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12 Popular Great Wall Sayings — Proverbs, Idioms, and Famous Phrases

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The Great Wall of China not only served as a military defense system, but also carries a contribution to China's profound literary culture, through the sayings, proverbs, and idioms associated with it.

Our selection of famous idioms, sayings, and phrases about the Great Wall includes their Chinese characters, pinyin (Chinese phonetic alphabet), literal translations, explanation, and allegorical meanings.

1. Heroes overcome — like Mao reaching the Great Wall.

  • 不到长城非好汉。
  • Bú dào Chángchéng fēi hǎohàn.
  • 'Not reach Great Wall not good man.'

Sometimes translated "He who doesn't reach the Great Wall in no hero", it was originally a line from a Mao Zedong poem. See Great Wall Culture for the full poem.

It has come to mean that: to get to their goals admirable people must overcome difficulties.

If you come to China and visit the Badaling or Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, you'll see a stone engraved with this sentence in Chinese.

2. China will never fail — the Great Wall will never fall.

Great Wall
  • 万里长城永不倒,千里黄河水滔滔。
  • Wànlǐ Chángchéng yǒng bù dǎo; qiānlǐ Huánghé shuǐ tāotāo.
  • 'The Ten-Thousand-Li Great Wall never topples; the thousand-li Yellow River pours unceasingly.'

(A li is half a kilometer. The saying is often abbreviated to the first part: 万里长城永不倒.)

The Great Wall here refers to the indomitable spirit of the Chinese people.

3. United we stand — the Great Wall is on peoples' hearts.

  • 要问长城在哪里,就在百姓心坎上。
  • Yào wèn Chángchéng zài nǎlǐ, jiù zài bǎixìng xīn kǎn shàng.
  • 'Want to ask the Great Wall is where, it's on common peoples' heart bottom.'

Or: "If you want to know where the Great Wall is, it's at the bottom of people's hearts."

It means: if the people make a concerted effort, and their wills unite like the Great Wall, the people will overcome all troubles together.

4. No pain no gain — like building the Great Wall

Great Wall
  • 筑就长城千夫苦,何止孟姜一人哭。
  • Zhù jiù Chángchéng qiānfū kǔ, hézhǐ Mèng Jiāng yī rén kū.
  • 'Building the Great Wall thousands of workers suffered; when will the end be of Meng Jiang's lonely crying.'

Meng Jiangnϋ was a legendary lady, who cried so desperately when her husband died building the Great Wall, that the section where he was buried fell down.

It means that big projects are costly, like building the Great Wall. They require thousands of people's hard work and sacrifice.

5. Great endurance — like the Great Wall's weathered bricks

  • 长城上的砖 — 未知经过多少风雨。
  • Chángchéng shàng de zhuān — wèizhī jīngguò duōshǎo fēngyǔ.
  • 'Great Wall's bricks — unknown experienced how much wind and rain.'

The bricks of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) Great Wall have many stories to tell.

It means that the amount of hardship someone has endured is immense, like the centuries of weathering the bricks of the Great Wall have endured.

6. Time is the test of greatness — the First Emperor built the Great Wall…

the great wall
  • 秦始皇修长城,功过后人评。
  • Qín Shǐhuáng xiū Chángchéng — gōng guò hòu rén ping.
  • 'Qin First-Emperor built the Great Wall — achievements undergo later generations' assessment.'

The First Emperor accomplished the great feat of joining the Great Wall on China's northern frontier, an act that has had repercussions through history.

The merits of an action are judged by later generations. It can't be known how great an act is at the time, but it will be known later.

7. Extensive and Unbroken — the Great Wall's long name

  • 万里长城 wànlǐchángchéng 'ten-thousand-li-long wall'

Literally "5,000-km-long wall", it was first used to describe the Qin Dynasty Great Wall, the first united northern frontier wall. It was not intended to state its length, though it was in the right ballpark, but more to say: "the Great Wall is now very, very long".

It is a traditional longer name for the Great Wall of China. 万 can mean 'innumerable' or 'all'. Now any phrase with 万里 ('10,000 li') in it can be assumed to refer to the Great Wall's great length and completeness.

8. Awesome Immovability — the Great Wall's Magnificent Forts

Huanghuacheng Lakeside Great Wall ReserveThe Huanghuacheng Great Wall Section
  • 雄关万里 xióngguānwànlǐ 'heroic forts ten thousand li'

A li is half a kilometer, and wan is often figurative for 'many', so it could be translated "many miles of magnificent fortified passes".

It means: the Great Wall's splendid strategic pass fortresses seem to continue unending.

It's an allegory for sturdiness and unbreakability. It can also be used as a glorific expression of praise.

9. Enemy at the gates! — soldiers below the Great Wall

  • 兵临城下 bīnglínchéngxià 'soldiers at the wall foot'

Its meaning is that the enemy soldiers are already amassing at the foot of the Great Wall, so quickly mount a defense before it's too late.

It's synonymous with "enemy at the gates", a call for immediate action. It's also allegorical for something being at a critical juncture.

10. Embattled — Great Wall smoke signals all around

Great Wall
  • 狼烟四起 lángyānsìqǐ 'wolf smoke four rising'

Great Wall sentries burned wolf dung to send signals from beacon towers when enemies were coming. And, in Chinese, 'four' means on all sides. So, it means 'smoke signals are rising on all sides'.

It's an allegory for being in the midst of a battle.

11. Strength in united numbers — a Great Wall of people

  • 众志成城 zhòngzhìchéngchéng 'a multitude of wills becomes a wall'

An idiom for "unity is strength", the "wall" is referring to the Great Wall, which is synonymous with unity and strength in China.

It means that if many people can get together with the same mind they will become a formidable force. This idea is most famously worded in China's national anthem.

12. Far from home — like the Great Wall's frontier forts

 Jade Gate Pass Jade Gate Pass
  • 孤城绝塞 gūchéngjuésāi 'lonely wall frontier fort'

The Great Wall stretched thousands of miles from China's capital to defend the remote frontier land of the Silk Road. To experience such loneliness, you may want to travel to Jade Gate Pass.

It's an idiom for a very isolated position, having to rely on one's self, and being unable to get external help.

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