Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China in part to protect the Chinese Empire or its prototypical states against intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions by various warlike peoples or forces. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC;these, later joined together and made bigger and stronger, are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced; the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty.

Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

The main Great Wall line stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi)...


The collection of walls known today as the Great Wall of China was referred by a number of different names. The current English name evolved from enthusiastic accounts of "the Chinese wall" from early European travelers; by the end of the 19th century "the Great Wall of China" became the name of the walls. In Chinese, they are most commonly known as changcheng (長城), meaning "long wall". The term can be found in the Records of the Grand Historian (1st century BC), where it referred to the walls built by the Warring States, and most particularly, the walls of Qin Shi Huang.[8] The notion of it being "ten thousand li" long (figuratively meaning "endless"), as reflected in the full Chinese name of the Great Wall in modern times (萬里長城 Wanli Changcheng), also comes from the Records, though the words "Wanli Changcheng" were rarely used together in pre-modern times—a rare example being the Book of Song written in 493, where it quotes the frontier general Tan Daoji.

Historically, the dynasties after Qin avoided using the term changcheng to refer to their own "Great Walls", as the term was said to evoke imagery of Qin's tyranny.Instead, historical records indicate the use of various terms such as "frontier" (塞 sai), "rampart" (垣 yuan), "barrier" (障 zhang), "outer fortresses" (外堡 waibao),and "border wall" (邊牆 bianqiang),[10] in addition to poetic and folk names like "purple frontier" (紫塞 zisai)[13] and "earth dragon" (土龍 tulong). Only in modern times did changcheng become the catch-all term to refer to the long border walls regardless of location or dynastic origin, equivalent to the Western term "Great Wall"............


Early walls

The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn period between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. During this time and the subsequent Warring States period, the states of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan and Zhongshan all constructed extensive fortifications to defend their own borders. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames.

Qin Shi Huang conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BC, establishing the Qin Dynasty. Intending to impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders. To position the empire against the Xiongnu people from the north, he ordered the building of new walls to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire's northern frontier. Transporting the large quantity of materials required for construction was difficult, so builders always tried to use local resources. Stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges, while rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. There are no surviving historical records indicating the exact length and course of the Qin Dynasty walls. Most of the ancient walls have eroded away over the centuries, and very few sections remain today. The human cost of the construction is unknown, but it has been estimated by some authors that hundreds of thousands, if not up to a million, workers died building the Qin wall. Later, the Han,Sui, and the Northern dynasties all repaired, rebuilt, or expanded sections of the Great Wall at great cost to defend themselves against northern invaders.The Tang and Song Dynasties did not build any walls in the region substantially. The Liao, Jin, and Yuan dynasties, who ruled Northern China throughout most of the 10th–13th centuries, constructed defensive walls in the 12th century, but those were located much to the north of the Great Wall as we know it, within today's Inner and Outer Mongolia.

Ming era

The extent of the Ming Dynasty and its walls
Main article: Ming Great Wall
The Great Wall concept was revived again during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century,]and following the Ming army's defeat by the Oirats in the Battle of Tumu. The Ming had failed to gain a clear upper hand over the Mongolian tribes after successive battles, and the long-drawn conflict was taking a toll on the empire. The Ming adopted a new strategy to keep the nomadic tribes out by constructing walls along the northern border of China. Acknowledging the Mongol control established in the Ordos Desert, the wall followed the desert's southern edge instead of incorporating the bend of the Yellow River.

Unlike the earlier fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. Up to 25,000 watchtowers are estimated to have been constructed on the wall. As Mongol raids continued periodically over the years, the Ming devoted considerable resources to repair and reinforce the walls. Sections near the Ming capital of Beijing were especially strong.Qi Jiguang between 1567 and 1570 also repaired and reinforced the wall, faced sections of the ram-earth wall with bricks and constructed 1,200 watchtowers from Shanhaiguan Pass to Changping to warn of approaching Mongol raiders. During the 1440s–1460s, the Ming also built a so-called "Liaodong Wall". Similar in function to the Great Wall (whose extension, in a sense, it was), but more basic in construction, the Liaodong Wall enclosed the agricultural heartland of the Liaodong province, protecting it against potential incursions by Jurched-Mongol Oriyanghan from the northwest and the Jianzhou Jurchens from the north. While stones and tiles were used in some parts of the Liaodong Wall, most of it was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.

Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Even after the loss of all of Liaodong, the Ming army held the heavily fortified Shanhaiguan pass, preventing the Manchus from conquering the Chinese heartland. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, after Beijing had already fallen to Li Zicheng's rebels. Before this time, the Manchus had crossed the Great Wall multiple times to raid, but this time it was for conquest. The gates at Shanhaiguan were opened by the commanding Ming general Wu Sangui on May 25 who formed an alliance with the Manchus, hoping to use the Manchus to expel the rebels from Beijing. The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and defeated both the rebel-founded Shun Dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance, establishing the Qing Dynasty rule over all of China.

Under Qing rule, China's borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia was annexed into the empire, so constructions on the Great Wall were discontinued. On the other hand, the so-called Willow Palisade, following a line similar to that of the Ming Liaodong Wall, was constructed by the Qing rulers in Manchuria. Its purpose, however, was not defense but rather migration control.

Foreign appreciation of the Wall

The Great Wall in 1907
Early Arabs had heard about China's Great Wall during earlier periods of China's history as early as the 14th century. They associated it with Dhul-Qarnayn's Gog and Magog wall of the Qur'an, as the North African traveler Ibn Battuta heard from the local Muslim communities in Guangzhou around 1346.

Soon after Europeans reached the Ming China in the early 16th century, accounts of the Great Wall started to circulate in Europe, even though no European was to see it with his own eyes for another century. Possibly one of the earliest descriptions of the wall, and its significance for the defense of the country against the "Tartars" (i.e. Mongols), may be the one contained in the Third Década of João de Barros' Asia (published 1563).Other early accounts in Western sources include those of Gaspar da Cruz, Bento de Goes, Matteo Ricci, and Bishop Juan González de Mendoza. In 1559, in his work "A Treatise of China and the Adjoyning Regions," Gaspar da Cruz offers an early discussion of the Great Wall. Perhaps the first recorded instance of a European actually entering China via the Great Wall came in 1605, when the Portuguese Jesuit brother Bento de Góis reached the northwestern Jiayu Pass from India. Early European accounts were mostly modest and empirical, closely mirroring contemporary Chinese understanding of the Wall; although later they slid into hyperbole,including the erroneous but ubiquitous claim that the Ming Walls were the same ones that were built by Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century BC.

When China opened its borders to foreign merchants and visitors after its defeat in the First and Second Opium Wars, the Great Wall became a main attraction for tourists. The travelogues of the later 19th century further enhanced the reputation and the mythology of the Great Wall,such that in the 20th century, a persistent misconception exists about the Great Wall of China being visible from the Moon or even Mars........


The main Great Wall line that are still standing today

An area of the sections of the Great Wall at Jinshanling
Although a formal definition of what constitutes a "Great Wall" has not been agreed upon, making the full course of the Great Wall difficult to describe in its entirety. the course of the main Great Wall line following Ming constructions can be charted.

The Jiayu Pass, located in Gansu province, is the western terminus of the Ming Great Wall. Although Han fortifications such as Yumen Pass and the Yangguan exist further west, the extant walls leading to those passes are difficult to trace. From Jiayu Pass the wall travels discontinuously down the Gansu Corridor and into the deserts of Ningxia, where it enters the western edge of the Yellow River loop at Yinchuan. Here the first major walls erected during the Ming dynasty cuts through the Ordos Desert to the eastern edge of the Yellow River loop. There at Piantou Pass (偏頭關) in Xinzhou city, Shanxi province, the Great Wall splits in two with the "Outer Great Wall" (外長城) extending along the Inner Mongolia border with Shanxi into Hebei province, and the "inner Great Wall" (內長城) running southeast from Piantou Pass for some 400 kilometres (250 mi), passing through important passes like the Pingxing Pass and Yanmen Pass before joining the Outer Great Wall at Sihaiye (四海冶), in Yanqing County, Beijing.

The sections of the Great Wall around Beijing municipality are especially famous: they were frequently renovated and are regularly visited by tourists today. The Badaling Great Wall near Zhangjiakou is the most famous stretch of the Wall, for this was the first section to be opened to the public in the People's Republic of China, as well as the showpiece stretch for foreign dignitaries.South of Badaling is the Juyong Pass, when used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the wall had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high and 5 meters (16 ft) wide.

One of the most striking sections of the Ming Great Wall is where it climbs extremely steep slopes. It runs 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) long, ranges from 5 to 8 meters (16 to 26 ft) in height, and 6 meters (20 ft) across the bottom, narrowing up to 5 meters (16 ft) across the top. Wangjinglou (望京樓) is one of Jinshanling's 67 watchtowers, 980 meters (3,220 ft) above sea level. Southeast of Jinshanling, is the Mutianyu Great Wall which winds along lofty, cragged mountains from the southeast to the northwest for approximately 2.25 kilometers (about 1.3 miles). It is connected with Juyongguan Pass to the west and Gubeikou to the east. This section was one of the first to be renovated following the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

At the edge of the Bohai Gulf is the Shanhai Pass, the traditional end of the Great Wall known as the "Number One Pass Under Heaven" (天下第一關). The part of the wall that meets the sea is named the "Old Dragon Head" (老龍頭), within the Shanhai Pass complex. 3 km north of Shanhaiguan is Jiaoshan Great Wall (焦山長城), the site of the first mountain of the Great Wall.15 km northeast from Shanhaiguan, is Jiumenkou (九門口), which is the only portion of the wall that was built as a bridge.........


Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood. During the Ming Dynasty, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide. From the parapets, guards could survey the surrounding land.Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall, including the ability to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements, was of high importance. Signal towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility. Wooden gates could be used as a trap against those going through. Barracks, stables, and armories were built near the wall's inner surface.........