The official length of all the sections of the Great Wall in all dynasties is 21,196 km (13,170 mi). Today, only a few hundred kilometers of original wall are left for you to see.
Below we give you the background behind the figures, explaining what is counted as the Great Wall, and how the length of the Great Wall has changed through different dynasties.
The Official Length: 21,196 km (13,170 mi)
After a five-year-long survey, the total length of the Great Wall was measured. On June 5th, 2012, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that the official length of the Great Wall is 21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi). This is the first time that China has scientifically and systematically measured the length of the Great Wall.
It's a misleading figure as some sections of different eras were built on top of or right next to each other. Also isolated sections of fortified wall defending state boundaries are included, not just China's northern border wall(s) that people generally think the Great Wall to be.
All Known Sections of the "Great Wall" Were Measured
The Great Wall measured covers all the sections built by seven Warring States (475–221 BC) and at least seven dynasties from Qin to Ming (221 BC – 1644 AD) in 15 provincial-level areas: Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai. The measured length includes 43,721 relics: walls, trenches, towers, walled fortresses, etc.
Lengths of Great Wall by Dynasty
The following table gives a fuller picture of how much wall (approximately) was built when.
|Great Wall Built By||Date||Approx. Length (km)||Using Previous Walls (km)||New Walls (km)||Of Which Not Used Again (km)|
|Warring States||445–222 BC||5,000||0||5,000||2,000|
|Qin Dynasty||221–206 BC||5,000||4,000||1,000||2,500|
|Han Dynasty||206 BC – 220 AD||6,000||2,500||3,500||6,000|
|N. Wei Dynasty||385–584||1,500||0||1,500||500|
|N. Qi / Sui Dynasty||550–618||1,500||1,000||500||1,000|
|Liao / Jin Dynasty||1066–1234||3,500||0||3,500||3,500|
The Ming Great Wall's Length: 8,851 km (5,500 mi)
- Most of the Great Wall visited and seen on photos was built in the Ming Dynasty.
On June 5th, 2012, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and National Administration of Surveying and Mapping announced on April 18th, 2009 that the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty: (1368 – 1644) was 8851.8 km long.
What Was Actually Measured
They measured Great Wall sections in 10 provinces: Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.
They included in the length trenches and natural barriers like mountains, rivers, and lakes. Estimates of the length of actual wall come to over 6,200 km (3,900 miles). However, this includes many side branches that don't contribute to the west-to-east "length".
The shortest distance from the most westerly point of the Ming Great Wall ('The First Strategic Post of the Great Wall' in Jiayuguan) to its most easterly point (Hushan on the Korean border) is 2,235 km (1,389 mi).
Why Chinese Call It the '5,000-Km-Long Wall'
The Great Wall has been called "Wan-Li Changcheng" since the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC).
Wan means 10,000, and a li is half a kilometer. So 10,000 li is 5,000 km (3,100 miles), which was a actually a good estimation of the Great Wall length in the Qin Dynasty. However it continued in use through future dynasties, despite the Great Wall becoming longer.
Wan is also popularly used to mean 'a great number' in Chinese. So, a better translation of Wan-Li Changcheng would probably be "the Great-Number-of-Li-Long Wall", or "the Great Wall" for short!
How Long is the Great Wall in Football Fields?
The Great Wall is a VERY long wall and hundreds of football fields would still be incomparable to its length. So we'll forget about that comparison…
Let's say instead, the total Great Wall length for all time would cross the US east to west 4.9 times!
Perhaps more usefully… The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty would be sufficient to go across the United States' Mexican border (3,000+ km) AND the southern Canadian land border (5,000+ km, not counting the Great Lakes and Alaska)!
More Interesting Info on the Great Wall of China
- Who Built the Great Wall? - from emperors to peasants
- Great Wall Protection - threats, restoration, and saving measures
- Best Times to Visit the Great Wall of China - different scenery in different seasons
- Best Sections of the Wall to Visit: including all the famous sections around Beijing - discover the different features of the various sections, and find the best places for you to visit
Recommended Great Wall Tours
If you want to walk on the Great Wall to admire its majestic winding length, just tell us your interests and requirements, and China Highlights will help you create your own Great Wall tour.
Or please see our recommended Great Wall Tours below for inspiration:
- 1-Day Jiankou-to-Mutianyu Great Wall Hiking Tour: The classic Great Wall steep, wild hiking
- Private 4-Day Emperor's Tour of Beijing: Experience emperor's life.
Not interested in the above tours? See more popular Great Wall tours.
Learn More about the Great Wall
- How Long It Took to Build the Great Wall of China?
- Why the Watchtowers Were Built on the Great Wall?
- What Was the Great Wall of China Made of?
- How Was the Great Wall Defended?
- Why the Great Wall WAS, and STILL IS, So Important?
- Why the Great Wall Was Built?
- What to Pack for Great Wall Trips?
- Current Situation of the Great Wall of China
- Great Wall Threat and Protection
- Over 300 Famous People Have Visited the Great Wall