Dr. William Edgar Geil


the Great Wall of China

Dr. William Edgar Geil

William Lindesay, OBE

The Wall of Two Williams

A New Documentary in Production

William Lindesay set out with his wife and sons in July 2016 on a 40-day expedition to retrace his 1987 trek along the Great Wall. Along the way William and his family reconnected with people William had met on his first walk. He met people who had befriended and helped him, including several who were children at the time, and even an officer who had once detained him. This remarkable journey was documented day by day on William's Facebook page and on Instagram. It was a joy to follow their adventure, which I know held both professional and personal meaning for William.

This entire expedition was filmed in HD including aerial photography using drones piloted by William's sons. All this film will be assembled into a new 3-part documentary that will include the full story of William Edgar Geil and the Wall of Two Williams. I will provide information here when it's available.

As I describe in Return to Doylestown, it seems that my grandfather, Dr. William Edgar Geil, and William Lindsay have led parallel lives. My grandfather walked the entire length of the Great Wall of China in 1908. Decades later, in 1987, William Lindesay would also walk the length of the Great Wall. At the time William didn't know about Dr. Geil, but was later sent a copy of my grandfather's book, The Great Wall of China — and thus was born 'The Wall of Two Williams.'

On his website, William describes his journey:

As I boy, aged 11, I saw the Great Wall marked on a map of China. A run along Hadrian’s Wall brought it back into my thoughts, in 1984, just as China was re-opening to the world. I went to China in 1986 and became the most successful foreign explorer of the monument by experiencing its ruins on foot for a distance of 2470 kms.  

I wrote my first Great Wall book, Alone of the Great Wall, in 1988, and then returned to China from Britain in 1990, to settle there, to be at the Wall. Since then I have spent more than 2,300 days on different parts of the ‘Great Walls of China’ — for there are many, built by different dynasties.

As part of his life mission to promote and preserve the Great Wall of China, William leads students, visitors and Chinese citizens on hikes and educational lectures. One multi-day workshop with William is posted to YouTube by THINK Global School. Over several days walking the Great Wall with these students, William explains the cultural and ethnic diversity of China. He talks about how the "Great Wall of China" is actually many walls. It was a system conceived and built in sections, as needed — first as a defensive barrier against invaders and later as a means of transporting troops.

William Discovers William

In another outing with students, William Lindesay describes in detail about how he came to know of Dr. Geil and his resulting project, begun in 1999, to rephotograph the Great Wall. He set out to capture the same scenes my grandfather had photographed nearly a century earlier. He sought to show the Chinese and the world the changes that the Great Wall had undergone over this time.

William talks about Dr. Geil's travels to China, his trek along the Great Wall, his subsequent meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, and then his publication of The Great Wall of China.

Finally, William also describes some of the events in 2008 that led to all of us meeting there in June 2008.

The Great Wall Revisited:
From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon Head

By William Lindesay

This book contains the comparative photographs showing the 'Before' images taken by William Edgar Geil and the 'After' images today taken by William Lindesay. I've seen it in local bookstores or you can order it through Amazon.

Speech to SAS Pudong Students

In 2015 William Lindesay spoke to a group of students from the Pudong campus of the Shanghai American School. His topic for the day was 'The Wall of Two Williams.' Complete with boards and exhibits, William talks of his youthful enchantment with the Great Wall which he walked literally alone, by himself, in 1987. He described being sent Dr. Geil's book and his re-photography project. He also describes our meeting in Doylestown in 2008 and the commemortive plaque left he at Dr. Geil's grave.

William closes by describing how his re-photography project sparked an interest among the Chinese in the Great Wall, the changes its undergone and the need to preserve it.

The Great Wall in 50 Objects

Willam Lindesay's latest book is The Great Wall in 50 Objects. In his Introduction, William wrote,

In 2012, I decided to come down from the Wall, so to speak, to investigate stories that were in the periphery — running beneath, beside, inside and out — and, sometimes, took place very far away from the Wall itself. This foraging took me into farmyards, museums, libraries, galleries, universities, workshops and collectors' homes. I was looking for things which, one way or another, were inextricably linked to the story of the Wall, yet physically were no longer part of it, or perhaps had never been....

Through these objects, I wanted to tell a comprehensive Wall story, from its reasons to its ruins. For a year or two, I realised, I would have to curtail my time at the Wall itself and travel more widely — I would need to go to places where there might be just a single object to see, one person to meet, a sole point to learn.

William's book is available at Amazon.

This next video introduces William's new book and features stunning aerial photography.

William Lindesay has participated in a number of documentaries covering the Great Wall of China. This one aired on the Smithsonian Channel and is interesting on a number of levels — including a reveal of the secret ingredient holding the Great Wall together: Sticky rice! I kid you not.

Smithsonian Channel's

'Secrets: Great Wall of China'

The Wall of Genghis Kahn

In 2011, William Lindesay was able to document a newly-discovered branch of the Great Wall extending into Mongolia. William led an expedition that employed carbon dating to document the wall's origins at around 1040 to 1160 A.D. This stretch of wall is known as the Wall of Genghis Kahn.

This discovery is a significant advance in our knowledge. William's expedition was the first to scientifically examine this section of wall. The findings suggest that the Western Xia dynasty built this wall, which was not previously known.

William conducted a second exhibition in 2012 and returned again during the summer of 2016.

For more information, check out the National Geographic and the Telegraph.

This is an excerpt from a Smithsonian Channel documentary on the Great Wall that discusses the origins of the Great Wall and as a defense system against invasion. (The full program is posted farther down this page.)


In addition to his scholarly research, writing and documentary production, William Lindesay bought a property in 1998 adjacent to the wall. From the Farmhouse and Barracks at this site, William now offers WildWall® walks and educational programs. His presentation to the SAS Pudong students (video above) was delivered in the Courtyard at the Barracks.

William's website describes the facilities and programs as well as his work, his books and more. And the photography is stunning! Check it out.

Want to know more?

• The Great Wall of China Near Beijing

• A Yankee in China

• The Wall of Two Williams

• The Great Wall Revisited

• From Trespasser to Honorary Citizen

• Alone on the Great Wall of China

• The Great Wall of China

• Great Wall Protection Story: Lindesay's Affection for Great Wall

• The Great Wall: A Photographic Tale

• The Man Who Discovered the Lost Great Wall

• Q&A: William Lindesay on The Great Wall in 50 Objects

• Journey's End

• Rediscover America's Forgotten Explorer

• Belated Recognition of Explorer from Bucks

• Religion in China: Thinking in Fives

• The William Edgar Geil Papers (1886-2013)

• Luther Newton Hayes Papers (with William Edgar Geil)

William Lindesay's WildWall  


Visit these other Pages in the William Edgar Geil Section

Return to Doylestown

Doylestown 2008

Beijing Exhibit 2008

Doylestown 2009

Geil Documentaries

Remembering the Barrens

Pictures courtesy of William Lindesay

L-R: William Lindesay, his wife Wu Qi, and sons Tommy and James.

Left: Preparing to film with the drone.
Right: A great shot of the drone in flight. In order to get the best pictures, it was often necessary
to be up, out and ready to fly before dawn — not to mention hauling the drone and cameras
up and down the mountainside.


As described above, William Lindesay undertook a project to rephotograph the Great Wall scenes captured in William Geil's photographs. He wanted to see and document how the Great Wall had changed along its whole length during the century since Dr. Geil's walk. An example is shown in the two photographs below. The left shows Dr. Geil sitting in the foreground in 1908 at "East of Mule Horse Pass." The right shows the same view in 2016 with William Lindesay in the foreground this time.

William wrote in his book, The Great Wall Revisited (below), "...I realized [in 1987] that, although 79 years apart, Geil and I had crossed paths in many places, and on a remote section of the Wall in Zunhua County, Hebei Province our meeting was verifiable, and most fortunate. In The Great Wall of China Geil had captioned one of the photographs 'East of Mule Horse Pass'. I photographed the same view and included it [in] Alone on the Great Wall, captioned as 'Luowenyu.' This 'coincidental photography' revealed the disappearance of a watchtower. I dubbed the tower 'Geil's Tower' because he was probably the only person who ever preserved it on a photograph."

Pictures courtesy of William Lindesay

This program is beautifully photographed and one you will definitely want to see. Unfortunately it is no longer available for free viewing via YouTube so I'm no longer able to stream it here. However, if you have cable or subscribe to a streaming service like YouTube TV there's an excellent chance you have access. You might be able to watch online after authenticating your service, or you can watch on TV as the show is re-broadcast from time to time. You can check your streaming options, find showtimes on TV and/or watch a few video clips at SmithsonianChannel.com.

A quick note: There have been additional television documentaries as well since this Smithsonian program. As I identify ways to view them, or if they can be streamed here, I will update this page. One of these is described next.

Smithsonian SecretsGreatWall


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