Great Wall of China

An Overview of The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is a northern Chinese barrier that stretches from Jiayuguan Pass to the Hushan Mountains in Liaoning Province, ending at the Bohai Gulf. The structure is well-known for its stunning appearance, which exemplifies the ancient Chinese people’s intelligence and diligence. The building of the wall happened during the Warring States Period and restoration happened by several dynasties afterwards. During the Warring States Period, the Great Wall’s initial goal was to protect the kingdoms from Xiongnu attacks. Later, the rebuilding happened on a bigger scale under the Qin and Ming dynasties.

China’s Great Wall is the world’s biggest military fortification. It towers and meanders between mountain ranges, and its construction happened roughly 2,000 years ago. The various battles, power struggles, multiple dynasties, and political and economic historical events that influenced imperial China for almost 2,000 years added to its brilliance.

The structure’s architectural significance derives from its components, including the wall, gates, villages, garrisons, signal towers, and aesthetic features. It is also known for the numerous classical works of poetry, folk literature, drama, and narrative about it written by monarchs, warriors, literati, and notable poets. The Great Wall has a long and rich history, and there is much to learn about it.

History of the Great Wall of China

Credit: Pixabay

Xiongnu frequently assaulted the States of Qi, Yan, and Zhao from the north throughout the metaphase of the Warring States Period lasting from the 5th century BCE until 221 BCE. Because the three States could not fight Xiongnu, they resolved to construct fortresses to protect themselves. The construction of the Great Wall was initially for withstanding sword and spear attacks. Furthermore, the construction of these barriers happened mostly by pounding soil and gravel.

Qin Shi Huang, an Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, later defeated all the kingdoms and united China in 221 BCE. To link the ancient defences, he ordered the construction of a new wall. The building materials of the wall were stones and soil. However, only a few parts of the structure erected before or during the Qin Dynasty are still today. To defend themselves against northern incursions, the Han, Sui, Northern, and Jin dynasties all constructed, strengthened, or enlarged parts of the Great Wall.

The Ming Dynasty defeated the Manchurians and Mongolians, and the Dynasty was in serious jeopardy. The Emperor then issued instructions to build fortifications along the northern frontier. The Ming Dynasty employed a combination of bricks and stones to construct their fortifications, which made them stronger. As the Mongolians continued to attack the region, spending significant resources happened on repairing and strengthening the fortifications. Geographic data indicates that the areas around Beijing are particularly robust. Unfortunately, many portions of The Great Wall, including the Ming Great Wall, have vanished due to years of wear and tear and artificial devastation. Even though many sections of the structure have been rebuilt and conserved, certain distant and difficult-to-reach sections remain in need of maintenance.

The Early Great Wall (770 BCE to 221 BCE)

China’s eastern and central areas were divided into various small kingdoms or princedoms throughout the Spring & Autumn Period from 770 to 476 BCE and the Warring States Period from 475 to 221 BCE. The princes ordered autonomous walls erected along state boundaries to safeguard their states. The creation of the first happened between the states of Lu and Qi around 650 BCE and later became part of the Chu State Wall.

The Great Wall during the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE to 206 BCE)

The conquest and consolidation of the other states happened by Qin Shihuang (king of the State of Qin from 247 to 221 BCE). Emperor Qin Shihuang gave an order that the northern parts of state border walls, particularly those in northern China in the states of Qin, Zhao, and Yan, have a connection to the first genuine Great Wall. The structure should also have a cohesive line of defence against Mongol harassment from the north. In a united China, other state boundary barriers became outdated and were corroded or demolished.

The Great Wall during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 204 CE)

Entension and reinforcing of the northern defences happened, with portions of the structure running parallel for hundreds of miles and interconnecting along the Inner Mongolian border. At more than 5,000 miles long, the Han Dynasty Great Wall stretched from the North Korean shore at Pyongyang in the east to Jade Gate Pass (Yumenguan) in the west. Many branching walls, natural obstacles, and trenches made up the overall length.

The Great Wall during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 CE to 1368 CE)

The Yuan Dynasty was the 1st Dynasty in which a non-Han population, the Mongols, ruled over all of China. For 1,500 years, the Great Wall had successfully preserved Han China. However, the construction of the structure ended under the Yuan Dynasty. This period coincided with the unification of China and Mongolia to the north.

The Great Wall in the Ming Dynasty (1368 CE to 1644 CE)

During the Ming Dynasty, China prospered, and its military prowess grew. The construction of the Great Wall happened progressively over 100 years to deter future northern invasions. The Ming Great Walls’ construction, which makes up most of the existing Great Wall, happened during the Ming Dynasty. Even the building of the Badaling and Mutianyu portions of the Great Wall near Beijing happened during the Ming Dynasty. The Ming erected the structure, which had over 25,000 enormous watchtowers ranging from 16 to 26 feet in height, 20 feet across the bottom and 16 feet across the top.

The Great Wall after the Ming Dynasty (1644 CE onwards)

In 1644 CE, Manchu armies breached the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass, signalling the end of Han authority in China and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 CE). It also marked the end of the Great Wall building and maintenance until the Badaling portion was repaired by the People’s Republic of China and opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1957 CE.

Construction of the Great Wall of China

Construction of the Great Wall of China
Credit: Pinterest

The construction of the structure was possible by using a massive force of troops, convicts, and locals. The finished product shows the Chinese people’s knowledge and tenacity. Moreover, the Great Wall’s architectural style is a masterpiece in the world’s building history. Because swords and spears, lances and halberds, and bows and arrows were the only weapons available in ancient times, walls with passes, watchtowers, signal towers, and moats became a key tactic.

After the Qin dynasty, feudal rulers worked to improve the building of the Great Wall to secure the dynasties’ protection. Many people lost their lives constructing the Qin Dynasty’s Great Wall. Tens of thousands of people, including conscripted troops, slaves, prisoners, and regular citizens, worked long and hard hours. As a result, the Great Wall’s tale has frequent connections with the dictatorship of the First Emperor of Qin.

During the Ming dynasty, the construction of a comprehensive defence system with garrison towns, garrison stations, passages, blockhouses, additional wall constructions, watchtowers, and beacon towers happened along the structure, each with its status and role. The system allowed the imperial court to communicate with military and administrative institutions at all levels, including those at the local level and gave frontier forces the tools they needed to defend effectively.

Structure of the Great Wall of China

Flanking towers
Credit: China Mike

The Great Wall of China was more than a structure. It was an integrated military defence system with monitoring towers, strongholds for command posts and logistics, and communications beacon towers, among other things.

The renovation of the Great Wall to be stronger and more complex happened because the improvization of building techniques happened during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE).

  • The Wall Body: Battlements 6 feet high with loopholes and crenels and parapet walls 4 feet high were typical of the Ming Great Wall.
  • Flanking towers: There were flanking towers every 1,640 feet or fewer along the Great Wall, allowing defenders to shoot arrows at attackers on the face of the structure.
  • Fortresses: At important/vulnerable access points (passes), such as Shanhai Pass Fortress, Juyong Pass Fortress, and Jiayu Pass Fortress, fortresses were erected. The forts had several archery windows and gateways. The fortress gatehouses were the Great Wall’s most powerful and unassailable fortifications.

Legend of the Weeping Lady

Following the construction of the Great Wall, many wonderful legends and stories arose. These myths have since spread across the country. Several ones occurred during the building.

Meng Jiangnu’s narrative is the most well-known and frequently circulated. The tale took place during the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE-206 BCE). According to the story, Meng Jiangnu’s intense sobbing caused a portion of the Great Wall to crumble. Federal officials apprehended Meng Jiangnu’s spouse, Fan Qiliang, and sent him to build the Great Wall. After hearing nothing from him since his departure, Meng Jiangnu went out to find him. Unfortunately, by the time she arrived at the Great Wall, her spouse had already passed away. She sobbed uncontrollably as she learned the dreadful news. A section of the structure collapsed because of her cry. According to this tale, the construction of the Great Wall happened by using tens of thousands of Chinese peasants.

Beautiful Great Wall myths and legends assist in preserving Chinese history and culture. Many different stories were developed and propagated throughout each Dynasty after the construction of the Great Wall.

Some Facts about the Great Wall of China

Facts about the Great Wall of China
Credit: Escape Magazin

It’s Not A Single Structure

While the name Great Wall of China suggests that we’re discussing a continuous wall of brickwork, this is not the case. What appears to be a single monument is a system of defense construction by many dynasties. Many of these barriers are, in fact, parallel to one another. Furthermore, not all of these fortifications are made up of real walls. Even the inclusion of natural obstacles such as rivers and hills were part of the Great Wall of China.

Convicts Were Forced to Work on the Great Wall on Occasion

Over a million people, including civilians, prisoners of war, soldiers, and criminals, toiled on the structure. For crimes ranging from murder to tax fraud, convicts were compelled to serve as labourers, notably during the Qin and Han dynasties. Convicts would shave their heads and be forced to wear iron rings. In addition, they were in charge of maintaining guard during the day and constructing at night.

The Great Wall of China is Gradually Vanishing

The Great Wall, which spans over half the length of the equator, passes through 15 distinct locations. Understandably, maintaining something so massive would be challenging, and this has unfortunately been the case with the Great Wall. It’s claimed that 30% of the Ming Dynasty’s construction has already vanished, eaten away overtime after being abandoned and neglected. In fact, according to a 2014 analysis by the Great Wall of China Society, just 10% of the monument is in good condition, while 74% is in bad shape.

Unfortunately, the Great Wall of China must contend with more than simply natural forces. Humans are also continuing to cause harm. Sections of more rural locations have occasionally been demolished to make room for land development or deconstructed for building materials. In addition, great Wall bricks have a black market, and tourists have been known to steal these valuable objects. However, conservation organizations urge the government to increase protection and give more education and subsidies to local people to counteract the challenges.

The Structure is Not Visible from Space

One prevalent misconception regarding China’s Great Wall is that viewing it from space with the naked eye is possible. It’s easy to see how this story developed, given its enormous size, but that’s not the case. According to NASA, the urban tale dates back to 1938. It only became stronger until the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon. Actual astronauts have repeatedly said that this is not the case. Even from low Earth orbit, the Great Wall of China is not visible. The materials it was composed of are one factor that prevents it from being seen.

New Sections Are Continually Found

Given the Great Wall’s age, it may surprise you to find that new portions are continuously being discovered. For example, discovering new parts of the Ming Dynasty wall happened in 2009 using infrared range finders and GPS. Hills, pits, and rivers had covered the 180-mile portion of the structure.

Archaeologists discovered 6 miles of wall remnants on the border of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Gansu province in 2015, an area that had previously been assumed to be devoid of Great Wall relics. The ruins are said to originate from the Qin dynasty’s construction. Flooding and natural erosion reduced the height of the nine pieces to between 3 and 16 feet in certain places.

It Is The World’s Longest Man-Made Structure

With 13,171 miles, China’s Great Wall is the world’s longest man-made structure. The Great Wall of Gorgan, erected in Iran in the 5th or 6th century and covers less than 125 miles, is the world’s next longest man-made structure. As a result, it is fair to assume that China’s Great Wall will retain its title for a long time.

The Great Wall We See Now is Recent

Many ancient Chinese kingdoms built the Great Wall between the 7th and 8th centuries BCE. During his rule in the 3rd century BCE, China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, began uniting these wall lengths. However, almost all of these early barriers have vanished over time.

According to an official survey, the Ming Dynasty is responsible for 5,500 miles of the amazing monument. This section contains 3,889 miles of the physical structure, including some of the Great Wall’s most popular tourist attractions. Badaling, Mutianyu, and Jinshanling are three well-preserved portions of the Great Wall near Beijing that draw millions of visitors each year. The Mings built over a previous portion of the structure in Mutianyu. But Badaling and Jinshanling were both built from the ground up in the 16th century CE.

Builders used Rice to Help Build the Great Wall

Rice to Help Build the Great Wall
Credit: Science Wanders

It goes without saying that sticky rice is sticky. This sticky rice characteristic was used by the builders of the Great Wall of China to make more durable fortification. To make the mortar stronger, they added rice to the mix. One of the explanations for the lasting of the Great Wall of China is the presence of amylopectin in rice.

The Ancient Labourers Left Their Imprints On The Bricks

Some claim that the words on the bricks are a system established by General Qi Jiguang to judge the troops’ bricks’ quality and clarify duties. Historians, however, question this belief as it was the labourers instead.

It is the Biggest Cultural Emblem of the Chinese People

The Great Wall is a feat of engineering that took countless labours over 2,000 years to complete. It also reflected the clashes and exchanges between agricultural and nomadic cultures. The Juyong Pass served as an important commercial conduit between Beijing and Inner Mongolia during the Yuan Dynasty (1272-1368 CE). In addition, because Yuan rulers travelled this road frequently, the building of temporary imperial residences, temples, and gardens happened.


The Great Wall of China attracts millions of visitors each year as one of the most recognizable man-made structures on the planet. The massive fortresses are engineering marvels that span across northern China. The project had two distinct objectives; first, the building of the structure happened in order to safeguard Chinese lands from nomadic tribes, and second, it was in use as a customs depot along the Silk Road to maintain order at the border. Even though some planning and administration were there after the passing of the order, the erection of the Great Wall happened on the ruling Emperor’s whim, wish, and order, with no stakeholder consultation process.

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