Beijing is not very far from the famous wall that was built to keep the empire of China from the hands of the Tartars. It is commonly mentioned as "The Great Wall," and certainly it is clearly entitled to the honor, as it is the greatest wall in the world. To go to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall would be to leave the journey incomplete, and therefore, one of the first things that our friends considered was how they should reach the wall, and how much time they would require for the excursion.
Walking on Stilts

We shall let the boys tell the story, which they did in a letter to their friends at home. It was written while they were on the steamer between Tianjin and Shanghai, on their return from Beijing.

"We have been to the Great Wall, and it was a journey not to be forgotten in a minute. We found that we should have to travel a hundred miles each way, and that the roads were as bad as they usually are in most parts of China. We went on horseback, but took a mule litter along for use in case of accidents, and to rest ourselves in whenever one of us should become weary of too much saddle. There are no hotels of any consequence, and so we had to take the most of our provisions from Beijing. We did the same way as when we went from Tianjin. That is, we hired a man to supply all the necessary horses and mules for a certain price to take us to the wall and back, and if any of them should fall sick on the road, he was to furnish fresh ones without extra charge. We were advised to make the bargain in this way, as there was a danger that some of the horses would get lame, and if there were no provision for such a case, we should have to pay very high for an extra animal. The Chinese horse-owners are said to be great rascals, almost equal to some American men who make a business of buying and selling saddle and carriage animals. Doctor Bronson says he would like to match the shrewdest Chinese jockey we have yet seen with a horse-dealer that he once knew in Washington. He thinks the Yankee could give the Chinese great odds, and then beat him.

"It was a feast-day when we left Beijing, and there were a good many sports going on in the streets, as we filed out of the city on our way to the north. There was a funny procession of men on stilts. They were fantastically dressed, and waved fans and chopsticks and other things, while they shouted and sang to amuse the crowd. One of them was dressed as a woman, who pretended to hold her eyes down so that nobody could see them, and she danced around on her stilts as though she had been accustomed to them all her life. In fact, the whole party were quite at home on their stilts, and would have been an attraction in any part of America. Whenever the Chinese try to do anything of this sort, they are pretty sure to do it well.
Juggler Spinning a Plate

"Then there were jugglers spinning plates on sticks, and doing other things of a character more or less marvelous. One of their tricks is to spin the plate on two sticks held at right angles to each other, instead of on a single stick, as with us, but how they manage to do it I am unable to say. They make the plate whirl very fast, and can keep it up a long time without any apparent fatigue.

"We passed several men who had small establishments for gambling, not unlike some that are known in America. There was one with a revolving pointer on the top of a horizontal table that was divided into sections with different marks and numbers. The pointer had a string, hanging down from one end, and the way they made the machine work was to whirl the pointer, and see where the string hung when it stopped. The game appeared to be very fair, as the man who paid his money had the chance of whirling the pointer, and he might do his own guessing as to where it would stop. If he was right, he would win eight times as much money as he had wagered, since the board was divided into eight spaces. If he was wrong, he lost all that he put down, and was obliged to go away or try his luck again. The temptation to natives seems to be very great, since they are constantly gambling, and sometimes lose all the money they have. Gambling is so great a vice in China that a good many of its forms have been forbidden by the government. The case is not unusual of a man losing everything he possesses, even to his wife and children, and then being thrown naked into the streets by the proprietor of the place where he has lost his money.

"We stopped to look at some fortune tellers, who were evidently doing a good business, as they had crowds around them, and were taking in small sums of money every few minutes. One of them had a little bird in a cage, and he had a table which he folded and carried on his back when he was moving from one place to another. When he opened business, he spread his table, and then laid out some slips of paper which were folded, so that nobody could see what there was inside. Next he let the bird out of the cage, which immediately went forward and picked up one of the slips and carried it to his master. The man then opened the paper and read what was written on it, and from this paper he made a prediction about the fortune of the person who had engaged him.
Fortune Telling by Dissecting Chinese Characters

"There was another fortune teller who did his work by writing on a plate. He had several sheets of paper folded up, and from these he asked his customer to select one. When the selection was made, he dissected the writing, and showed its meaning to be something so profound that the customer was bewildered and thought he had nothing but good fortune coming to him. We tried to get these men to tell our fortunes, but they preferred to stick to their own countrymen, probably through fear that they would lose popularity if they showed themselves too friendly with the strangers.

"The Chinese are great believers in fortune telling, and even the most intelligent of them are often calling upon the necromancers to do something for them. They rarely undertake any business without first ascertaining if the signs are favorable, and if they are not, they will decline to have anything to do with it. When a merchant has a cargo of goods on its way, he is very likely to ask a fortune teller how the thing is to turn out, and if the latter says it is all right, he gets liberally paid for his information. But in spite of their superstition, the Chinese are very shrewd merchants, and can calculate their profits with great accuracy.

"Well, this is not going to the Great Wall. We went out of Beijing by the north gate, and into a country that was flat and dusty. Fred's pony was not very good-natured, and every little while took it into his head to balance himself on the tip of his tail. This was not the kind of riding we had bargained for, as it made the travel rather wearisome, and interfered with the progress of the whole caravan. We thought the pony would behave himself after a little fatigue had cooled his temper, but the more we went on, the worse he became. When we were about ten miles out, he ran away, and went tearing through a cotton field as though he owned it, and he ended by pitching his rider over his head across a small ditch.
Barber Shaving the Head of a Customer

"Then we found how lucky it was we had brought along a mule litter, as Fred rode in it the rest of the day. Next morning he made our guide change ponies with him. In half an hour the guide was in a mud puddle, and saying something in Chinese that had a very bad sound, but it didn't help dry his clothes in the least. On the whole, we got along very well with the ponies in the north of China, when we remember the bad reputation they have and the things that most travelers say about them.

"We stopped at the village of Sha-ho, about twenty miles from Beijing, and as we had started a little late, and it was near sunset, we concluded to spend the night there. There was not much to see at the village, except a couple of fine old bridges built of stone, and so solid that they will evidently last a long time. A barber came around and wanted to shave us, but for several reasons we declined his proposal, and satisfied ourselves by seeing him operate on a native customer. The Chinese razor is a piece of steel of a three-cornered shape, and is fastened to a handle about four inches long. It is kept very sharp, as any well-regulated razor should be, and a barber will handle it with a great deal of dexterity. The Chinese haven't much beard to shave off, but they make up for it with a very thick growth of hair, which is all removed every ten or twelve days, with the exception of a spot on the crown about four inches in diameter. The hair on this spot is allowed to grow as long as it will, and is then braided into the cue or pigtail that everybody knows about.

"After we left Sha-ho the country became rough, and the road grew steadily worse. Our ponies were pretty sure-footed, but they stumbled occasionally, and Frank narrowly escaped a bad fall. The pony went down all in a heap and threw Frank over his head. He fell on a soft spot, and so was not injured, but if the accident had happened six feet farther on, or six feet farther back, it would have thrown him among the rough stones, where there were some very ugly points sticking up.
Bridge of the Cloudy Hills

"We found another fine bridge on this part of the road, and our guide said it was called the 'Bridge of the Cloudy Hills,' because the clouds frequently hung over the hills in the distance. The Chinese are very fond of fanciful names for their bridges and temples, and frequently the name has very little to do with the structure itself. I am told that there is a bridge in the south of China with exactly the same name as this, and not far from it is another called the 'Bridge of the Ten Thousand Ages.' We have seen the 'Temple of Golden Happiness' and the 'Bridge of Long Repose.' We shall be on the lookout for the 'Temple of the Starry Firmament,' and probably shall not be long in finding it. Strange that a people so practical as the Chinese should have so much poetry in their language!

"We came to the village of Nankow, at the entrance of the Nankow Pass, and stopped there for dinner. Our ride had given us a good appetite, and though our cook was not very skillful in preparing our meal, we did not find fault with him, as we did not wish to run the risk of waiting while he cooked the things over again. The Chinese inn at Nankow is not so good as the Palace Hotel at San Francisco. In fact, it is as bad as any other hotel that we have seen. They don't have much pleasure travel in this part of the world, and therefore it does not pay them to give much attention to the comfort of their guests.

"The Nankow Pass is about thirteen miles long, and the road through it is very rough. The mountains are steep, and we saw here and there ruins of forts that were built long ago to keep out the Tartar invaders of China. Our animals had several falls, but they got through without accident, and, what was more, they brought us to a village where there was an inn with something good to eat.
The God of the Kitchen

"What do you suppose it was? It was mutton, which is kept boiling in a pot from morning until night, and as fast as any is taken out, or the soup boils down, they fill the kettle up again. Mutton is very cheap here, as sheep are abundant and can be bought at the purchaser's own price, provided he will keep himself within reason. Great numbers of sheep are driven to Beijing for the supply of the city, and we met large flocks at several points on the road. Their wool has been exported to England and America, but it is not of a fine quality, and does not bring a high price.

"We passed the ruins of forts and towers every few miles, and our guide pointed out some of the towers that were formerly used for conveying intelligence by means of signal-fires. They are now falling to pieces, and are of no further use.

"This is the road by which the Tartars went to the conquest of China, and there is a story that the empire was lost in consequence of a woman. The Chinese were very much afraid of the Tartars, and they built the Great Wall to keep them out of the country. But a wall would be of no use without soldiers to defend it, and so it was arranged that whenever the Tartars were approaching, a signal should be sent along the towers, and the army would come to Beijing to defend it.

"One day a favorite lady of the emperor's palace persuaded the emperor to give the signal, to see how long it would take for the generals and the army to get to Beijing. He gave the signal, and the army came, but the generals were very angry when they found they had been called together just to amuse a woman. They went back to their homes, and the affair was supposed to be forgotten.

"By-and-by the Tartars did come in reality, and the signal was sent out again. But this time no army came, nor did a single general turn his face to Beijing. The city fell into the hands of the invaders, and they are there today. So much for what a woman did, but it sounds too much like the story of 'The Boy and the Wolf' to be true.
A Lama

"At the last place where we stopped before reaching the Great Wall we found the people very insolent, both to us and to the men in our employ. They said rude things to us, and perhaps it was fortunate that we did not understand Chinese, or we might have been disposed to resent their impudence, and so found ourselves in worse trouble. Our guide said something to a lama, or priest, and he managed to make the people quiet, partly by persuasion and partly by threats. Some of the men had been drinking too freely of samshoo, which has the same effect on them as whiskey has on people in America. It is not unusual for strangers in this part of China to be pelted with stones, but the natives are afraid to do much more than this, as they would thereby get into trouble.

"At the place where we reach the Great Wall there is a Chinese city called Zhangjiakou, but it is known to the Russians as Kalgan. It is the frontier town of Mongolia, and the Russians have a great deal of commerce with it. It stands in a valley, and so high are the mountains around it that the sun does not rise until quite late in the forenoon. Doctor Bronson said there is a town somewhere in the Rocky Mountains of America which is so shut in that the sun does not rise there until about eleven o'clock next day, and we thought it might possibly be a relative of Zhangjiakou. There is an odd sort of population here, as the merchants who trade with the Russians are from all parts of China, and then there are natives of Mongolia from the Desert of Gobi, and a very fair number of real Russians.

"One curious article of trade consisted of logs from the country to the north. They are cut in lengths of about six feet, and are intended for coffins for the people of the southern part of the empire. Wood is scarce in the denserly inhabited portions of China, and must be carried for great distances. It is six hundred miles from the Great Wall to where these logs are cut, and so they must be carried seven hundred miles in all before they reach Beijing. The carts on which they are loaded are very strong, and have not a bit of iron about them.

"We are now at the Great Wall, which comes straggling over the hills that surround the city, and forms its northern boundary. It is very much in ruins, but at the town itself there is a portion of it kept in good repair, and one of the gates is regularly shut at night and opened in the morning. Some of the old towers are still in their places, but the weather is slowly wearing them away, and in time they will all be fallen.
The Hills Near Zhangjiakou

"The Great Wall is certainly one of the wonders of the world, and it was very much so at the time of its construction. It was built two thousand years ago, and is about twelve hundred miles long. It runs westward from the shores of the Bohai Sea to what was then the western frontier of the Chinese Empire. For the greater part of the way it consists of a wall of earth faced with stone or brick, and it is paved on the top with large tiles. It is about twenty-five feet wide at the bottom, and diminishes to fifteen feet wide at the top, with a height of thirty feet. In many places it is not so substantial as this, being nothing more than a wall of earth faced with brick, and not more than fifteen feet high. At varying intervals there are towers for watchmen and soldiers. They are generally forty or fifty feet high, and about three hundred feet apart.

"The wall follows all the inequalities of the surface of the earth, winding over mountains and through valleys, crossing rivers by massive archways, and stretching straight as a sunbeam over the level plain.

"Think what a work this would be at the present day, and then remember that it was built two thousand years ago, when the science of engineering was in its infancy, and the various mechanical appliances for moving heavy bodies were unknown!

"We spent a day at the Great Wall. We scrambled over the ruins and climbed to the top of one of the towers, and we had more than one tumble among the remains of the great enterprise of twenty centuries ago. Then we started back to Beijing, and returned with aching limbs and a general feeling that we had had a hard journey. But we were well satisfied that we had been there, and would not have missed seeing the Great Wall for twice the fatigue and trouble. They told us in Beijing that some travelers have been imposed on by seeing only a piece of a wall about thirty miles from the city, which the guides pretend is the real one. They didn't try the trick on us, and probably thought it would not be of any use to do so.

"We did not stay long in Beijing after we got back from the Great Wall, as we had to catch the steamer at Tianjin. Here we are steaming down the coast, and having a jolly time. We are on the same ship that took us up from Shanghai, and so we feel almost as if we had got home again. But we are aware that home is yet a long way off, and we have many a mile between us and the friends of whom we think so often."


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Great Wall of China: An ancient Chinese fortification, almost 4,000 miles long, originally designed to protect China from the invaders from Mongolia.
Stilts: Two poles with footrests that allow someone to stand or walk above the ground.
Chopstick: A particular East Asian eating utensil, used in pairs and held in the hand.
Fortune Telling: The act or practice of predicting the future (especially for money), as by using a crystal ball, reading palms, reading tea leaves in a cup, etc.; prediction of future events, especially those of a personal nature.
Necromancer: A person who practices fortune telling involving the dead or death.
Superstition: A belief or beliefs, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that events may be influenced by one's behavior in some magical or mystical way.
Shrewd: Showing clever resourcefulness in practical matters.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Tourists on the Great Wall of China.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the countries of China, Mongolia, and Russia on the map of the world.
  • Find the countries of Mongolia and Russia on the map of China.
  • Name the additional countries sharing a border with China.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.