The Great Wall of China is arguably the most epic monument to be built in the history of the world. Badaling, being the most famous part of the wall, receives tens of millions of visitors every year. Found in Northern China, the wall comprises of series of nineteen walls and fortifications built during different times of the Chinese dynasty. It is touted as the longest artificial structure ever built covering a distance of 21,196 kilometers, built mainly from a mixture of rocks, cement, and dirt. It towers 9.1 meters high and 15 meters wide. A number of Chinese dynasties have taken part in the construction of the wall ranging from the Qin dynasty to the Ming dynasty. In the initial stages of construction, the building bricks used to be bound together by rice flour. Some sections of the wall, especially those found in the northwestern part such as Gansu and Ningxia have undergone erosion and it is believed that they will be completely wiped out within the next twenty years.
Some sections of the wall bear bullet holes, specifically the Gubeikou area, and an evidence of the battle that took place at the Wall. Most of the workers during the construction of the great wall included peasants and convicts who worked under hostile conditions to make the Great Wall of China a historic monument it is today.
There are a number of myths associated with the Great Wall of China including the idea that the wall can be seen by naked eyes from space. It is also referred to as the wall of death as it is believed that many people who used to be workers during its construction died and were buried under the wall. The walls greatest legend is considered to be Meng Jiang who lost her husband during the construction of the wall. It is believed that she wept till a section of the wall collapsed revealing the remains of her husband.
The earliest of the nineteen walls was built in the 7th century BC while Qin Shai Hong, the first Chinese Emperor, built the most famous of the nineteen walls. The current wall would then come to be built during the Ming Dynasty. The construction of the wall during the dynasty of Emperor Qin was necessitated by the enmity that existed between the emperor and the Northern Xiongnu tribes. The wall was therefore meant to prevent the tribes from crossing over and invading Northern China. The nomadic Xiongnu offered constant threats to the people of Northern China. The Chinese therefore had only four options. They included defensive garrison creation, fostering diplomatic arrangements with them, offensive campaign initiation to chase them out of the Chinese neighborhood or constructing a wall to prevent the invasion. The Chinese workers always raised the height of the watchtowers after every one hundred years so that they could be able to clearly see their enemies, the Mongols. This made it difficult for the Mongols to attack the Chinese people.
Other dynasties such as the Han and Sui, later came to be involved in the reconstruction and elongation of the wall but it was during the Ming dynasty that major reconstructions took place. This took place after the reclamation of China from the Yuan Dynasty led by the Mongols. During this time, most of the construction materials were replaced with stones and bricks. The wall constructed during Mings Dynasty stretches from Shanghaiguan to Jiayuguan. The construction period saw many workers lose their lives due to starvation and diseases and it is believed that they were buried under the wall. The importance and reason behind the construction of the wall are somewhat controversial as different scholars have got different and varying views on why the wall was built.
Arthur Waldron argues that the construction of the wall couldnt be because of security reasons from the Mongols as the Mongolian attacks on Northern China persisted long after building the Great Wall of China. The reconstruction of the fortifications and the watchtowers by the Ming Dynasty, according to Waldron, was therefore not effective in preventing attacks from the Mongolians. He, therefore, argues that the Great Wall of China was constructed as a means of promoting cohesion among the Northern Chinese people. ODonnell states that the process of building the wall brought about the physical and cultural unification of the people as they mingled and depicted high levels of cooperation. He claims that this was a clever way of the Ming Dynasty trying to bring the people of China together and create a stronger and more cohesive China. The wall, therefore, made the Chinese think of themselves as a more superior civilized people whose efforts were directed towards building their dynasty as opposed to engaging their aggressive neighbors, the Mongols.
Waldron further argues that the Ming dynasty wanted to have control over its people and therefore security was not a factor at the time when the Great Wall of China was being constructed. The watchtowers just served to inform them of the enemies who were approaching their dynasty and help them make prior preparations to any attack that was imminent. The building of the wall, according to the Mongols, depicted the Chinese people as weak as they resolved to build a wall rather than face their problems.
On the other hand, according to Thomas Barfield, the tensions, and frequent attacks that the Chinese faced from the Mongolians were the main reasons for the construction of the Great Wall of China. Barfields idea of the construction of the wall contradicts Waldrons as Waldron argues against security reasons being the idea behind building the monument. Barfield argues that the building of the Great Wall of China served as a continuation of the policies that the previous Chinese rulers had put in place. He claims that the wall is of great historical importance to the people of Northern China as it served as a separation of the cultural and political aspects of the Chinese and the Mongols. He, therefore, views the later reconstruction of the wall by the Ming Dynasty as a continuation of the strategies started by the previous Chinese emperors and rulers.
Despite Waldrons and Barfields differences, the main historical facts that clearly comes out as to why the rulers embarked on the construction of the wall was due to defense and security measures. The frequent military attacks that the Chinese faced from the Mongolians prompted them to look for a solution to this persistent problem. Though the Great Wall of China was not effective in preventing the attacks, it helped the Chinese prepare themselves against any security alerts that they faced as the watchtowers provided a strategic point from where the Chinese could be able to see the enemy approaching.
The Ming Dynasty was also built as a way of unifying the Chinese people. About 70% of the people of China were involved in the construction of the Great Wall of China. The building of the historical landmark, therefore, brought people together as they worked to restore their pride as the people of China. Bonds and friendships were, therefore, created between the people.
The Great Wall of China had various historical importance given its highly architectural design. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall became the largest military and defense structure in the world. It was used by China as a symbol to embody the security of its people and the country as a whole. Its construction brought about a paradigm shift in the Chinese political environment.
The Great Wall of China, though an ancient monument, is of great importance to the Chinese people and China as a nation. It brings out the hard-working nature of the people of China as well as their culture and will. It still stands as the only artificial feature that can be seen from the moon. The Wall is also used by the military as a defense training area. It depicts the Chinese remarkable intelligence and ancient architectural achievements. It is also of great economic value to China as a state. It serves as a tourist attraction site as millions of tourists get to visit the Great Wall of China every year. In 2001, sixty-one million tourists visited the monument, a number which has been growing annually.
DuTemple, Lesley A.The Great Wall of China. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications. 2002.
O'Donnell, Kerri. The Great Wall of China. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2003.
Slavicek, Louise Chipley. The Great Wall of China. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2005.
Turnbull, Stephen R., and Steve Noon. The Great Wall of China, 221 BC-AD 1644. Oxford (UK): Osprey Pub, 2007.
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