually consists of four lines of five or seven characters (and therefore syllables) each. The lines may or may not rhyme. We'll tell you more about gushi in upcoming travel logs.


Here are two more guess-who animal poems, one featuring an animal we saw at the Great Wall and the other making reference to the Great Wall. The poems are modeled after gushi, since they have four lines each with five or seven syllables per line.

Animal #1

Grandest hauler of them all
Nothing about you is small
Half as wide as you are tall
Not so long as China's wall

Animal #2

Moon shines in the night
Sun shines in the day
Black's a clawful sight
White scares you away

The answers to the poems in the last report are the tiger and the cricket.


These questions were answered by third graders at the Wu Li Qiao Complete Elementary School in Dali, China.

1. Do you have art classes and what do you do in them if you do? Yes, we have art classes. We sing songs, learn to draw, practice skits and when we have a festival we use the art classes to practice performing.

2. Do you eat with fork and knives? No, we don't.

3. Do you have butterflies in China? Yes, actually there are many butterflies in Dali area. We have a famous Butterfly Spring where lots of butterflies live.

4. Do you have libraries in China? Yes, we have libraries in every city and almost every school. Our teachers have opened a library with a lot of children books for us.

5. Do all families have cars? No, only some do.

6. What happened to people who didn't obey the Emperors' orders years ago? We are not very sure since the emperors' time was a long time ago and we haven't been taught that.

7. How do you go to school? We all live close to the school so we walk to the school. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes.

8. What is your lunchtime like? We all go home to eat since we live so close. We finish classes in the morning at 11:50 and we come back to school before 1:50.

9. Where do you go on field trips? Our school has taken us to Xia Guan, a city close to Dali. We have also gone on field trips to the Butterfly Spring, Wu Wei Temple. But the Zhu Hai Amusement Park is our favorite. Every time we go, the whole school walks for an hour to the park. We see animals there and it's a lot of fun.

10. What kind of technology do you have in your classroom? Our school is a rural elementary school so we don't have a lot.

11. What does your classroom look like? We have a blackboard, a podium for our teachers and lots of wooden chairs and desks for us to sit and study. Usually two students share one desk and so we all have our deskmates.

12. What kind of books do you read? We read a lot of children's cartoon books on Chinese stories. We like to read Journey to the West, a classical Chinese book about how the monkey king helped his monk master to find the true prayers in India.


That's all for this travel log. In our next report, we'll be traveling to a city on the Silk Road called Xi'an to visit the site of the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. Till then, learn lots!

Paul and Lilia
China Project Coordinators


Teachers: Here is a good link for maps of the Great Wall: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/scene/

Here are links to good 'Seven Wonders' sites:





Next Report

E-Travel Log #3: Beijing - The Great Wall

© 2007 OneWorld Classrooms. All rights reserved.