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  #1  
Old 12-24-2010, 12:12 AM
kauffner kauffner is offline
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"Great Wall" myth originated with Ripley's

Arthur Waldron traced the origin the "Great Wall can be seen from the moon" myth in the book "Great Wall of China." It was popularized by a 1932 Ripley's Believe it or Not column (republished many times).
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  #2  
Old 12-24-2010, 12:15 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Would you like us to know which one of Cecil's columns you are talking about first, or shall we guess? Maybe it's this one?

And is this the book you are quoting?

Last edited by Musicat; 12-24-2010 at 12:17 AM..
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  #3  
Old 12-24-2010, 08:22 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, kauffner, we're glad to have you with us. What Musicat is trying to say is that, when one starts a thread, it's helpful to other readers to provide a link to the column in question. As you might see from our Archives, there are LOTS of old columns, so providing the link saves search time and helps keep responses on the same page.

No biggie, you'll know for next time, and, as I say, welcome.
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Old 12-24-2010, 08:44 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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It looks like the myth originated purely from speculation way before there was any way to verify it, that is, before artificial satellites and men in space. Ripley may have taken the idea and run with it. Subtlety was not his strong point.

http://www.great-wall-china.cn/great...rom-space.html
Quote:
A Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon from May 1932 claimed that the wall is “the mightiest work of man, the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon,” and Richard Halliburton’s 1938 book Second Book of Marvels makes a similar claim, but it is not true. This belief has persisted, assuming urban legend status, and sometimes even appeared in school textbooks. Arthur Waldron, author of The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth, has speculated that the belief might go back to the fascination with the “canals” once believed to exist on Mars.
I have been unable to find the exact Ripley cartoon, but it must be out there. Might be the 10,001th link in the google search, but it's not at the top.

And Dex, if you look in our SDMB archives, you will see I have repeatedly complained that we need a better way for newbies to start a thread like this, something with a link from the column already embedded. Extremely easy to code, and would avoid us having to repeatedly suggest it in threads like these. The need hasn't decreased over the years.
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  #5  
Old 12-24-2010, 09:19 AM
kauffner kauffner is offline
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Link to Ripley's column on Great Wall

Here is a link to the Ripley's column on the Great Wall: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/spa...eys-775778.jpg

I notice a whole list of other popular myths about China presented here as fact; This was one influential column. It's dated March 1932.
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  #6  
Old 12-24-2010, 09:20 AM
Khadaji Khadaji is offline
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I was a big fan of Ripley in the 70s when I was pretty young and I had several of his books - and was very disappointed to find out how much of his facts were fabricated or stretched.
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  #7  
Old 12-24-2010, 09:33 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kauffner View Post
Here is a link to the Ripley's column on the Great Wall: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/spa...eys-775778.jpg
You found it! What a period piece that is.

I noticed that it says, "...the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon." So while Ripley was speculating, he didn't present it as proven fact.
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  #8  
Old 12-24-2010, 09:44 AM
running coach running coach is online now
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Idle speculation.
In another thread, someone mentioned that the wall is hard to see as it's built from local materials and blends in with the ground.

I wonder if it were built from black brick on light ground, would that be enough to be seen from orbit?
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  #9  
Old 12-24-2010, 10:15 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by runner pat View Post
Idle speculation.
In another thread, someone mentioned that the wall is hard to see as it's built from local materials and blends in with the ground.

I wonder if it were built from black brick on light ground, would that be enough to be seen from orbit?
No. The only true bit of largeness about the Great Wall is that it is very long. But no individual piece of it is all that big. Lots of other human constructions, like the pyramids, are wider and higher and more massive.

It's the length that trips people up. They hear 1500 miles or whatever amazing number and think, whoa, that's huge. But length doesn't matter if the materials are small. You have two meters of DNA in every cell but it's still invisible to the naked eye. A piece of string is invisible until you're right next to it, no matter how long it is. Think of the Great Wall as a piece of string and you see immediately that the whole seeing it from a distance trope fails. Maybe it if shot out lasers, but that wasn't likely in 1932.
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  #10  
Old 12-24-2010, 10:25 AM
Biffy the Elephant Shrew Biffy the Elephant Shrew is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
You found it! What a period piece that is.
What, you don't hear the phrase "heathen chinee" in everyday use?

Quote:
I noticed that it says, "...the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon." So while Ripley was speculating, he didn't present it as proven fact.
I just read that as meaning "if only anyone were on the moon to see it." It still presents the claim as factual.
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  #11  
Old 12-24-2010, 10:36 AM
hajario hajario is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Khadaji View Post
I was a big fan of Ripley in the 70s when I was pretty young and I had several of his books - and was very disappointed to find out how much of his facts were fabricated or stretched.
Me too. Tons of bullshit came from that man.
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  #12  
Old 12-24-2010, 12:33 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by runner pat View Post
I wonder if it were built from black brick on light ground, would that be enough to be seen from orbit?
Think of a California freeway. Some are wider than the Great Wall and although not painted to stand out, are often bordered by landscaping which provides contrast. Freeways should make the Great Wall ashamed and insignificant.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew View Post
What, you don't hear the phrase "heathen chinee" in everyday use?
Only in my family.

Last edited by Musicat; 12-24-2010 at 12:34 PM..
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  #13  
Old 12-24-2010, 04:03 PM
Irishman Irishman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew View Post
Quote:
I noticed that it says, "...the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon." So while Ripley was speculating, he didn't present it as proven fact.
I just read that as meaning "if only anyone were on the moon to see it." It still presents the claim as factual.
Yes, he presents it as factual, but Musicat's point is that it is not presented as proven. In other words, Ripley's claim is based upon something like the length of the wall combined with the distance gives an angular ...erm, term slips my mind... that would be resolvable/visible. But his argument neglects the width of the wall, and the contrast with surrounding ground. His claim is based upon an argument, not on a demonstration/observation.
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  #14  
Old 12-24-2010, 05:31 PM
whitetho whitetho is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kauffner View Post
"Great Wall" myth originated with Ripley's
Ripley may have popularized it, but it couldn't have originated with him. A cursory search on books.google.com finds that Henry Norman's 1895 book, The Peoples and Politics of the Far East included the following: "Besides its age it enjoys the reputation of being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the moon." There are some additional examples also dated before the column.

Last edited by whitetho; 12-24-2010 at 05:34 PM..
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  #15  
Old 12-24-2010, 08:21 PM
kauffner kauffner is offline
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There are even earlier references. In 1754, William Stuckley wrote: "the Chinese wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the moon." --The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley (1887) Vol. 3, p. 142. (1754)
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  #16  
Old 12-24-2010, 08:26 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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I love the Dope!

And as for a million men being buried in the Great Wall... yeesh.
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  #17  
Old 12-24-2010, 08:56 PM
kauffner kauffner is offline
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Yes, and "built in 15 years"? Ripley's drawing shows the Badaling section, which wasn't finished until the 17th century.
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  #18  
Old 12-24-2010, 09:38 PM
kauffner kauffner is offline
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The "Martian canal" issue was prominent in the late 19th century, so the idea arose that long thin objects were visible from space. This may be what led people at that time to speculate about the Great Wall and what structures could be seen from the moon.
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  #19  
Old 12-26-2010, 12:00 AM
The Hamster King The Hamster King is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biffy the Elephant Shrew View Post
What, you don't hear the phrase "heathen chinee" in everyday use?
I'm now curious about the question "Can a Chinaman whistle?" which the comic in question promises to answer "next Sunday".

I work with several people of Chinese ancestry. To my knowledge I've never heard any of them whistle. Perhaps when the holidays are over I will ask them if they can ... .
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  #20  
Old 12-26-2010, 04:28 AM
Horatio Hellpop Horatio Hellpop is offline
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If all 1.4 billion Chinese jumped up at the same time... That would be really cool.

I think it was Lenny Bruce who pointed out that the Ripley's column really lost its appeal when newspaper readers got squeamish about human deformities. So take heart: It didn't just start sucking in the 1970s.
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  #21  
Old 12-26-2010, 11:10 AM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Ripley's Believe It or Not started becoming irrelevant by the mid-1960s. The main culprit was TV which made those strange far off lands not so strange and far off. It also became easier to fact check Ripley's.

Maybe Ripley's Believe It or Not actually started dying when Robert LeRoy Ripley kicked the bucket back in the mid 1940s and the Kings syndicate simply found others to carry on. (Believe it or Not: People have actually been named LeRoy!). As many cartoonists will tell you, the people hired to carry on a syndicated feature never are as good as the original. The original was done out of a labor of love. After that, it's only for pure profit.
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  #22  
Old 12-26-2010, 04:22 PM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by qazwart View Post
As many cartoonists will tell you, the people hired to carry on a syndicated feature never are as good as the original. The original was done out of a labor of love. After that, it's only for pure profit.
The latter is certainly not completely true; no one could sanely argue, for example, that Sagendorf's Thimble Theatre wasn't a labor of love (and he was a better draughtsman than Segar, too). And there have been cases where the "replacement" was actually the one who had been doing all the work for decades, while the creator just signed his name and collected the fees.
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