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Causes for Constructing the Great Wall of China

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1536
  • Category: Chinese

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As is known to all, China is a country with an ancient civilization, which has existed for over 5,000 years. Historical scholars from all over the world are interested in every single historic relic of this country. The Great Wall of China, marvel of architecture in this world, played a significant role in the Chinese historical stage. Even today, it also has a great influence on China (The Great Wall, 2006). Could you imagine that a 6,260 km long (not including gullies and some natural defensive passes) and extremely old dragon is just living on earth with us? (Great Wall of China, 2011). It is said that “you’re not a man if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall” (A Sketchy View, 2006). Since becoming a famous tourist attraction, people have hardly paid attention to the Great Wall’s origin. Tourists go and spend time there. Unfortunately, lots of them know little about it. To know the history of the Great Wall and study it, is a good way to understand ourselves. Therefore, the reasons for building the Great Wall of China will make a profound impact on telling us what our ancestors used to do, and it could be a warning against war as well.

This paper reports the history of the Great Wall and the significant causes for the construction of it. The Great Wall of China is located in north China. It starts from Gansu province to Liaoning province. The walls are 25 ft (7.6 m) in height and 15-30 ft (4.6-9.1 m) wide at the base. Also, the walls are 12 ft (3.7 m) high at the top (Great Wall of China, 2011). Since the Great Wall is a huge engineering project, there are a great deal of popular myths going around about it. Although a 1932 cartoon points out that the wall is “the mightiest work of man, the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon”, it was just a rumor (Whether the Great, 2006). The wall was known as some 4,300 miles long and 2,200 years old, which was also incorrect (Langerbein, 2009). Actually, the Great Wall is formed by a series of walls, and the main part is a few hundred miles long near Beijing. The original parts of the walls can be traced back to the Warring States period (481-221 BCE), but the walls were only made of earth because the skill of making brick was not as good as today (Langerbein, 2009). Furthermore, the well-known Great Wall is only about 450 years old (Langerbein, 2009). [pic]

(China Today, 2008)
The construction began by human being’s aggressive behavior and desire for power. The original purpose for building the Great Wall of China was to defend against northern tribes’ attack (Langerbein, 2009), which can be dated back to the Spring and Autumn Period in the 7th century B.C. (Lu, 2008). Although the Chinese government tried to fix the walls at the end of the 20th century (Langerbein, 2009), the historical meaning is not as important as the huge work in 214 BCE. After having united ancient China, Emperor Qin Shihuangdi decided to connect the fortifications and walls in vassal states to consolidate his power (Lu, 2008). This is considered the first combining construction. Because of hegemonism, rebellions happened frequently in the last phase of the Qin dynasty. In addition, to build the Great Wall required large expenses, and the empire couldn’t afford it any more. Qin Shihuangdi had to pay more attention to put down rebellions everywhere (A Sketchy View, 2006). Eventually, the famous Qin dynasty became extinct.

The emperor Wudi took over Qin Shihuangdi and founded the Han dynasty (206 B.C.). However, the threat which came from the north hadn’t been stopped yet. The Han dynasty had to face the aggressors, such as tribes of Mongols,Turks and Tunguz (The Great Wall, 2011). In order to protect the border, the Han dynasty had to make some defense policies to reinforce the walls. During his reign, the Great Wall was repaired and extended much longer. The walls were extended over 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) from western Dunhuang to the eastern Bohai Sea, even though the main part is just a few hundred miles long (The Great Wall, 2011). Around the border, there was a great relocation of Chinese people. Almost 180,000 local militia soldiers got together in Gansu province in 102 B.C. to protect the country with the Great Wall (The Great Wall, 2011). After the fall of the Han dynasty (220 A.D.), ancient China went into the dark age which started from the end of the Han dynasty to the Sui dynasty in 589 CE (Langerbein, 2009). During this period, the Great Wall also went into its medieval stage. However, the inhuman construction and repair project stopped unexpectedly.

Except for the Northern Wei (a 600-mile-part of the wall was built in the 6th century), the walls were only built occasionally. The most obvious example is the Tang dynasty (618-907). The reason why people no longer thought of making the construction was that the military power at that time was unprecedentedly strong. Moreover, China was considered the world’s most flourishing country during the Tang dynasty. Not only the government but also citizens enjoyed the Tang period very much. They had confidence, they even never worried about attacks from the tribes (The Great Wall, 2011). The peaceful world couldn’t last long. As time went by, problems came out again. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was shrouded in serious and endless wars (The Great Wall, 2011). Tribes from the north fought on and on with the Chinese. In fact, the Ming dynasty’s purpose was to gain more lands from the north. After a long period of conflict, all their struggles were in vain. The Oirats beat the Ming army in the battle of Tumu in 1449.

The Ming had no choice but to try to keep the nomadic Mongols out of the original border by building the walls (The Great Wall, 2006). Thus, the idea of building the Great Wall, which was considered a new strategy, was accepted by the ruler again. During the period of the Ming dynasty, 3,500 miles (5,650 kilometers) of strong walls were built (The Great Wall, 2011). The walls had to be built along the Ordos Desert’s southern edge because the Mongols had already captured the desert (The Great Wall, 2006). Nevertheless, the walls were built very carefully at this time, every single brick was unbelievably matched. There were over 25,000 towers and 15,000 outposts along the walls. They could be used as military districts as well, such as troop stations and fortresses (The Great Wall, 2011). All bricks from the walls were made of stone, instead of earth, during the Ming construction. The walls were repaired very often as well. In contrast, the construction was the strongest in history. Actually, the part which is well known by tourists, is the Ming construction. As we have seen, the stress came from the deterrence, and the deterrence led to the perfect defense. The idea of building the wall was always brought about by the people who were afraid of war (The Great Wall, 2006). Generally speaking, there have been four major constructions:

• 208 BC (the Qin dynasty)
• 1st century BC (the Han dynasty)
• 1138-1198 (the Five dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period)
• 1368-1620 (the Ming dynasty)
(The Great Wall, 2006)

There were also some other causes for building the Great Wall. Chinese officials always made good use of the Great Wall. They regarded it as an exit and entry place. Also, governments needed it to help them control trade. For example, border guards would check the passports of travelers who wanted to enter the country, in order to keep silk trade or tea trade safe (Langerbein, 2009). The forts could also be used to send smoke signals from one to another. In addition, the passageways along the Great Wall could either help move the troops flexibly or serve as the road for kings’ trips in peacetime (The Great Wall, 2011).

This paper has shown three important phases of the construction of the Great Wall. As one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, every single brick can tell a story of China. Emperors from different dynasties had their own desires to build the wall. No matter what the reasons were, such as strengthening power, defending raids or separating people, the Great Wall of China always had a close relation with wars. Moreover, the Great Wall separated not only the people but also the culture and civilization. The wall symbolizes feudalism. Building a wall does not equal freedom; in contrast, people are still seeking freedom. The Great Wall of China may be a typical example to show countries, which are being attacked, that conflict will never be eliminated if isolation still exists.


The great wall of China. (2006). Retrieved from
http://www.greatwall-of-china.com/51-90/the-great-wall-of-china.html The great wall of China. (2011). Retrieved from
http://www.globalmountainsummit.org/great-wall-of-china.html A sketchy view of the great wall – why great? (2006). Retrieved from http://www.greatwall-of-china.com/51-5/a-sketchy-view-of-the-great-wall-why-great.html Whether the great wall is visible from the moon. (2006). Retrieved from http://www.greatwall-of-china.com/42-88/whether-the-great-wall-is-visible-from-the-moon.html Langerbein, H. (2009). Great blunders?: the great wall of

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