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The Great Wall - Construction Sequence

The principle of these extraordinary fortifications goes back to the Chunqiu period (722-481 BC) and to the Warring States period (453-221 BC), so-called because of the long struggle among seven rival dynasties for supreme power. The construction of certain walls can be explained by these feudal conflicts, such as the one built by the Wei in 408 BC to defend their kingdom against the Qin. Its vestiges, conserved in the centrr of China, antedate by many years the walls that the Kingdoms of Qin, Zhao and Yan erected against the northern barbarians around 300 BC.

In 7th and 8th century BC, battles happened frequently among the states of the Spring-Autumn and Warring States dynasty and in order to defend themselves they began to built walls and towers on the borders. From the statement "Square walls surround the Kingdom of Chu," it is possible to trace walls with a total length of 500 kilometers in what is now Henan Province dating back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC). The oldest section of the Great Walls that has been found is the Great Wall of Qi State in Shandong province, and the Great Wall of Chu State in Henan province. Both date back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC).

In addition to Chu, the kingdoms of Qin, Qi, Wei, Zhao, Han and Yan all had their own separate defensive walls spread about through the Yellow and Yangtze River basins, running in different directions and beginning and ending abruptly. The walls of this period bear little relationship to the wall of today with its predominantly east-west configuration.

The walls built in this period had the following features: extended in different directions and short-lengthed (varied from hundreds of kilometers to two thousand kilometers). In order to differ it from Qin Great Wall, these walls were named by historians as Pre-Qin Great Wall.

Beginning in 220 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Empire of the Ten Thousand Generations, undertook to restore and link up the separate sections of the Great Wall which had been built in the 3rd century BC, or perhaps even earlier, and which stretched from the region of the Ordos to Manchuria. Towards the west, he had the fortifications extended in the valley of the Huanghe all the way to Lanzhou. Thus was the first cohesive defense system of which significant vestiges still remain, completed, shortly before the accession of the Han dynasty (206 BC).

During the 2,000 years Great Wall building, emperor Qin summarized a series of experiences represented by build according to local topography and make forts on strategic points. In selecting the building materials, Qin followed the rule of use local materials and created many new structuring methods. Rammed earth, block stone, rubbles, bricks and tiles were used in most area while willow branches, reeds and sands were used and laid to walls in deserts.

The Qin Wall starts from Liaodong (todays east and south of Liaoning Province) in the east and ends at Lintao in the west. The wall was built according to the local conditions and used local materials. Generally speaking, the Qin Wall was made of large pieces of stones. Between the stones, huge amounts of detritus was accumulated and filled in. According to the Records of the Historian (shiji), written approximately 100 BC, "General Meng Tian mobilized 300,000 laborers and built a great wall which followed the contour of the land, taking advantage of natural defenses."

In 221 BC, Qinshihuang conquered the other 6 states and unified China. He became the first emperor of united China and stopped the war rages in the country. So as to consolidate the unity and safety of the whole country and defend against the invasion of northern nomads and barbarians, emperor Qinshihuang began to assemble the strength of whole country to build great walls. Based on the original walls built by the states of Yan, Zhao and Qi, Qinshihuang connected these walls together and extended it longer. The wall of Qin dynasty finally extended from Linyao of the west to Liaodong of the east stretching more than 10,000 li (5,000 km). Since then the wall got its name by Chinese people as Wanli Changcheng (The Great Wall of 10,000 li). (2 Chinese li equals 1 kilometer).

The Pei We dynasty (386-534) was of Tartar origin; as, however, the population subject to them grew more settled, the points of variance between themselves and the other Tartar races who were still living a nomadic life became more acute, and in consequence Ming yuan Ti (409-423) resolved to build a great wall of two thousand li in length as a defence against their incursions. In 587 Yang Chien occupied Hou Liang, and in 589 he overthrew the Chuen dynasty, taking the last emperor, Hou Chu, prisoner; he then ascended the throne under the name of Wen Ti or Kao Tsu, as the first emperor of the Sui dynasty, and united the whole kingdom under his sceptre. The Sui dynasty, following the Northern Wei, a Turkish people in the sixth century, thought it well to fortify the boundaries of the Empire on its north side.

During the Han reign the Great Wall was extended even further, and under the emperor Wudi (140-87 BC) it spanned approximately 6,000 kms between Dunhuang in the west to Bohai Sea in the east. The danger of incursion along northern Chinese border by the federated tribes of Mongols, Turks and Tunguz of the Empire of the Xiongnu, the first empire of the steppes, made a defense policy more necessary than ever. Alternating military actions with intensive diplomatic efforts, this policy entailed massive relocation of Chinese peoples within the frontier zone. In 102 BC, there were 180,000 peasant soldiers in the "command posts" of Gansu.

The Han Wall followed the basic characteristic of Qin Wall, that is, to build the wall according to the local conditions and used local materials. The Han Wall mainly wound through grasslands where big stones were not available. The compressed earth construction was favored. For example, in Dunhuang, where large amount of bulrush, poplar, red willow and dogbane grew, these were used for wall construction. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD 220) Which followed the Qin, in addition to making improvements in the Qin wall, the Han emperors constructed a separate outer wall north of the Yinshan Range with a total length of 10,000 kilometers. This was the longest single wall built in ancient China.

After the downfall of the Han dynasty (220 AD), the Great Wall entered its medieval phase. After the fall of the Han Dynasty, the wall gradually decayed into ruins. Remnants of this work remain till this day. Construction and maintenance work were halted, only occasionally being recommenced. Under the Northern Wei, for example, a l,000-km section of wall was built in 423; this was added to in the 6th century, but work was suspended during the Tang period (618-907). China at that time enjoyed such great military power that the need for a defense policy was no longer felt.

The Ming Wall is the solidest and most complete one compared with walls in other dynasties. In 1368, the founding year of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Taizu commanded his general Xu Da to direct the reconstruction of the Great Wall. The Ming Dynasty drew the experience from the previous dynasties when they built the wall. More important military fortifications were added on the wall. Beginning at the Juyong Pass, the work went on for more than 100 years. Based on the general dimensions of the Qin Wall, the Ming wall stretched from its westernmost point at the Jiayu Pass more than 6,000 kilometers east to the Yalu River. The section, which lies between the Jiayu and Shanhai, passes remains in good condition today and is known throughout the world as the Great Wall of China.

The history of Ming military affairs explains why it was rebuilt. When Emperor Yongle returned north and reestablished Beijing as the capital, he was exposed to attack on three sides. Harassment increased after the reign of Emperor Zhengtong, so work was begun to strengthen and lengthen the wall at Yalu River in the east. The strategic importance of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall was obvious, as many battles took place there. It is said that during the Three Kingdoms period when Cao Cao exterminated Yuan Shao's regime, his army advanced through Mutianyu. In the mid-Ming years, the noted General Qi Jiguang was transferred from the south. As Military Superintendent of Jizhen, he built observation towers and provided storage areas for military weapons.

Great Wall of China History




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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:03 ZULU