Far in the east there lies a sleeping dragon, or at least that is what some call it.  This ancient dragon has guarded China’s northern border for over two thousand years.  It is a silent stone sentinel, stretching over four thousand miles across deserts, mountains, forests, and plains.  Although most of the world only recognizes the Great Wall of China for being the longest man-made structure ever built, the creation, architecture, and history of the Great Wall are impressive and beautiful as well.

Though many people think of the Great Wall as one building project that many dynasties participated in, they would find themselves wrong.  When Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, began his monolithic building project, walls already existed along the northern Chinese border (Landau 11).  Villages and towns had built these walls for protection.  Despite not being the first wall-builder, however, Emperor Huangdi was the first to unify the northern walls into one gigantic wall.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi
Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi

Around 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huangdi began work on his Great Wall of China.  His most trusted advisor, General Meng Tien, whose father had helped the emperor to take control of China, oversaw the wall’s construction (DuTemple 28).

From the very start, the Great Wall accomplished its primary purpose: keeping the barbarians out.  According to historians, the barbarian tribes wouldn’t pasture their sheep within ten miles of the daunting structure.

Not just in size, but also in structure and creation, the Great Wall of China was daunting and an architectural feat.  It is around four thousand miles long and took more than two thousand years to build.  In addition to this, the Great Wall was made with very few tools.  During the Ming dynasty, the Chinese workers had wheelbarrows and pulley systems, but earlier wall-building was mostly by hand with the aid of baskets and small shovels (DuTemple 60).

An interesting feature of the architecture of the Great Wall of China is the building-method that the Chinese utilized.  From the very beginning, a method called hang-tu was employed for building the wall.   These words in Chinese mean “beaten-down earth.”  This translation is a good explanation of how this method worked.

BambooFirst, the Chinese built a form for the wall out of bamboo (although the Ming dynasty and later dynasties used brick and stone) and dumped a mixture of whatever water, dirt, gravel, bricks, stone, or sand could be found nearby – into the form.  Then workers stamped these materials down into a hard layer and repeated the process.  In early parts of the wall, the bamboo and logs were removed after a section was complete, but the Ming dynasty left the brick and stone wall forms as part of the wall.  Because the Ming builders left the stone and brick wall forms, on the outside their wall appears to have been built differently than older sections; however, underneath the façade lie layers of beaten earth and rock.  The hang-tu construction continued in use with some modifications throughout the entire construction of the Great Wall.

One factor that contributed to the changing materials in the wall was that it passed over incredibly rough terrain which supply shipments oftentimes could not reach.  Thus, workers resorted to using whatever materials the nearby land provided.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “A Project of Two Thousand Years: Part One

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