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The construction of the Great Wall of China
The construction of the Great Wall of China
From the time of Huang Di (Yellow Emperor) more than 4600
years ago, there had been continuous violent conflicts between the
agricultural Han Chinese in what is modern China and the non-Han Chinese
herdsmen living in the north. All along the ill-defined ecological border
of North China, pillagings and plunderings committed by the non-Han
Chinese went unabated through the centuries. This constant menace resulted
in enormous efforts to defend the country against the marauding herdsmen.
Yan, Zhao, and Qin the three northern vassal States of the Zhou
Court during the Zhou Dynasty (1134BC to 250BC) built walls along their
northern frontiers as a defensive measure.
The State of Yan (766BC to 222BC), whose capital was Ji Cheng
(present day Beijing city in Hebei province), erected a long wall from
Shan Hai Guan (The Gate of Mountain and Sea) in Liaoning Peninsula in the
porovince of Hebei across the northern frontier to the north of
present day Beijing city.
The State of Zhao (453BC to 228BC), with its capital in Han Dan
(present day Han Dan city in Hebei province), also constructed a long wall
along its northern frontier from the north of Beijing city to the bank
along the great bend of the Huang He (Yellow River).
The State of Qin (777BC to 207BC), whose capital was in Xian Yang
(present day Xi An city in Shaanxi province), built another long wall on
its northern frontier from the bank of the Yellow River to Yu Men Guan
(The Gate of Jade Door) in the plateau of Long Xi in Gansu province.
In 246BC a very clever and capable, but ruthless man became the ruler
of the State of Qin. He was Ying Zheng (259BC to 210BC) and he had a
vision that one day he would conquer all the other States in the land and
unite this vast land into one big empire. He accomplished his vision in
221BC after conquering and subjucating all the other states in the land.
He adopted the title of First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang Di, the
first Emperor in China). He established the Qin Dynasty (221BC to 207BC).
He introduced the Qin administrative system throughout his empire which
was divided into 36 Prefectures. He also introduced a uniform system of
weights and measure, adopted a standard coinage and even standardised the
axle lengths of wagons. He uniformed the way of writing the Chinese
characters as different State had its own way of writing. However, he was
also known to be extravagant and cruel to his subjects. He built roads,
canals and many magnificent palaces.
At about the same time the various non-Han tribes in the north also
united themselves into a large political union which proved to be a
formidable antagonist to the Qin Empire. The strife between the Han Chinese
farmers and the non-Han nomads intensified. At times the Qin armies drove
their nomadic rivals back to the desert but the intrusions continued.
In 214BC, to secure the northern frontiers, Qin Shi Huang Di ordered
his greatest general, Meng Tian (known for his invention of the Chinese
character brush made of animal hair), to mobilize all the able-bodied
subjects in the country to link up all the walls already erected by his
ancestors and by the States of Yan and Zhao.
Thousands upon thousands of men were conscripted and forced to march
north to work on the construction. These workers were generally subjected
to great hardships. Up in the mountain wilderness, usually dressed only in
rags they had to endure the bitterly cold northern winter, frequent hunger,
exhaustion and cruel supervisors. Sadly, untold numbers died from a
combination of all these factors.
The Great Wall, for all its majesty, is today a silent monument to
faceless men and untold stories of unimaginable hardship, cruelty and
When all the walls were eventually connected they formed an incredibly
long wall and came to be called "Wan Li Chang Cheng " (Ten Thousand Li
Long Wall). It measured more than 4800 li and became a permanent barrier
separating the agricultural Han Chinese to the south and the the nomadic
horse-mounted herdsmen to the north.
It is an awe-inspiring sight even after so many centries. When orbiting
the globe an astronuant up in the space said,
"The Great Wall of China is the only construction on earth
erected by man that can be seen from here".
Shi Ji (historical records).