The Great Wall of China is a man-made wonder, spanning thousands of miles. It spreads from the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Gobi Desert and beyond in the west. Much of it has stood for hundreds of years, with some portions over 2000 years old. The Great Wall stood as a wall of defense for many years, against the warring states to the north. Then, in 1271, the Mongols invaded. Suddenly work on the wall came to a halt. While many parts of the wall are now in disrepair, many other parts have been restored or reconstructed. It still stands today as a great wonder of the world.


The Great Wall is not a single wall  

Thousands of years ago, China was not a country. It was a region of separate states, ruled by their own leaders. Each state had its own language, culture and currency. The states fought with each other. They also warred with neighboring areas, like Mongolia. Four states built fortification walls along the north of China around 700 BC. They were built to protect their territorial borders from other states as well as other countries. There were side walls, circular walls and parallel walls. In some areas, rivers or high mountains formed part of the “wall”.

These natural barriers protected the lands as much as the walls did. The original walls around the warring states were built of gravel and earth, packed between wooden frames. They were designed for defense against swords and spears. In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang defeated the separate states of China and united them as one empire. He became its ruler and the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. China is protected on three sides. The Pacific Ocean is to the east. The Hi- malayan Mountains are to the south. The Tibetan Plateau is to the west. The north was the only open area where China could be easily invaded. Many of the states already had walls separating them from the other areas. Qin’s idea was to link the walls in the north to form a barrier from the invading Huns.

The official length of the Great Wall is 13,170.7 miles (21, 196.18 kilometres)  

When measuring the Wall, the Chinese regard all sections of wall as part of the Wall. This includes all the side walls and all the circular walls. It includes inner walls and parallel walls. It includes trenches. It includes natural barriers that were used as part of the wall, such as mountains and rivers. It includes old sections of packed dirt and newer sections of brick and stone. It also includes walls that were never joined as part of the main wall, such as the Chu State Wall.

Taking all these walls together, the official length of Wall is 13,170.7 miles (21, 196.18 kilometres). This may change as archaeologists are still finding walls in China. The length in distance covered from east to west is about 5500 miles (8851 kilo- metres).

The oldest Wall is about 2700 years old  

The Chu State Wall is the oldest wall in China. The wall is in southwest Henan, in the central eastern part of China. It was built around 688 BC. It is known as the Chu State Square Wall because it forms three sides of a square. The fourth side (to the south) is open. The wall zigzags across Lushan, Yexian, Fancheng and Zanzhou. It is made of stone and dirt and follows the natural landscape. Sometime during the Zhou Dynasty (770-476 BC), the Chu State expanded west and covered both sides of the Yangtze River. It kept expanding until around 600 BC. By then, it was large as all of the northern states put together. The Chu built fortresses along the northern border to the Qi and Jin States.

They joined these fortresses with a wall. The wall was originally about 155 miles (250 kilometres) long. As the Qin began to advance, the Chu expanded their wall to about 248 miles (400 kilometres) long. The Chu were defeated by the Qin in 223 BC. Not much remains of the Chu Wall. It is not part of the main Great Wall and was only discovered in 1902 in Henan. Remains of the Chu Wall can be seen in Ye County.

The Great Wall of China crosses nine provinces and municipalities  

The Great Wall of China goes west from Shanhaiguan, at the China Sea, to Lop Nur, in Gansu province. It crosses deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus. In some areas, it crosses over mountain peaks. In other areas, the mountains are used as part of the Wall. The Wall passes through nine provinces and municipalities. They are Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxin and Gansu. It is possible that the Wall reaches further west. Archaeologists have discovered beacon towers beyond Lop Nur that may have been part of the Wall.

Four major Walls were built  

The first major wall was built around 221 BC when Qin united the states. The second major wall was built in the first century BC by the Han Dynasty. The wall then became the longest it has ever been. The third major wall was built between 550-1234 AD. Various dynasties added to the wall to suit their needs. Wall building stopped completely when the Mongols invaded and took control of China in 1271. The fourth major wall was built by the Ming Dynasty. This wall is what is known today as The Great Wall of China.

The first Great Wall took ten years to build  

In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang defeated the states of China and united them as one empire. He became its ruler and the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The Hun was a small municipality in the north. The Huns kept attacking along the border, slowly claiming parts of China’s territory. Qin sent General Meng Tian to stop them.

Meng’s army of three million men defeated the Hun and took back the lands. Qin realized the walls between the Yan, Zhao and Qin states could not stop in- vaders on their own. He gave General Meng the task of linking the walls. The existing walls were repaired and new sections were built. Two million work- ers took ten years to build the wall. The wall ran east from Lintao and crossed the Yellow River. It then ran along the north branch of Yanshan Mountain and ended at Jieshishan Mountain near the Datongjiang River in Korea.

Most of Qin’s original wall has gone  

Qin’s Wall was longer and further north than today’s Great Wall. No exact records were kept of the length or the course that it took. It was made of blocks of mud and stone found in the local areas. Stones from mountain areas were used over mountain ranges. Packed earth was used over the plains. Most of this wall has now gone. The remains are scattered along the route. Some sections are well preserved and reach about 5-6 meters high.

Many workers are buried within the Wall  

Emperor Qin’s Wall project was directed by General Meng Tian. The workers were soldiers, convicts, prisoners of war and peasants. Workers were gathered from areas along the route of the wall. If more workers were needed, soldiers would go into the villages, round up all the men and take them away to work on the wall.

Many of them were never seen again. About 400,000 workers died during construction. Some estimates say it may have been up to one million. The bodies were buried inside the wall. This is not just a legend.

Archaeologists have uncovered many bodies buried inside the wall. If you ever go walking along The Great Wall of China, just think how many people might be buried beneath your feet!

There are many legends about the Wall  

One of the most popular legends is of Meng Jiang-Nu.

Meng Jiang-Nu and Fan Qiliang had only been married for three days when Emperor Qin’s men came looking for workers. Fan Qiliang was taken away and sent to work on the wall. Meng Jiang-Nu missed her husband. They lost contact for nearly a year. When winter came, she sewed him some warm clothes. Eventually, Meng Jiang-Nu set out to find Fan Qiliang.

She walked day and night, climbing mountains and wading across rivers. She arrived at the Wall near Shanhaiguan Pass. She was told Fan Qiliang had died from hunger and exhaustion. He was buried in the wall. Meng Jiang-Nu was so upset she sat down and cried for days. Suddenly a 248 mile (400 kilometer) section of wall collapsed, revealing Fan Qiliang’s body.

Emperor Qin was visiting the wall at the time. He was so furious, he ordered that Meng Jiang-Nu be executed. When he saw how pretty she was, he changed his mind and decided to marry her. Meng Jiang-Nu was very angry, but she agreed – if the emperor gave Fan Qil- iang a state funeral.

Emperor Qin agreed. Meng Jiang-Nu never married the emperor. She had a secret plan to be with Fan Qiliang forever. After the funeral, she climbed a great rock and jumped into the sea. The Legend of Meng Jiang-Nu is told in folk songs, poems and plays. The Tem- ple of Meng Jiang-Nu was built in her memory either before or during the Song Dynasty (which began in 960 AD). The Temple is on Fenghuang Mountain, about four miles (6.5 kilometres) from Shanhaiguan Pass.

Over the years, the Temple began to fall apart. It was repaired during the Ming Dynasty as part of their Wall rebuilding.

The Han Dynasty built the longest Wall  

The Han Dynasty ran from 206 BC to 220 AD. The Han Dynasty lengthened and strengthened the wall. They built parallel sections running for hundreds of miles. Some of these sections linked up along the border with Inner Mongolia. They also built many branching walls. The total length was over 5,000 miles (8000 kilometres). This included all wall sections as well as areas of mountains and other natural features that acted as a “wall”. This was the longest the Great Wall has even been. It is estimated that 600,000 workers built these sections.

Wall building and repairing stopped when Genghis Khan ruled China  

From 550 AD, various dynasties added to the wall to suit their needs. The Northern Qi built an Inner Great Wall to defend against Mongolia. The Sui Dynasty did major rebuilding. The Tang Dynasty didn’t bother to build or maintain the wall as it wasn’t considered necessary. The Song Dynasty did major rebuilding in the north and northwest. When the Mongols invaded around 1271, they claimed China as their land. China was now controlled by Genghis Khan. His powerful Yuan Dynasty ruled until 1368. The wall was not needed and no work was done on it.

The Ming Wall is today’s Great Wall of China  

In 1368, the Yuan Dynasty collapsed. China once again ruled its land with the Ming Dynasty. But they struggled to keep out the Mongols. The Ming army was defeated by the Mongols in 1449. The Mongols had control in the Ordos Desert. The Mings built a new wall along the southern border of the desert.

The Ming Wall was a 100 year project. Building began around 1474. It included battle forts, watchtowers, bridges, temples and pagodas. The wall was built of stone, tiles and bricks. Bricks were made from limestone or granite, depending on what was in the area. They were cemented together using a mixture of glutinous rice and egg white.

Heavy stone was used as the foundation to support the bricks, for the inner and outer brims of the wall, and for the gateways. In the west, building materials were limited. Mud was often used. Dirt was also used, rammed between wood and tied with woven mats. These areas have eroded much quicker. In some areas, two brick walls were built. The area between them was filled with dirt and rubble.

The top of this area was paved, joining the two walls together to form one single huge wall. The wall varies in height and width depending on the location. The North Pass near the capital city of Beijing was 25.6 feet (7.8 meters) high and 16.4 feet (5 meters) wide. The Ming Dynasty was defeated in 1644. The wall was not maintained. In the mid 1900s, a section of the wall near Badaling was repaired by the Chinese government. It was opened to the public as a tourist attraction. Since then, more sections have been repaired and opened to the public.

The Ming Wall had about 25,000 watchtowers  

The Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. Archaeologists estimate that it had about 25,000 watchtowers. They were used to store weapons, house soldiers and send smoke signals. They stood about 40 feet (12 meters) high.

Signal towers were located on high points of the wall or on mountain tops. Soldiers would watch out for enemy movements from the top of the watch- towers. They could then send out smoke signals to other towers. A chain of signals along the wall and across mountain tops would warn of the enemy and call for more soldiers. Some towers contained administrative centers or large barracks.

Each tower had different stairways to help confuse any enemies. Some of the stairways led to dead ends. This gave the soldiers time to signal for help from nearby towers. Jinshanling is about 80 miles (130 kilometres) northeast of Beijing. The Jin- shanling section of wall runs for 6.8 miles (11 kilometres) across steep mountain slopes. It has 67 watchtowers, three signal towers and five passes. The towers are very close. They are only 55-110 yards (50-100 meters) apart.

The Great Wall of China is slowly disappearing  

Many areas of the Wall have been repaired and are open to the public. Most of the Wall has not been repaired. In some areas, the wall is used as a playground area for villages. Wall material has been used by the villagers to build their houses.

In other areas, the wall has been torn down to make way for construction. In the west, where the wall was built of mud or earth, erosion has been destroying the wall. In some areas, where the wall reached 16.4 feet (5 meters), it is now less than 6 feet (2 meters). Watchtowers and other features have eroded away completely.

Scientists estimate that more than 37 miles (60 kilometres) of wall in Gansu will be gone in the next 20 years due to sandstorm erosion. Who knows how long the rest of the wall will last.  We hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the Great Wall of China and are excited to learn more about other places on the Earth.