The raging enemies, hungry rulers, and frightened citizens- all were seized once Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to build the longest and the tallest wall of the world- The great wall of China. Typically recognized as the symbol of China, the great wall of China was born out of defeats, blood, and protection from the West. Constructed by not one but at least six dynasties and decades of forced labor, the wall has its own long and vivid history. Stretched across 13,000 miles or 21,000km, the wall is the pride of China.
Built during the mighty Ming Dynasty, The Great Wall of China is a symbol and a popular tourist destination of China.
The great wall of China emerged from the conflict between the Chinese and the nomads. But other than that the reason was also advanced agriculture. The loess soils of Shaanxi made it possible for the Chinese to perform irrigated agriculture, a rather advanced form of that era. This helped them to expand their territories to the Yellow River. The irrigated agriculture made them a good revenue and thus the growing income also required a smooth run of bureaucracy. The walls were built to keep the invaders away and also keep the citizens within.
These walls not only protected the cities but ensured zero raids from the nomads. This piece of history comes from an ancient poem- Classic of Poetry. The poem says that the king King Xuan of the Western Zhou dynasty built this wall. Though the beginning of construction can be traced back to the 5th century, during the Warring States Period. It was a time when China was divided into small states rather than a collective kingdom. Over the years, these individual states adopted the wall strategy to envelope their lands and built separate walls in their territories. It wasn’t until the Qin dynasty, Qin Shi Huang (221 BC), the first ruler of unified China ordered to link all the walls together in a single system. The decision was made in order to protect the kingdom from northern invasion.
‘Wan Li Chang Cheng’ or ‘10,000-Li-Long Wall’, as it is called in China, was the most ambitious construction project taken by any civilization in history. As the task in itself was so aspiring, Qin Shi Huang, ordered every soldier and commoner, not always voluntarily to participate in the construction. They were forced to work for hours a day and finish the project in the ordered time. The walls were built as tall as 3700 miles.
The forced labor continued, and the place became a common sight of torture for the citizens. Reportedly, several people lost their lives during the construction and many others were gravely injured. According to the legends, many graves were built near the walls and several other bodies were buried inside the wall itself. Though no evidence has ever been found of the same. It is said that as many as 400,000 people died during the construction.
Over the years, Wei, Qi, and Zhou, and, Sui dynasties further extended the walls. As the Sui dynasty was defeated and the Tang dynasty rose to power, the great walls lost their fortification. They reversed the wall-building policies and no news walls were built for the next few centuries. It was when the dynasty feared invasion from the Turks, Emperor Taizong, ordered to further extend the wall. But despite his efforts to dodge a war, the Turks, however, invaded the kingdom. But soon Emperor Taizong defeated the Turks and the Tang dynasty became one of the most powerful dynasties of that time.
The Formidable Wall Was Surmounted
The post- Tang era was dominated by the Song dynasty. In the 13th century, Mongols ruled by Genghis Khan managed to surmount the wall and invaded China. Though for the Mongols, the wall hold no importance, still they continued to man the wall to protect their merchants traveling across the Silk route. The Mongols controlled major parts of China but they were forced to move with the Ming dynasty in 1368.
It was the mighty Ming Dynasty that is widely recognized as the one to build the walls to its full strength. The Ming dynasty made the Chinese culture shine and not only the walls were expanded, but they also build bridges, pagodas, and temples.
Around 23 feet high and 21 feet wide, the walls at every 5500 miles were attached by a watchtower. These towers were built to keep an eye on the enemy and whenever there was a sight of danger, these towers lit the fire and the smoke would alert the entire kingdom to get ready for reinforcement. The small windows or openings at the top of the walls allowed soldiers to shoot arrows at the enemy without getting caught.
Though the wall for a time provided great security, this defense line against northern nomads was questionable with the Qing dynasty. In 1644, the dynasty overthrew the Mings and established the Qing dynasty. The new king also had an alliance with the Mongols, thus the kingdom expanded beyond the walls suggesting that the people were ruled by those from whom the walls were built to defend.
For years, the wall lost its importance. It was overlooked and with time it became nothing but just a lost trace of China’s history. But the mighty wall once again came to light during World War 2 when the Chinese government used them to shield the country from Japanese invasion. As per the rumors, the walls are also the secret military training ground for Chinese soldiers.
The Importance Of The Great Wall Of China
In 1987, UNESCO announced the great walls of china as a World Heritage site. The Chinese government also launched preservative initiatives to secure the symbol of China. Today thousands of visitors flock every day to witness the grandeur of the place. People recognize the Great Wall of China as the pride of the country and cultural emblem of their history.
Over the years, the wall also ignited several rumors such as its visibility from the space. Robert Ripley, the American illustrator claimed the great walls are visible to the human eye from the moon. His claim was made 30 years prior before anyone went to space. Today this theory is discarded as it cannot be seen from the Moon.
Do you know that the Chinese do not call the walls “The Great Wall”, instead it is just a western word used by the tourists. The Chinese call it “cháng chéng” which means the long walls. The great walls aren’t a simple structure of walls, they have a cluster of fortresses, barracks, guard towers, and beacon towers.
One ugly truth of the wall is that it never stopped the invasion. Yes, the very reason the walls were built was in reality never successful. The great wall of China is a lesson that nothing in life is formidable. With time, even the greatest of grandeurs comes to dust and the barren soil of the ground turns into dense forests.