A 74-year old man has attracted a lot of attention from across China over the last few weeks, for his incredible dedication to his suprising lifelong mission: counting all the bricks of the Great Wall of China. Zhāng Ming-húa is the son of a melon farmer from the Gansu Province, who joined the Red Guards in 1966, when he was only sixteen years old. In December 1968, in the midst of all the turmoil of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, he met Chairman Mao Zedong and was given a rather singular and unusual mission. He was asked to count the bricks of the Great Wall, in order to inspire greatness in modern-day Chinese by showing them the accomplishments of their ancestors.
Mr Zhāng has devoted his entire life to fulfilling his mission, and he has now almost completed his task. He has only 418.7 kilometers of wall left to count, out of a total of 21,196 km (13,171 miles), and hopes to finish in less than two and a half years. He says he was honored to receive such an important mission and says his main concern in life is to be able to finish before he dies. “This wall is my life” says the old man. “I have put so much time and effort in my job, that I can’t even think of anything else I would rather be doing. At this point, my only wish is to be able to make it to the end.”
The Great Wall is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China to protect it from the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.
Nearly a third of the entire structure has disappeared over time, in great part due to the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), when many bricks were used in building homes, farms, or réservoirs. Despite all the missing bricks and the damages caused by erosion and natural disasters, Mr. Zhāng’s calculations have already surpassed the 3,873,000,000 individual bricks given by most estimations. The elderly man says he wants to complete his mission before giving a definitive count, but he says it should be close to 10 billion bricks.