History of Great Wall

History of Great wall of China

Badaling Great WallThe most iconic monument in all China, the Great Wall stands as an awe-inspiring symbol of the grandeur of China's ancient history. Dating back 2000-odd years, the Wall strectches from the border with North Korea in the east, to Lop Nur in the far western province of Xinjiang.

Known to the Chinese as the "10,000 Li Wall", which with one Li equivlent to around 500m makes it the 5000Km Wall, it is actually far longer than that. A report by China's State Administration of Cultural Hritage in April 2009 put its non-continous length at 8851km, or about 5500 miles. Meandering it's way through 17 provinces, principalities and autonomous regions, the wall started our life as a line of defence against the Mongol hordes. But while it has no real practical use for centuries, it retains its place in the immagination of both locals and foreigners.

The Wall has been adopted by the Chinese Communist Party, which likes to stress the unity of the Wall in it's offical histories. In fact, there are distinct Walls, or five if you count the recently built sections, such as Badaling. Work on the original was begun during the Qin dynasty, When China was unified for the first time under the Emperor Qin Shihuang. Hundreds of thousands of workers, many prisioners, laboured for 10 years to construct it. An estimated 180 million cu metres of rammed earth was used to form the core of this Wall, and legend has it that the bones of dead workers were used as building materials, too.

After Qin fell, work on the wall continued during the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220). Little was done until almost a 1000 years later during the Jin dynasty when the impending threat of Genghis Khan spurred further construction. The Wall's final incarnation, and the one most visitors see today, came during Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when it was reinfored with stone, brick and battlements over a period of 100 years, and at great human cost to the two to three millin people who toiled on it. During this period, it was home to around one million soldiers.

The great irony of the Wall is that it rarely stopped China's enemies from invading. Never one continuous structure, there were inevitable gaps and it was through those that Genghis Khan rode in to take Beijing in 1215. Perhaps the Wall's finest hour as a defensive bulwark came in 1644 at Shanhaiguan, where the Wall meets the sea in the east and guarded the approach to Beijing. The invading Manchus were unable to take this strip of Wall until the traitorous gerneral Wu Sangui opened the gates, resulting in the fall of the Ming dynasty.