I met a 35-year-old man from Beijing, China, who has never been to the Great Wall of China. He said just like him there are millions of other people in China who have never seen the Great Wall. What’s more, they have no interest. I, an American, have made three trips to the Great Wall, two in the last few months, with more planned.
The bottom line is many Chinese have no interest in their centuries-old structures and antiquities. Those may be lingering feelings from the days when Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and in subsequent years the communists declared many of those ancient structures unwelcome in the new society. Systematically they began to destroy ancient temples and structures under the guise of a “cultural revolution”. In the name of modernity and progress, China also destroyed and removed structures and other relics thousands of years old.
Many Chinese people I meet simply don’t value what foreigners hold historically important. One of my Chinese friends, for instance, managed to go his entire life without visiting the Forbidden City, even though he lived within minutes of it. It was only a few days ago that he was dragged pretty much kicking and screaming by a group of his foreign friends to the expansive Forbidden City, the place from which emperors ruled China. He held little passion for the place, explaining there were better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, on a recent trip to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, located on the outskirts of Beijing, it was a bunch of insistent foreigners who finally convinced their Chinese handlers to add a few minutes to the itinerary to visit the Marco Polo Bridge steps from the museum.
“It’s just a bridge” one Chinese handler said, dismissing the historic significance of the bridge known to the Chinese for centuries as the Lugou Bridge – the stone bridge Marco Polo detailed in his travelogue – the bridge where World War II began in the Pacific theater.
I suppose it’s the same in other countries. People take things for granted. There was a time when modern-day Italians allowed the Roman ruins to be picked apart and vandalized. And there are people in New York City who have never been to the Statue of Liberty, even though it’s a short ferry ride. So it goes. You’re not going to convince people why some things are worth seeing, even preserving.
For those with genuine interest in visiting the Great Wall of China, it’s also not as difficult as some – tour operators – would have you believe. Save your money. No need for tours or tour guides if you plan to come to Beijing and want to see the Great Wall of China. For a roundtrip grand total of less than $12, you can be on the Great Wall within 2 hours. And this stretch of the Great Wall, known as Jinshanling in Heibei Province, is largely unrestored – what the Chinese would refer to as “wild wall” – unlike Badaling or even Mutianyu sections.
Here’s what you need to do to get to the Great Wall of China without a pricey tour, meaning on your own: There is a direct bus to Jinshanling Great Wall that leaves every morning at 8 a.m. There are several other buses that leave daily but you do not want to be on any of those, as they make stops along the way that can add up to two hours to the trip. Aim for the 8 a.m. direct bus and no other, please. To get to the bus, you will need to take the subway (you can also take a taxi there, but that is of course adds to your transportation costs. You want to take subway lines 13 or 15 to Wangjing West station. Once there, use Exit C. It’s a nice lengthy walk underground to the point you emerge on the street. Once you are outside, turn right and go across the street where you will see a large red sign that says Tickets to Jinshanling Great Wall. Your bus is there, clearly marked 8 a.m. You will likely see some other foreigners waiting in that line. That’s it.
The bus will drop you off at the visitor center where you can purchase tickets to enter the Great Wall area. You will have approximately five hours to explore the wall before the bus departs to return to Beijing. Do not miss your bus! The driver will tell you – in Chinese, sorry, you will have to ask someone on the bus what the driver is saying – when to meet and where for the return bus. Enjoy. I’m off to convince a couple of Chinese friends a visit to the Great Wall is not only easy, it’s totally worth it.