Neil Armstrong, the first American astronaut to land on the moon, looked
back at the huge, glistening earth, he could identify only two manmade
works: the dikes of Holland and the Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall is the largest defense work of ancient China and one of
the wonders of the world's architectural history.
Construction of the Great Wall lasted for more than 2,000 years, from
the Spring and Autumn (770-476B.C.) and Warring States (475-221B.C.) periods
to the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Stretching from east to west
in northern China, the Great Wall rises and falls with the contours of
the terrain, climbing over rolling mountains and passing through grasslands
The grandeur of the Great Wall and the difficulties and long years of
labor in building it are rare not only in the history of China but also
in the history of the world. The Great Wall was listed as one of the world's
seven wonders a few hundred years ago, alongside the Coliseum of Rome,
the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Sophia Mosque in Istanbul.
During the Spring and Autumn Period, seven ducal states appeared alongside
the Huanghe (Yellow) River. Chu State was the first to erect walls to
ward off incursions and was followed by other ducal states. At that time,
Yan, Zhao, and Qin states were often harassed by the powerful northern
nomadic tribes, and they built walls and stationed troops on garrisons
along their northern borders. Construction of the series of Great Walls
221B.C., Qin Shi Huang conquered the other six ducal states, unified China,
became the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-207B.C.) and built the
first centralized feudal empire. To consolidate the territory and protect
the country from the harassment of the northern nomadic tribes, he ordered
the construction of the 5,000-kilometer Great Wall, starting from Liaodong
Bay in the east and ending in Lintao of Gansu Province in the west.
There were Great Walls other than the one built by the Qin Dynasty. More
than 20 ducal states and dynasties before and after the Qin Dynasty built
walls in different areas. The Great Walls erected by the Han Dynasty (206B.C.-220A.D.)
and the Ming Dynasty were each more than 5,000 kilometers in length.
The Great Wall of the Han Dynasty was the longest: 10,000 kilometers.
It was built on top of the remains of the Qin Great Wall and extended
westward via what is now known as the Hexi (West of the Huanghe River)
Corridor to Lop Nur in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
section of the Great Wall west of the Huanghe River played a vital role
in ensuring smooth traffic on the Silk Road to the western regions (mainly
countries in Central Asia) and in the development of trade and cultural
exchanges between China and countries in other parts of Asia and Europe.
Like the walls built by many ducal states and dynasties, most of the Han
Dynasty Great Wall gradually disappeared during ages of wind erosion and
sand burial, leaving behind segments of earth or mounds of reeds and stone.
The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty was the last to be built, and is the
most perfect of the Great Walls in terms of defense engineering. Construction
lasted for more than 200 years. The Great Wall that we see today is mainly
the section completed during the Ming regime.
To achieve their goal of military defense, people in ancient China tried
to make the design of the Great Wall as perfect as possible. The main
body of the Great Wall extends for more than 5,000 kilometers, linking
tens of thousands of block towers and beacon towers.
The beacon towers were also known as smoke mounds. They were built on
the wall, on hilltops, or at spots easily seen on either side of the wall
at regular intervals and were used as stations for military communications.
If there was any enemy movement, a signal would be relayed—fire
at night and smoke in the daytime—until the signal reached the capital
or a large defense command post.
The block towers stood high above the wall and consisted of two or three
tiers, including areas for the troops to live in and for storing weapons
and ammunition. It is believed that the block towers were designed by
Qi Jiguang, a general of the Ming Dynasty, who had distinguished himself
in battles against Japanese pirates, and they played an important role
in military defense.
The Great Walls were constructed with the rises and falls of China's
feudal dynasties over a period of 2,700 years, and their remains can be
found in the country's 16 provinces and autonomous regions in the northeast,
north, and northwest, especially along the Huanghe River valley. The aggregate
length of these walls was probably more than 50,000 kilometers. The masonry
that went into the construction of the walls would be enough to erect
a wall one meter thick and five meters high encircling the earth more
than ten times. No other project in the world can boast such a huge amount
of work in its making.
The Great Walls served as a monument to the political, economic, military,
and cultural history of the feudal regimes as well as to the deeds of
the bold, talented generals and the intelligent artisans.
The Walls also embodied the blood and sweat of numerous soldiers and
laboring people. Legend has it that during the reign of the first emperor
of the Qin Dynasty, a woman named Meng Jiangnu became distressed because
her husband had not returned home for three years after being conscripted
to work on the Great Wall. Meng decided to bring clothes to her husband.
She suffered untold hardships before she arrived at Shanhaiguan Pass and
wept in terrible grief when she learned that her husband had died of excessive
labor and that his remains were buried under the Great Wall. Her tears
caused 800 li (400 kilometers) of the Great Wall to collapse, and she
found her husband's remains. The legend tells of the heavy forced labor
over several thousands of years and the people's sufferings.
Today, the Great Wall stands as one of China's most well-known tourist
attractions. People from all over the world put the Great Wall at the
top of their list of places to visit when they come to China. The history,
culture, art, and architecture of the Great Wall help them better understand
The Great Wall has lost its original appearance because of social changes
and exposure to the weather over the past ages. After the founding of
the People's Republic of China, measures were taken to protect it. In
1961, the Great Wall was designated as a major historical site under State
protection. Maintenance and repairs have been conducted mainly at the
sections at Badaling, Shanhaiguan Pass, and Jiayuguan Pass.
In 1987, The Great Wall was included in the List of World Heritages by
the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO). The Great Wall has become a treasure shared by all mankind.