A Brief History of Some Walls: The Great Wall of China

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The Great Wall of China

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Many describe The Great Wall as the longest structure built on earth. According to legend it is so magnificent that one can see it from space. It travels for 4, 500 miles in the North, touches the East Coast and the North Central of China, meandering through mountains, lower lands and the Gobi Desert. It is interesting to note that the translation for the wall was not always ‘Great’ but ‘Long Wall.’ As Julia Lovell puts it, the Great Wall is a collection of walls. The Chinese are known for their love of walls based on their early construction [from the 1st millennium BC], around the fields of farms, temples, houses and palaces. Furthermore, in the spiritual realm the Chinese paid homage to their God of Wall and Moat. According to Louise Chipley Slavicek, the Chinese believed that the God of Wall and Moat informed a person of their death. His two assistants, half human and half beast lead the departing soul to the frontier wall [separating the earth from the spirit realm] of the underworld.

              The Qin Wall

Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty around 220 BC had his trusted general Meng Tian begin construction on the Qin Wall, using earth, stone and wood. The Mongol horsemen were a pain in the butt for the Chinese provinces in the North; many feared their warfare tactic of barging in, take and retreat. It is interesting to note that the Mongol horsemen did not partake in siege warfare because of their lacking skills and the time consumption of that task. Hence, a formidable wall was the one solution to prevent man and horse from effortlessly invading the territories of the Chinese. Albert Bushnell Hart posits a very interesting view that the wall as a defence was useful because of the many repeated repairs to its structure. The constant repairs could only mean the strong want to protect something that works for their protection. The Great Wall also served as a symbol of status and power for Emperor Shi Huangdi. According to Joseph R. O’Neill, to build his wall, Shi Huangdi, forced over 500,000 men from towns and villages in China. In addition, the emperor ascertained that criminals as well as intellectuals worked towards building the wall. Many of the workers slept on the ground due to lack of enough beds and blankets. The unfortunate workers who toiled far from a river or lake did not have fresh water to drink. Furthermore, since the construction took farmers away from their fields and bandits confiscated supplies sent to the wall there was a shortage of food. The Qin Wall, extended beyond the original small walls into ‘barbarian’ territory. Joseph R. O’Neill, cites that work on the wall ended  in 214 BC. Leslie A. DuTemple puts the construction death toll at one million under the Shi Huangdi rule. In addition, the emperor made certain that the widows of the construction workers worked in their place. As a result many children were left to care for themselves and many passed away.  Work on the wall left many persons dissatisfied with the emperor’s rule. After Shi Huangdi death, the Han dynasty ruled in China focused mostly on the people, Qin Wall deteriorated because of neglect. However, when emperor Wu Di [he ruled from 141 to 87 BC] came to power, he ordered a 300 mile extension to the wall as a protection for traders on their business to the West.

              The Ming Wall

Major reconstruction to the wall occurred during the Ming rule; today’s wall is a product of the various emperors under this Dynasty. Robert Coupe asserts the view that by the 15th century AD, the original wall [Qin Wall] was almost completely deteriorated. The Ming family [ruled from 1368-1644] extended the wall to the East and South. The Qin Wall was mainly earth but the Mings used brick and stone, it was stronger.  New material required twice the labour and skills. Xu Da, first supervisor of the new construction saw fortification in particular mountainous regions. The men built watch towers two stories high, every one hundred miles; they served as first defence barrier against any attack. Therefore, they could send messages to each other along the wall and further inland by burning wood and straw. The watchmen used these smoke signals to alert that danger approaches, get ready for possible invasion. Additionally, the towns and fort built along the Wall especially during the Ming Dynasty served as headquarters for soldiers. Ming Wall was complete by the end of the 16th century.

         Other Use of the Wall

Under Manchu Qing, China’s last Dynasty (1644- 1912), the wall became no more as a boundary and military defence. Throughout the Great Wall’s history, it use included not only defence from enemies and a border. It served as a tool to control immigration and emigration and an economic device to regulate trade especially for the Silk Industry.

                  Today

Since the wall is China’s major tourist attraction, attention from  government and local groups increased from the early 20th century. To the outside world, many see the wall as China’s unofficial national symbol. New emerging studies compiled from archaeologists digs aid in understanding more on the structure and function of the wall.

                                                                          References

Coupe, Robert. The Great Wall of China. 2013: Rosen Publishing Group, n.d.

DuTemple, Lesley. The Great Wall of China. Twenty- First Century Books, 2013.

Fisher, Leonard Everett. The Great Wall of China. Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Hart, Albert Bushnell. “The Great Wall of China.” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 42, No.6 (1910): 438-441.

Lovell, Julia. The Great Wall: China Against The World, 1000BC-AD 2000. Grove Press, 2007.

O’Donnell, Kerri. The Great Wall of China. Rosen Classroom, 2002.

O’Neill, Joseph. Great Wall of China. ABDO, 2010.

Richardson, Adele. The Great Wall. The Creative Company, 2005.

Slavicek, Lousie Chipley. The Great Wall of China. Infobase Publishing, 2009.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Great Wall of China 221 BC- AD 1644. Osprey Publishing, 2012

You should follow this link https://yelhispressing.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/a-glance-at-the-berlin-wall/ to explore the first of the Walls Series on the Berlin Wall.

 

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3 responses »

  1. Pingback: 17 AWE-INSPIRING ANCIENT RUINS YOU MUST EXPLORE | Flying The Nest

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