Facts you should know on the great wall of China.
Why, where and when are probably the most common questions you could ask about the wall. But there is more to the Chinese wall than that. Don’t you want to know the length, if it is ever breached by someone with an army, how many People were on the great wall defending it, how long it took to build it and how many people worked on it?
I hope I can answer those questions for you so you can impress your guide or even leave the guide at home so you can be your own guide.
What was the purpose of the wall?
Why was the great wall build? Mainly for protection against enemy tribes of any kind. Like Mongols, Turks, Huns and many other. As China became stronger they gained or loosed enemies. The biggest thread always came from the northern part of china.
But did the wall work? In the beginning the great wall was discontinuous, so tribes just moved passed them. Like the Mongols under Genghis Khan in 1211 A.D. The Mongols remained there until the Ming dynasty defeated them in 1368. After this the wall reached his biggest extent.
Where and how is the great wall build?
Obviously in china. But which provinces or parts of china? It crossed Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu. It is said that the great wall of china in length exceeds 31.000 miles (50.000 km)
So how did they build it?
It depends on which dynasty. From the first fortifications we don’t really know that. This is around the 7th century B.C. They build a vast amount of defense walls and guard towers. The wall became a more solid structure when China united themselves under the first Chinese empire. This started around 221 B.C. with the Qin dynasty. They build the wall starting with a wooden frame, the wooden frame would be poured full of dirt and that was pounded into a solid wall. No air pockets were allowed in the wall so that it couldn’t be pierced by any kind of small weaponry. This method is called tempered earth. This method was easy to do but the wall deteriorated fast if it wasn’t well maintained.
During the Han dynasty ( 202 B.C.) a different method was used. They made bundles of twigs up to 12 inches (30,48 cm). Than alternated it with gravel or dirt. This was also was a quick and easy way but the problem was the same with tempered earth.
Around the 16th century the Ming dynasty made it in to a more proper wall. They used all kind of techniques , like the ones mentioned above, but also new ones with brick and stone. This part of the wall is still visible nowadays.
During the build the Chinese were very resourceful in finding solutions. They invented the wheelbarrow to use during the time of the build and they used mortar made from rice flowers (not of human remains according to some legends)
What was the amount of workers and where did they came from?
This cannot fully be measured because it took around 2000 years to build it. The manpower to build was picked from the peasants, unemployed, soldiers and convicts. Some dynasties had special penalties during their reign. The convict was sentenced to force labor at the wall.
The amount of people that died at the wall is maybe a good reference to make a guess in how many worked to fulfill the wall. They say that over a million people have died during the build and if it was forced labor more people die than normal. I’m not saying 1 out of 2 died there. But if so over 2 million people worked on it. That is a pretty rough estimation and they needed that much workers because of the amount of walls they build.
Who and how did they defend the wall?
How to defend an immense structure like that against hordes of enemies? Well during the Ming dynasty over 1 million soldiers guarded the wall. They lived in the guard towers that were also used as forts, watchtower and to store their supplies. They Also communicated through these towers with flags and smoke signals or even a runner was send to give the information.
What kind of tactics did they use?
The wall was a tactic itself. They tried to block of enemy supply lines or try to slow down their advance until they could mobilize a big army behind the wall. They could force the enemy in a direction which was better to defend. Once the wall was breached they used a defensive tactic. They usually pulled back to the guard towers through hit and run tactics. Try to kill a few men on the way there. They had build small walls on the outside of the path were they could hide and attack the enemy from the side. Once they reached the tower it could be sealed from the inside and were practically fortresses by then. They could lob down arrows or stones from the top of the tower. They could hold out a significant amount of time because they stored their food in there.
What kind of weapons were used?
They used all kinds of weapons. From axes, crossbows, halberds and one of the greatest inventions by the Chinese, gunpowder! The armor was build out of metal plates cuirasses. All existed out of small metal plates tied together as a coat to protect the vital parts. Some men even had metal helmets but the most common helmet was a leather cap.
Myths about the Chinese wall.
There are many stories about the wall. The way it’s build and why. Deaths, ghost stories, about the mortar and many more. Some are nice to know so I summed them up for you.
- They say the wall was build in the trail of a dragon they traveled through the country as a sign and to give aid to those who needed help.
- When someone died at the wall the family would put a coffin un top of the all so that the crowing of the rooster kept the dead spirit awake until he’d had crossed the wall.
- The personifications of heaven, Uranus or Tianwang were carved out near strategic points.
- One day the wife of a farmer, that worked on the wall, found out her husband died during construction. She cried so hard for her loss they say the wall collapsed.
Tips for visiting the great wall
- Best time to visit the wall Shanghai pas: Summer and autumn, Jaiyu pass: may to October, Beijing preferable in the soft seasons like spring or autumn.
- Always bring extra batteries for your camera, I tend to forget them every time I visit something great.
- Avoid weekends or vacation times.
- Before going there do some study about which part looks the best in your opinion.
- Choose the transportation wisely.