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Why is the Great Wall of China built?

30 May 2017History Essays

Great Wall of China is one of the eight wonders in the world and it is significant to know of why the great wall was built. The primary reasons are territorial boundary and protection during the war. Historians and archeologists explain further the beginning grounds of this spinning dragon spanning across the whole China—The Great Wall.

Historically, The Great Wall is the world's longest human-made structure, stretching over approximately 6,400 km (4,000 miles) from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, but stretches to over 6,700 km (4,160 miles) in total (Britannica 2007). It is also the largest human-made structure ever built in terms of surface area and mass. At its peak the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall. The first major wall was built during the reign of the First Emperor, the main emperor of the short-lived Qin dynasty. This wall was not constructed as a single endeavor, but rather was created by the joining of several regional walls built by the Warring States. It was located much further north than the current Great Wall, and very little remains of it.

A defensive wall on the northern border was built and maintained by several dynasties at different times in Chinese history. The Great Wall that can still be seen today was built during the Ming Dynasty, on a much larger scale and with longer lasting materials, solid stone used for the sides and the top of the Wall, than any wall that had been built before. The primary purpose of the wall was not to keep out people, who could scale the wall, but to insure that semi-nomadic people on the outside of the wall could not cross with their horses or return easily with stolen property (China Highlights, 1998).

The Great Wall is not just a wall. Other defensive works such as forts, passes and beacon towers were built along the Wall to house auxiliary soldiers, store grain and weapons, and transmit military information. As a product of the clashes between agricultural and nomadic economies, the Great Wall provided protection to the economic development and cultural progress, safeguarded the trading routes such as the Silk Road, and secured transmission of information and transportation.

Further, The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in China, 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 dynasties. Several walls, referred to as the Great Wall of China, were built since the 5th century BC. The most famous is the wall built between 220 BC and 200 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang; little of it remains; it was much farther north than the current wall, which was built during the Ming Dynasty.

Since this wall is a centuries-long project, the wall is divided into four major walls which represent the dynasty of the century. First, the Qin Dynasty, 208 BC. Second, the Han Dynasty, 1st century BC then followed by the Five dynasties and Ten kingdoms period during 1138-1198, lastly is the Hongwu Emperor until Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty from 1368-1620 (Britannica 2007).

The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period, which began around the 7th century BC. During the Warring States Period from the 5th century BC to 221 BC, the states of Qi, Yan and Zhao 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 protect the empire against intrusions by the Xiongnu people from the north, he ordered the building of a new wall to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire's new 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. The peasants who died working were buried inside the wall, to be unearthed later by archaeologists. 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. Possibly as many as one million people died building the Wall under the Qin Dynasty (Zimmerman, 1997).

Later, the Han, Sui, Northern and Jin dynasties all repaired, rebuilt, or expanded sections of the Great Wall at great cost to defend themselves against northern invaders. The Great Wall concept was revived again during the Ming Dynasty following the Ming army's defeat by the Oirats in the Battle of Tumu in 1449. The Ming had failed to gain a clear upper-hand over the Mongols 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 Mongols 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 Huang He. Unlike the earlier Qin fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. 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 (Zimmerman, 1997).

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 Manchus at the heavily fortified Shanhaiguan pass, preventing the Manchus from entering the Liaodong Peninsula and the Chinese heartland. The Manchus 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 disliked the activities of rulers of the Shun Dynasty. The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and defeated the newly founded Shun Dynasty and remaining Ming resistance, to establish the Qing Dynasty.

Under Qing rule, China's borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia was annexed into the empire, so construction and repairs on the Great Wall were discontinued. A counterpart wall to the Great Wall in the south was erected to protect and divide the Chinese from the 'southern barbarians' called Miao (meaning barbaric and nomadic).

The making in general is really a true and pure determination. It handed from period to period. The 4 major walls that are initiated from the great leaders are truly a product of heroic and valiant. Political, territorial, economic and social bases were their motivating grounds of why they made the great wall. Indeed, it’s a history.

Today the world has completely changed. No wall can withhold the progress that modern science has brought about the lives of people. The Great Wall has lost its former function. However, it must not be forgotten the real value and essence of it. It was a long project century as said, it marks a record and so everyone is welcome to make better understanding of great wall, and to better protect the precious remains for the generations to come.

Reference:

  • ICE Case Studies: The Great Wall of China, Damian Zimmerman, December 1997
  • "Encyclopedia Britannica online - Great wall of China". 
  • The Great Wall of China. https://maas.museum/ .2007

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