Discovery & Research

Construction of the Great Wall of China

The final result of the largest construction project in history to be put into effect was a twenty five foot high, twenty foot wide, and over 1500 mile long wall, called The Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China was made of ear th and stone and was built to protect China from northern invasions.. The wall stretches from Jiayu pass in the west, to the mouth of the Yulu River in the east. It crosses over five provinces: Gansu, Shaaxi, Shanzi, Hebei, and Liaoning. Map Site. The wall was constructed sporadically, starting in 221 B.C. during the Chin Dynasty, and ending in the 1500's during the Ming Dynasty. Watch-towers were built every 200 yards and stood approximately 40 feet high. The top stories of the watch-towers were used as a station where a Chinese soldier could spot any enemy movement, and the bottom of the tower was used to store food and military supplies. The Great Wall of China was the only man made object that can be seen from outerspace with the naked eye.

The Great Wall of China was built for military purposes and only military purposes. Three sides of China are protected by natural barriers - in the south is the Himalayan Mountain Range, in the east is the Pacific Ocean, and in the west is the Tib etan Plateau. With the northern boundary of the country wide open, nomadic warriors would invade China and raid the hardworking Chinese peasants of their crops and farm animals. In addition, these conquering nomads would then take the Chinese peasants bac k with them to work as slaves. The nomads traveled on horses, making their transportation easy and quick. These warriors were able to penetrate and attack anywhere in China at any given moment, because they owned horses for transportation. Th e Chinese would fight back against the nomads, but the Chinese armies, being made up of foot soldiers, were slow, and because they were scattered about the large country, they lacked military strength. The Chinese pondered different strategies that they could use to defeat the nomads and keep them from invading their country. After considering many options, they decided that building a wall was the most logical solution to their problem, although no one truly liked this alternative. A wall, with its watch towers and supply stations, would not only cause the army to become more organized and concentrated, making it more powerful, but it would also keep nomads from making unrestricted invasions of China on their horses. The wall would make it extremely difficult for invaders to ride into the country, and a nomadic warrior without a horse would be virtually helpless and defense less. Issac Asimov said it well when he stated, "China was not made invulnerable by the great wall, but it was surely made less vulnerable.".

A wall was proved to be the best way to restrict the nomads and protect China. Earlier during the Chou Dynasty individual walls around separate states had been constructed to protect their own territories. Since the Chin Dynasty(221 -206 B.C.) had unified China under their emperor Shih Huang Ti, they joined all the walls of the states to form one long wall, which was called the 10,000 li (5000 kilometers). This initial structure formed the basis for the Great Wall. Many dynasties reigned over China during this almost 2000 year project, with some adding to the construction of the wall, while others did nothing. The final major renovations occurred during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming Dynasty reconstructed, repaired, and rebuilt a large section of the wall. They also added new sections to the wall, with some sections being parallel to the old wall, making two or even three rows of walls.

In the beginning the wall was made mostly from dirt and other raw materials. The workers would compress huge piles of soil, leaves, hay, and mud into a wall. Not too long after starting, the Chinese changed from an earthen wall only to a wall that was coated by stones, bricks, and granite blocks, making a neat, sturdy long-lasting wall. During the Ming Dynasty, watch-towers were turned into elaborate structures with tile patterns circling the doorways. Altogether, one hundred and eighty million cubic meters of packed earth and sixty million cubic meters of bricks were used in constructing the wall. Valencia says, "The amount of earth, stone, and brickwork in its construction is more than enough to build a wall one meter thick and five meters high around the equator."

When the wall was made only with earthen materials, a lot of labor was not needed. But when the Chinese switched to stones, bricks, and granite blocks, much more work was required to lift and move these heavier materials. Three hundred thousand prisoners, peasants, and others disliked by the emperor were conscripted to leave their families and jobs for years and years at a time to help construct the Great Wall. Many workers lost their lives in the building process, and it is said that for every block laid down, one laborer lost his life. Finding workers and taking care of them was a hard task. New towns had to be formed along the wall to house the workers, and all farmers throughout China were growing food not only for themselves but for the laborers on the wall also. Some Chinese were hired to drive wagons back and forth to haul goods and construction materials to the wall. However, the wagons did not always make it, as they were involved in accidents and their goods were often sto len by bandits. The taxes for all Chinese inhabitants were raised to provide the workers with shelter, food, and water, and to supply materials for the wall.