China map - Photos by Judy Dong - Encounter China Tours, Beijing, China

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The Great Wall is the ultimate symbol of China. It's mentioned in the National Anthem, it's on bank notes, and it's used to sell anything from red wine to automobiles. The Chinese refer to the wall as Changcheng (长城), or as the 10,000 Li Great Wall (万里长城-Wan Li Changcheng), a li being a measure of distance equal to 500m.

The Great Wall of China stretches East to West from Shanhaiguan on the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert's Jiayuguan, a fortress traditionally viewed as the last outpost of civilisation, a distance of over 6000km. The wall was begun in the Qin Dynasty (221-207BC) when China was first united under one flag.

Later dynasties expanded and repaired what they inherited. The Ming dynasty saw the most building work, and it was during this time that the wall first came to be faced with bricks and stone. Most of the wall visible today dates from this era. Up to one million workers may have died in the wall's construction, many of whom were convicts or forced labourers, hence the wall acquired another nickname, 'the longest graveyard in the world'. The construction used an estimated 180 million cubic metres of earth.

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