This is the third part of a research paper on the Great Wall of China. To read the first two parts, click here and here.On account of all the horrors they had suffered working on the wall, and the famine that had terrorized the land, the Chinese abandoned the wall following Qin Shi Huangdi’s death. The wall fell into disrepair for the next one hundred years, and northern tribes began to invade China again.
Once more, the Chinese needed protection to the north, and in 121-201 B.C., Han dynasty Emperor Wu Di began repairing and extending the Great Wall of China (DuTemple 47). He extended the wall by 300 miles and added a chain of towers that traveled 70 miles past the end of the wall. He decreed, according to Lesley A. DuTemple, that the wall should have “a beacon every 5 li, a tower every 10 li, a fort every 30 li, and a castle every 100 li” (47). A li is a Chinese measurement that roughly equals 1,760 feet. The materials for the new sections of Wu Di’s Great Wall included sand, tamarisk branches, and reeds because this part of the wall was mostly in the western desert of China (DuTemple 48).
Because of a lack of written records about the working conditions during this period of expanding the wall, historians suppose that the workers had better care and provisions under Wu Di’s reign (DuTemple 48).
Wu Di began using the Great Wall for peaceful trade in addition to manning it with soldiers. The famous Silk Road traveled near the Great Wall because the area around the wall was far safer, on account of the soldiers guarding the wall, than the robber-infested Chinese countryside (DuTemple 49).
In 87 B.C., Emperor Wu Di died and peace prevailed in China until the collapse of the Han dynasty in 220 A.D. Following this collapse, trade ceased along the Silk Road and 80 years later, the northern tribes had control of the Great Wall.
After the Han dynasty’s collapse, the wall deteriorated, and by the time of Genghis Khan’s invasion of China with the Mongols in 1200 A.D., it was unable to stop their advance (DuTemple 53). Advancing south, the Mongols conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty.
In 1368 A.D., the Chinese successfully ousted the Mongols and set a former monk named Hongwu on the throne of China. The Yuan dynasty ended, and the Ming dynasty began (DuTemple 56).
This new emperor saw the threat that the Mongols still posed to China, and he decided to rebuild the Great Wall. It had been one thousand years since the Great Wall had last been repaired and now the job that the Ming would continue until 1644 A.D. was begun. Most of what is left of the Great Wall today is what the Ming dynasty built. Age and the elements had destroyed almost all of the earlier walls (DuTemple 58).
Emperor Wanli, who was the last great Ming ruler and the last emperor to work on the wall, made the spectacular Great Wall that people see today (DuTemple 59). He beautified the Great Wall, overlaying it with brick and stone. Even the road on top of the wall was paved. This Great Wall was 21 feet thick at the base, 19 feet thick at the top, and around 26 feet tall. When Emperor Wanli died in 1620, the wall virtually died with him (DuTemple 59).
One change that the Ming dynasty made to building the Great Wall was that they installed drains in it. If the Ming dynasty had not installed this system of drains, the sections of the wall that they built would probably not be standing anymore. The Ming drains allowed water to run off onto the north side of the wall. When water had saturated the earlier walls, in winter the water froze and expanded, cracking the wall. This is the main reason why the earliest parts of the Great Wall deteriorated so quickly (DuTemple 65).
For many years following the fall of the Ming dynasty, the Chinese forgot about the Great Wall, but during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, attention was called to the Great Wall once again. The government now declared that the Great Wall was to be destroyed. This command was carried out in part, but when Deng Xiaoping came into control in China, he stopped the destruction, and began to restore the wall. Thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s quick actions, the Chinese saved the dragon of China.
Far from being an obsolete structure of a bygone age deserving only destruction, the Great Wall has been and continues to be important to China in many ways. It protected China from the northern barbarians, displayed China’s power, and kept the Chinese secluded from the world for many years so that emperors had more control over the country (DuTemple 15). And even though the Great Wall’s days of defending China have come to a close with the passing of time, it still serves a purpose. The Great Wall not only stands as a wonder of the ancient world, but it also towers as a reminder of the amazing and rich creation, architecture, and history that it possesses.
DuTemple, Lesley A. The Great Wall of China. Lerner Publications Company:
Minneapolis, MN, 2003.
Landau, Elaine. Exploring Ancient China with Elaine Landau. Enslow Publishers,
Inc.: Berkeley Heights, NJ, 2005.