The Great Invisible Wall Of China

Over my years of traveling back and forth to Asia I’ve flown into Peking on more than one occassion. Each time I have pressed my face to the porthole hoping to see the Great Wall of China. Teachers around the world had taught that man-made barrier against the barbarian horde was visible from low orbit. This claim was based on the English antiquary William Stukeley writing in 1754 about Hadrian’s Roman wall, “This mighty wall of four score miles in length is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the Moon.”

No astronauts in low orbit have seen the Great Wall and I never spotted the Badaling Great Wall near Zhangjiakou snaking across the mountains either upon landing or take-off at Peking.

Now with a life-threatening smog blanketing China’s greatest city throughout the winter, I doubt that Peking is visible from a plane.

Coal-burning power plants and factories churn out a toxic miasma.

I’ve never stopped in Peking long enough to savor those fumes, but I once deboarded on the tarmac.

The sky was clear and the Western Hills shone in the dusk just as they had for Marco Polo, but there was no way he could have seen the Great Wall from Space.

All in the price of progress.

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