The Great Wall ’s worldwide fame has been the source of several hoaxes and false claims over the years, along with myths and legends dating back into history. Here are some of the most interesting (and eyebrow-raising).
During the construction of the Jiayuguan Pass at the Wall in Gansu Province during the Ming Dynasty, a worker named Yi Kaizhan was put in charge of calculating the exact number of bricks needed to complete the Pass. Something of a mathematician, he told the foreman that 99,999 bricks were required. The construction materials were gathered and the Pass was built.
When the foreman came to inspect the work that Yi Kaizhan had overseen, he noticed a brick sitting on a ledge and accused Yi of miscalculating. The punishment was three years’ hard labor for him and his troops. Yi explained that the extra brick had been placed there by a supernatural force; if it was removed, the whole structure would fall down.
Not willing to test this theory, the foreman let Yi off and the brick can still be seen on the Jiayuguan Pass today.
The most notorious prank associated with the Great Wall of China originated in the United States. It started as a prank among four reporters in Denver, Colorado, who plotted to raise readership figures by fabricating a story that an American company planned to knock down the Great Wall and replace it with a road.
The story was published in 1899 at a time when foreign colonalism was rife in China. The British had just secured a 99-year lease on Hong Kong’s New Territories and German troops had taken over Shandong Province in the north of China. Tensions eventually led to the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when the Chinese rose up against imperial powers.
While not a direct cause of the Rebellion, the fake news story certainly did nothing to help diplomatic relations. It spread from Denver to the East Coast and then to Europe and persisted thanks to an ersatz quote from a Chinese official. It wasn’t until 10 years later that one of the reporters admitted that the original article had been a hoax.
One of the most persistent legends surrounding the Great Wall  is that it’s visible from the Moon. The myth is based on an extremely shaky statement made in 1754 by a British archaeologist and historian named William Stukeley, who said that the Wall “makes a considerable figure on the terrestrial globe and may be discerned at the Moon.” During the 19th century, notable scientists backed up his rather ambitious claim, based on the belief that canals could be seen on Mars.
It wasn’t until modern technology allowed humankind to travel into space that the claims were debunked. Viewing the Wall from the Moon with the naked eye would be like seeing a human hair from three kilometers (1.9 mi) away. Neither Neil Armstrong and the Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei were able to pick out the Great Wall on Earth during their space missions. However, a photograph taken from the International Space Station by Chinese-American Leroy Chiao shows a very indistinct image of the Wall, but this is due to heavy magnification.