Wasn't the Great Wall to Keep Out the Hordes?

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Illustration for TIME by Elwood Smith

Once upon a time in China, there was no better way to get away from it all than by strolling the Great Wall. Beijing's chaos and clutter could quickly be forgotten as one traversed green hills, spending hours in blissful solitude along the snaking path of the world's longest stone structure. No more. The wall remains great, but nowadays it provides a path not to peace but plenty. Commerce is king in new China, and the wall is the centerpiece in the Middle Kingdom's endless quest for kitsch. Even once-wild regions along the wall are filled with billboards boasting one...