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Who Built the Great Wall of China and Why?

The Great Wall of China epitomizes the wisdom of human engineering and ambition, spanning 13,000 miles across northern regions of China. It is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the modern day Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Wall attracts millions of visitors each year.

However, the exact story of its construction and purpose remains a mystery to us till this day. It was built slowly over 2,300 years, 9 different dynasties, making it an important witness of Chinese history. This article will take you through the fascinating history: who built the Great Wall of China, when it was built, and why.

Jinshanling Great Wall Hike Beijing

Historical Background of the Great Wall of China

The concept of building defensive walls can be traced all the way back to the 7th century BC, during the Spring and Autumn Period. Various states in ancient China built their own walls to protect their territories from rival factions. These early walls were modest in scale compared to the colossal structure we know today.

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Who Built the Great Wall of China

Early Walls and Fortifications

Before the unification of China under Emperor Qin Shi Huang, several walls and fortifications were built by different states along their borders. These early walls were built with materials they had at hand, such as earth, wood, and stone. While they were effective to some extent, they lacked the scale of the Great Wall we see today.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang and the First Great Wall of China

Great Wall construction


Construction of the First Great Wall of China began in the 3rd century BC under Emperor Qin Shi Huang. As the first emperor to unify China, he sought to protect his empire from external threats, mainly the Xiongnu clan to the north.

Thousands of laborers were put to work to build an extensive network of walls. These walls, what would become the Great Wall we know today, linked the existing fortifications, stretched over 3,000 miles.

Song, Yuan Dynasties and Invasions

By the Han Dynasty, the total length of the Great Wall of China had already reached 5000 miles. Later, during Song and Yuan Dynasties, the wall was successfully breached by foreigners who attacked its weakest spots. Mongolians eventually seized control of the Chinese Empire. These invasions left the Great Wall in a state of disrepair.

Ming Dynasty and the Most Well-Known Sections

The most famous sections of the Great Wall of China today were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Ming rulers needed to repair the Great wall. They rebuilt and expanded on existing walls, and reinforced them with brick and stone.

These sections, such as Badaling and Mutianyu, demonstrate the architectural ingenuity of the Ming Dynasty. Today, they are popular destinations people frequently include in their China tours.

Later Dynasties and Restorations

The Great Wall of China has been internationally recognized as a symbol of Chinese power since as early as the 18th century. Later emperors made efforts to restore, repair and protect the wall not only as a system of defense but as an emblem of great cultural and historical significance as well.


Why Was the Great Wall of China Built: Purpose and Significance

Defense against Invasions

Defense was the primary purpose of the Great Wall, mainly against nomadic tribes. Its positioning and watchtowers were very strategic, allowed Chinese soldiers to detect potential invaders more easily.

Symbol of National Identity

The Great Wall holds great symbolic value for Chinese people. It represents ancient wisdom of the people, instills pride and power to them. Countless visitors from home and abroad travel to Beijing to witness this world wonder in person.

Economic Benefits

The Great Wall of China also played a significant role in facilitating trade along its route. It served as a vital trading center. Nearby towns saw great economic growth and exchanged cultures along with goods.

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