The Great Wall Sign

Travel to the great wall in China

How Was the Great Wall of China Financed ?

To find out how was the Great Wall of China financed we need to look at the three Dynasties that did the majority of work.

The Qin Dynasty


This is the Dynasty that first unified China. Building of the wall was a consequence of the unification. The First Chinese Emperor, Zhao Zheng, decided to build the wall to defend China from the Xiongnu nomadic tribes to the north. The wall he planned to build was fairly simple consisting of packed earth. Laborers did not need to be skilled to build it. This made it possible to use corvee labor. Corvee labor, or statute labor, is in essence forced labor, used in lieu of taxation. At the time, money did not exist as form of payment, so taxes to the government were paid through other means, such as grain or labor.

The Great Wall of China was considered a part of public works since it was used to defend the country. It is believed that, in total, 3,500,000 people worked on the wall and up to one million died in the course. This was a terrible burden on China as a large population was sent to the wall, some sources say up to 70%. An even larger population was needed to feed and supply the workers, essentially bringing the economy to a halt. The First Emperor became hugely unpopular and is still one of the most hated figures in Chinese history. Following a major rebellion, the building finished soon after the Emperor's death.

The Han Dynasty


The Han Dynasty replaced the Qin one. They continued viewing the wall as part of their defense system and continued repairing it. The legend has it that a state sponsored lottery, keno, financed some of the building of the wall. General Cheung Leung was supposed to have used the first 120 character from the “Thousand Character Classic” poem, used to teach children reading and writing. He based the game on the poem and it proved so popular that he was able to fund rebuilding of the wall. Whether this is true or not is not certain, but what is certain is that all of the building works were financed directly by the government, either through taxation or forced labor.

The Ming Dynasty


The Great Wall of China, as we know the most popular sites today, was build by the Ming, starting in 1368 and ending in 1644. During that period the compacted earth was reinforced with bricks and watch towers were build.

Again, the work was considered public, since it was believed to play a role in the defense of the country. The building now became the job of the armed forces. The army were sent to the walls as part of boarder control and defense and they took countless skilled laborers with them. These people were now payed by the government. Unfortunately, the supplies were often scarce and many died of hunger and lack of provisions.

All three dynasties saw the wall as their responsibility as it was a part of the defense strategy. They all financed the wall through taxation of some form, usually at a great cost to the country.