Is the Great Wall of China Longer Than Previously Thought?

A new report doubles the estimated length of the Great Wall, but this claim is under dispute

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Jan Cobb / GettyImages

Experts once believed that the Great Wall of China only stood 5,500 miles long, but a new archaeological survey done by China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage says the Great Wall is more than double than that length.

The report, released early June, estimates that the Great Wall extends 13,170 miles long and across 15 provinces. According to the Los Angeles Times:

That’s more than half the circumference of the globe, four times the span of the United States coast to coast and nearly 2 1/2 times the estimated length in a preliminary report released in 2009, two years into a project that saw the Chinese measure it for the first time.

(MORE: New Section of Great Wall Discovered in Mongolia)

Traditonally the Great Wall was thought to extend from Jiayuguan to Shanhaiguan, in the Bohai sea. That was amended in 2001 when Chinese archaeologists claimed it also extended to Xinjiang, where China’s Muslim Uighur people live. Now it’s been extended further east – practically to China’s very own border.

Unfortunately the new estimates are ruffling a few feathers, as it’s being seen China asserting its own grandeur. The announcement has upset neighboring Koreans, who contest that sections of the wall that Beijing is now laying claim were originally built by ancient Koreans from the Koguryo kingdom who occupied modern-day Manchuria. The new estimates bring the eastern end of wall straight to North Korea’s doorstep.

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The problem lies in the fact that there is no consensus about what the Great Wall is, according to David Spindler, a leading expert on the subject. Indeed, Yan Jianmin, the office director for the Great Wall Society, a specialist nongovernmental organization, admits these ambiguous definitions are reflected in the new estimates. “The previous estimation particularly refers to Great Walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties,” says Yan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t valid new discoveries of the Wall. Just last year, British explorer William Lindesay stumbled across an unknown section sitting in Mongolia, where Genghis Khan often ran his military campaigns. A man named Zhang Lingmian, who resides north of Beijing, was collecting walnuts last fall when he discovered some strange stones that he thought must have been part of famous man-made structure.

But then again, it’s not as simple as it seems. The question remains, how do you distinguish the ruins of the Great Wall of China from what’s merely an old wall?

Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

9 comments
rickjet2012
rickjet2012

It seems that China is always beset by all kinds of argues and criticisms not matter what kind of news it is. I am wondering what do you regard China as? You always propaganda freedom, accusing China of disrespecting human rights. But do you agree that China is still one of the most secure countries in the world? Do you agree that China has made a great progress in recent years? If China do not respect human rights, then what the Chinese government is doing now? What the Chinese people are doing all their life? No research, no rights to comment! So please be a little "just"!

SAI
SAI

I'm gonna say, take your money and vanish. "

If China do not respect human rights, then what the Chinese government is doing now? " Let me tell you what the Chinese government is doing now: fxxking around.

rickjet2012
rickjet2012

To say this shows that it is shameful for you to be called an upright human being. If I take my money and vanish, then you take your profanity and evaporate. We welcome debate but we disdain verbal attacks.

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 No, China simply adapts Soviet historic propaganda methods.

And West happily buys it, at times. Like the uber-stupid concept of Europe being conquered by Chinese consumer goods in 17-18th centuries.

artchild
artchild

May Erica Ho can show us why not!

Eric Ngeth
Eric Ngeth

nations should stop arguing about who's land, land belongs too. Land exists for people to live and nature to take its course...

JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)
JC Sese-Cuneta (謝施洗)

 Oh… so all of us in Asia-Pacific and Mongolia should just watch and do nothing and let China claim everything is owned by them because some historical claim of theirs says so?

Have you been watching the news lately?  All of China's claim is supposedly based on "historical facts".  Whose facts?  Theirs?

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

...and simply succumb to China's outlandish requests.