History of the Great Wall of China
The history of the Great Wall has fascinated people from all parts of the globe. The monument is considered one of the marvels of the ancient world extending over rugged terrain along China’s northern border.
Constructed over many dynasties. The defensive barrier may have started as early as the Spring and Autumn Period that lasted from 770 BC to 476 BC.
Purpose of the Great Wall
The regions along ancient China’s northern border were inhabited by fierce nomadic peoples who fought primarily on horseback. The Xiongnu (Hsiungnu) was one of China’s earliest enemies from the north who continuously threatened the “Middle Kingdom,” as China called itself, from the north during the nation’s early history.
In latter times, the Mongols, Turks, Manchus and other nomadic peoples would breach the Great Wall conquering parts or all of China.
In order to deal with the threat of these foreign invaders, the Chinese built stone and earth barriers and fortifications. The wall had to be high enough to prevent riders on horseback from scaling the structure. Armed sentries and detachments patrolled the wall for signs of an impending invasion. If any buildup of troops were detected, the Chinese would deploy their own forces moving along the top of the wall itself or along associated roads. Successful defense relied on the ability of the government to respond quickly and in force to any possible threat along a vast defensive perimeter.
Throughout the history of the Great Wall of China, the materials and construction techniques used to build the fortifications have been modernized and improved. In the early days, rammed earth, uncut stones and timber were used to build the wall. In latter periods, bricks, hewn stone, tiles and similar materials were used to create a sturdier barrier that required less maintenance.
Related article: the importance of the great wall of china for the silk road.
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History of the Great Wall of China by Dynasty
In the Spring and Autumn Period or the Warring States Period, the Zhou Dynasty kings began work on stone and earthen barriers to protect their territories. They build the wall to protect their dynasty. Thus, there were a number of relatively short “Great Walls” at the time.
The Qin Dynasty was a turning point in the history of the Wall of China. The Emperor Qin Shihuang was able for the first time to unite the previous warring states and create a single imperial dynasty. The emperor ordered that some of the existing walls be united to form a unified response to the Xiongnu threat from the north. Other state walls eventually decayed from lack of maintenance, or they were destroyed to allow easier access from one state to another.
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In the Han Dynasty, the wall was lengthened and improved, it reached all the way from Lop Nur in the west to Liaodao in the east. The wall at this time measured more than 5000 miles (8000 km) in length including all the supplementary fortifications and branching walls. Never before in the history of the Great Wall of China has the structure reached such dimensions.
Related articles: The Han Dynasty.
The Feudal Dynasties saw China again break up into disparate, warring states. During this period, northern invaders were successful in breaching the fortifications in an extended fashion for the first time in the history of the Great Wall of China. The nomadic armies learned to concentrate on specific weak points along the wall bringing to bear all their war engines on that one spot.
In the Song Dynasty, the Jin, a Manchu-speaking group from the north, was able to breach the wall and conquer northern China. The emperor fled the northern capital and based his empire in southern China during this dynasty. Despite the downfall of the north, China flourished during the Song Dynasty by expanding trade over the South China Sea.
For the first time in the history of the Great Wall of China, the entire nation was conquered by foreigners during the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongol armies not only swept through China, but they conquered much of Asia reaching all the way to central Europe with their horse-driven armies. As they were from the north themselves, the Mongols made no effort to maintain or improve the wall wanting instead to facilitate communication between the two regions.
The Ming Dynasty is seen as a bright period in the history of China as the indigenous Han people were able to overthrow their Mongol overlords. Work started again on the Great Wall, in fact, the whole barrier was rebuilt in a project that lasted 100 years.
Related articles: The Ming Dynasty.
For the second time in the history of the Great Wall of China, a nomadic group was able to invade and conquer the entire country. The Qing Dynasty was the second in the history of China that was ruled by non-Han people. In this case, Chian was ruled the Manchu ethnicity of the northeast. Work on the barrier again stopped only to resume after the Qing Dynasty fell and the modern People’s Republic of China came into existence.
The history of the Great Wall is one of the great chapters in the history of the world. Few if any structures started so long ago have been maintained in working order over the centuries up to the present!
However, with the country on the fast road toward consumerism and modernization, many parts of this ancient work have fallen into disrepair. Some areas far from the capital of Beijing are even bulldozed over to make way for new roads or other construction.