The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China was initially constructed over 2,000 years ago, by Qin Shi Huangdi who was the first emperor of China during the Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty (221 B.C – 206 B.C.). The Great Wall of China is a collection of short walls which follow the crest of hills on the southern edge of the Mongolian plain. It is made up of a series of stone and earthen fortifications. (Michaud, 2001). The wall was built during four major eras in history. The construction of the wall first began during the Qin Dynasty in 208 BC. This was then followed by the Han Dynasty in the 1st century BC. The third construction period was during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period between 1138-1198. The final stage was during the Hongwu Emperor until Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynast from 1368 to 1620.

It was built, rebuilt and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive several dynasties. The several walls, now referred to as the Great Wall of China were built since the 5th century BC. The most famous wall was built between 220 BC and 200 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang however not much of it remains. Most the remnants of the current wall, was constructed during the Ming Dynasty.

The Wall also extends westward from the banks of the Yalu River to the foot of the Qilianshan and Tianshan mountains. It has several barracks and signal towers, which were used to store weapons and for communication. The most popular sites of the Great Wall of China are Badaling, Mutianya, Simatai and Shixiaguan. In Chinese the wall is called “Wan-Li Qang-Qeng” which means 10,000-Li Long Wall (10,000 Li = about 5,000 km). In general, the wall extends about 1500 miles (2400 kilometers). (Michaud, 2001).

The Great Wall was originally built during Spring, Autumn, and Warring States Periods as a defensive fortification by the three states: Yan, Zhao and Qin. Initially, each of the different states built their individual wall for their own defense and did not become the Great Wall until the Qin Dynasty (Jeananda, 2008). The Chinese were familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period, which started around the 7th century BC. From the 5th century BC to 221 BC, during the Warring States Period, the states of Qin, Yan and Zhao built extensive fortifications to defend their own borders. These walls were constructed to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears.

Qin Shi Huang defeated all the opposing states and unified China in 221 BC and hence established the Qin Dynasty. Qin ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders. He then ordered the construction of a new wall to protect the empire against intrusions by the Xiongnu people from the north, to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire’s new northern frontier (Michaud, 2001).

The major problem encountered during the construction of the wall was transportation.  The transportation of large quantity of materials required for construction was difficult; therefore builders were forced to mobilize local resources. Stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges, while rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. Peasants who died during were buried inside the wall. It is estimated as many as one million people died during the construction of the wall. There are no existing historical records as to the exact length and course of the walls. Most of the ancient walls have eroded away over the centuries, a very few sections are still in existence.

Emperor Qin Shihuang succeeded in his effort to have the walls joined together to fend off the invasions from the Huns in the north after the unification of China. Armies were stationed along the wall as a first line of defense against the invading nomadic Hsiung Nu tribes north of China (the Huns. Signal fires from the Wall provided early warning of an attack.

The construction of the Great Wall began again during the Ming Dynasty after the Ming army was defeated by the Oirats in the Battle of Tumu in 1449. The Ming was involved in protracted war with the Mongols which was largely unsuccessful and was weighing down heavily on the empire. The Ming took on a new strategy to keep the Mongols out by constructing walls along the northern border. Unlike the earlier Qin fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. The Mongol raids were periodic and continued over the years, the Ming devoted considerable resources to modify and reinforce the walls especially in sections near the Ming capital of Beijing which were stronger than the rest of the wall.

Under Ming, the walls were fortified and constructed up to 25 feet high, 15 to 30 feet wide at the base, and from 9 to 12 feet wide at the top. The wall was constructed in such a way that they were wide enough for marching troops and wagons. Watch towers and guard stations were also placed at regular intervals. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Great Wall was enlarged to 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) and renovated over a 200 year period, with watch-towers and cannons added (Jeananda, 2008).  The Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that between 2 to 3 million Chinese died during the entire construction of the world

Towards the end of the Shun Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Under the military command of Yuan Chonghuan, the Ming army held off the Manchu at the strongly fortified Shanhaiguan pass, preventing the Manchu from entering the Liaodong Peninsula and the Chinese heartland. The Manchu were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, when the gates at Shanhaiguan were opened by Wu Sangui, a Ming border general who was opposed to the rulers of the Shun Dynasty. The Manchu quickly seized Beijing, and defeated the newly founded Shun Dynasty and remaining Ming resistance, to establish the Qing Dynasty.

Under Qing rule, borders extended beyond the walls. It was therefore made part of the empire leading to a halt in the construction and repairs on the Great Wall were discontinued. Another wall almost similar to the Great Wall in the south was erected to protect and divide the Chinese from the ‘southern barbarians’ called Miao.

The Great Wall of China is the world’s longest human-made structure, first in terms of size as it stretches over approximately 6,400 km (4,000 miles) from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west. It forms an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, covering a total distance of 6,700 km. In addition, it is the largest human-made structure ever built in terms of surface area and mass.
The Great Wall has served as a monument of the Chinese nation throughout history.
The Great Wall can be seen from Earth Orbit, but, contrary to common belief, it is not visible from the moon, according to astronauts Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Jim Irwin. In 1987, UNESCO declared the Great Wall of China as a World Heritage Site.










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