The Great Wall of China


Chinese name: 长城 (Chángchéng /channg-chnng/ ‘Long Wall’)
Location: Northern China
History : About 2700 years
Length: Approximately 21,196 kms from east to west China
Declared as a WORLD HERITAGE SITE by UNESCO in 1987

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world — the longest wall in the world, an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Its winding path over rugged country and steep mountains takes in some great scenery.

Who Built the Great Wall and Why

It was built in different areas by different states/dynasties to protect different territorial borders.

Who Built the Great Wall, and When

It’s often said that the First Emperor of Qin built the Great Wall. Actually, he was not the first to build it. See below:


The majestic Great Wall was built with wisdom, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears. Families were separated, and many workers died and were interred as part of the Great Wall itself.

Workers: soldiers, peasants, rebels

Materials: stone, soil, sand, brick

Material delivery: by hand, rope, cart, and goat

Where the Great Wall Was Built — 2 terrains

Over the Great Wall’s thousands of miles, the terrain changes from desert to riverside, from mountains to plains. The Great Wall designers took advantage of the terrain, and built at strategic places to repel invaders most effectively.

From the Great Wall relics, we can see that the wall is either built along mountain ridges, across mountain passes, or across key transportation areas on flat land.

Watchtowers and beacon towers were built high for observation and communication by signal fire.

Primitive Technology — wheel barrows and ropes

On mountains with flat enough paths, one-wheel barrows were used. Basket and pulley systems were used over deep valleys, and materials were also pulled to the top of the Great Wall on ropes.

Animal Use — doubtless fact and doubtful legend

Doubtless horses/oxen and carts were used in the flatter areas for transporting materials, and camels were used in the deserts for long distances.

There is a doubtful legend that when Badaling’s Great Wall section was built on the steep mountains, workers used goats to deliver the materials. Goats are renowned for being good at “climbing”, so it’s said people tied bricks on goats’ horns and made them carry them up the steep mountains.

Carried by Hand — the usual way

Workers carried most of the stones and bricks up the mountains on their shoulders or backs. Bamboo baskets were used for soil, loose stone, and lime mortar.

Human chains were also used to pass the blocks and baskets up. Lining up on narrow mountain paths was more efficient than trudging back and forth.

On the plains and deserts, designers made use of rivers (and their cliffs) as natural barriers. This not only controlled strategic places, but also saved labor and materials.

The Great Wall’s Structure — Walls, Watchtowers, Fortresses

The Great Wall was not just a wall. It was an integrated military defensive system with watchtowers for surveillance, fortresses for command posts and logistics, beacon towers for communications, etc.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the Great Wall was reconstructed to be stronger and more sophisticated, due to better construction techniques being developed.

The wall body: The Ming Great Wall usually had battlements 1.8 meters (6 feet) high with loopholes and crenels, and parapet walls 1.2 meters (4 feet) high.

Flanking towers: Every 500 meters or less (1,640 feet) on the Great Wall there was a flanking tower allowing defenders to shoot arrows at attackers at the face of the wall.

Fortresses were built at important / vulnerable access points (passes), such as Shanhai Pass Fortress, Juyong Pass Fortress, and Jiayu Pass Fortress. There were many archery windows and gates on the forts. The fortress gatehouses were the strongest and most impregnable structures on the Great Wall.

Great Wall Laborers’ Laments

During the construction of the Great Wall, millions of people died. Many poets expressed their resentment with poems, like:
‘Every brick, every stone,
and every inch of mud
are filled with Chinese people’s
bones and sweat and blood.’