A Living History of the Great Wall

Frequent visitors to this blog and my website are likely aware that my grandfather, Dr. William Edgar Geil, was the first person ever documented to have walked the entire length of the Great Wall of China. He did this in 1908. After writing books and touring the world with stories of this and other adventures, my grandfather fell into obscurity. He died in 1925 after which my grandmother fell into deep grief and locked up his study and papers. It remained closed for over three decades.

This is the trailer for a 2013 documentary about my grandfather.

William Lindesay

My grandfather’s work has been revived and lives on today through William Lindesay.

In the late 1960s, at age 11, William was a young lad in an English town not far from Liverpool. He became mesmerized by a map of China and its depiction of a long continuous structure stretching over 2,000 kilometers. What he didn’t realize then was that this structure, the Great Wall, would become the focus of his life’s work.

In 1987, William Lindesay retraced my grandfather’s steps and walked the entire length of the Great Wall himself. It was an arduous journey physically, emotionally and legally. William was arrested nine times by the police and deported once.

At the time, William didn’t yet know of my grandfather. This would come later when a woman sent him a copy of my grandfather’s book, the Great Wall of China. This and other books by my grandfather are now in the public domain and available to read at Google Books.

In this brief video clip from CNTV’s The Great Wall of Two Williams, William describes his discovery that he and my grandfather had photographed the wall from similar vantage points — 80 years apart!


William ended up living permanently in China where he married a Chinese woman, Qi, and had two sons, James and Thomas. He established WildWall and the International Friends of the Great Wall dedicated to education and preservation of the Great Wall. In 1998 he acquired a property at the foot of the Great Wall and developed The Barracks where the family leads educational programs and hosts WildWall Weekend walking tours.

Last year his sons took their own journey walking and jogging the length of the Great Wall. My grandfather photographed the Great Wall using the technology of his time. Our family has large heavy glass slides that are meant to be viewed with a special lantern. William Lindesay used a 35mm camera. His sons shot videos — 18 stunning videos including drone footage — which I have posted here on the blog.

William has written 10 books, including his two-volume memoir released last year. I reviewed his memoir here on the blog.

William Lindesay’s two-volume memoir available on Amazon.

‘The Great Wall 100’

William’s next project is a 100-part video history of the Great Wall, and his life and work on it. He’s posted three videos as of this writing, all available for viewing at YouTube.

His series is called The Great Wall 100 and he posted this introduction to his first video:

‘The Great Wall 100’ is a series about how I’ve discovered the Great Wall of China story for myself, through exploration, adventures, research and conservation activism. I’ve been in China from the late 1980s. The Great Wall not only lured me to China (from the UK), but it’s kept me in China ever since. For almost four decades I’ve approached the Great Wall from various angles, carrying out varied field and study-work. Along the way I’ve published 10 books in the UK, US, China and Germany, as well curating a number of exhibitions across China. I’m currently working on my ‘Great Wall life story’ in video form, rolling it out as ‘The Great Wall 100’. Keep tuned for the next few years and discover the Great Wall with me.

This is William’s first introductory video. The rest can be watched on YouTube over time as new episodes are uploaded.

Feature image is a screenshot from William Lindesay’s second video.

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