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The Great Wall:The First Emperor

Updated on January 16, 2015

The Great Wall

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

Qin Shi Huangdi

Qin Shi Huang (260–210 BC), personal name Zheng, was the King of the state of Qin (r. 246–221 BC) who conquered all other Warring States and united China in 221 BC.Rather than maintain the title of king borne by the Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The title emperor (huangdi) would continue to be borne by Chinese rulers for the next two millennia.

During his reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese state: campaigns south of Chu permanently added the Yue lands of Hunan and Guangdong to the Chinese cultural orbit; campaigns in Central Asia conquered the Ordos Loop from the nomad Xiongnu, although eventually causing their confederation under Modu Chanyu. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si to enact major economic and politic reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states.This process also led to the banning and burning of many books and the execution of recalcitrant scholars.His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death, which occurred in 210 BC despite an infamous search for an elixir of immortality.

That night,when he defeated all the other states and united China,he dreamed he was flying on a magic carpet towards the moon.Below him was his kingdom,bordered by tall mountains to the west,the Yangzi River to the southand the ocean to the East.But what about the north?There was no barrier between the arid grasslands inhabitated by Xiong Nu (fierce tribesmen of Mongolia,also called Huns) and the fertile farmlands of Qin`s hard-working peasants.When he woke,the Emperor summoned his most capable general,Meng Tian,and ordered him to build the Great Wall of China.

Meng Tian was put in charge of 300000 soldiers and 500000 civilians.In seven years,he built a wall wich followed the ups and downs of the land for 2500 kilometres (1500 miles).

The Great wall of China

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

It was an enormous undertaking.Chronic hunger,cold and tiredness added to the workers`misery.Many died and were buried in trenches nearby.The Great Wall became known as the "longest cemetery on earth".

Later dynasties built sections of wall at different places.Some of those may have been incorporated into the final Great Wall,but long stretches collapsed and disappeared over the centuries.The continuous structure we see today is less than 600 years old.Most of it was built during the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644) to keep out the Mongol people to the north.

The Great Wall in Autumn and in Winter

The Great Wall in Autumn
The Great Wall in Autumn
The Great Wall in Winter
The Great Wall in Winter

First Ming Emperor (Hongwu Emperor)

Portrait of Emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty China
Portrait of Emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty China


Modern Marvels - The Great Wall of China (History Channel)
Modern Marvels - The Great Wall of China (History Channel)

Winding roughly 6,700 kilometers through undulating mountains, grasslands, and desert, its vastness seems beyond the realm of human possibility. A wonder of the ancient world, the Great Wall of China is one of mankind's most massive building achievements. Yet contrary to popular belief, there is no single wall of China, but rather a series of walls built for different reasons at different times.


The First Ming Emperor began a massive campaign to rebuild the Great Wall.Nine of his sons were sent to serve as commanders at the frontier.After his death,his son (the Third Ming Emperor) took the throne from his nephew and moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing,only 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Great Wall.

For the next 250 years,a succession of Ming emperors build and repaired the Great Wall.Brick or stone covered its sides and on top,providing a paved walkway 6 metres (20 feet) wide and 8 metres (26 feet) above ground.Local materials such as stone blocks, bricks,wooden planks,tiles and dirt were used.Watchtowers,battlements,flights of stairs and garrison buildings with drains were part of the structure.The wall swooped from steep mountain passes to gentle valleys,from green grasslands to dry deserts,beside rushing rivers and marshy swamps.


Chinese Civilization - In the North and South of the Great Wall Asian Pride
Chinese Civilization - In the North and South of the Great Wall Asian Pride

In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang unified China and became China's first emperor. By the time of the reign of the Han emperor Gaozu, 100 years later, a multi-ethnic society had been muted, dominated by the Han ethnic group.


During the nineteenth century,traders,missionaries and diplomats from Europe and America visited China in increasing numbers.Westerners were entharalled by China`s rich history and culture.Gradually,the Great Wall emerged as a symbol of the might and glory of China`s past.

In 1899,four reporters were waiting at a railroad station in Denver,Colorado to meet a visitor.When the visitor failed to arrive,the reporters decided to invent a story.They wrote of a group of American engineers who were passing trough Denver on their way to China.Why?The Emperor of China had invited them.For what purpose?They were going to tear down the Great Wall as a gesture of goodwill from the Chinese Emperor to encourage trade with Westerners.

Next morning,the headlines read "Great Chinese Wall Doomed".The false story travelled from Denver to New York to Beijing.Peasants in China became outraged.A secret Chinese society known as the Boxers erupted in a bloody uprising against foreigners in 1900.An army of 18000 troops from eight nations were sent to Beijing to crush the rebels.This story demonstrates the vital role played by the Great Wall in the hearts and minds of the Chinese.

In 1644 General Wu,the last Ming commander,opened the gates of Shan Hai Guan (Gateway of Mountain and Sea) and welcomed the Manchu army into China.When it really mattered,the Great Wall failed because of human frailty.

The Mancus`defeat of China meant the end of the Great Wall as a defensive barrier against her northern neighbours.Nomads were now the masters of China as well as Manchuria and Mongolia.


The Great Wall Revisited: From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon's Head
The Great Wall Revisited: From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon's Head

A journey along the Great Wall in the past and present, this landmark volume offers an extraordinary portrait of perhaps the world’s most famous structure. Carrying his camera and a file of vintage photographs—the earliest dating from 1871—author-photographer William Lindesay traveled across Northern China for three years, searching for settings where the Great Wall could be examined in the past and present, side by side.

The Great Wall
The Great Wall

In 1911, the Qing government was toppled by Sun Yat-sen,who founded the Republic of China.He and his successors,adopted the Great Wall as China`s national symbol,saying that it had preserved China`s civilisation for over 2000 years.

During his struggles against Chiang Kai-shek,the Comunist leader Mao Zedong adopted a song which glorified the Great Wall as a symbol of China`s national spirit.In 1966,however,Mao unleashed the Cultural Revolution to subdue his rivals.During a period of almost ten years,books were burnt,antiques were smashed and hundreds of kilometres of Great Wall were demolished.After Mao`s death in 1976,Deng Xiaoping took power.In 1984,Deng publicly announced "Let us love our country and restore our Great Wall".

People used to believe that the Great Wall was visible from outer space.Astronauts say this is not true.Today it lives in our minds as a symbol of the Chinese will to endure.

BEHIND THE GREAT WALL/Qi Jiguang Documentary

A two-hour drama documentary that illustrates a pivotal period in ancient Chinese history, which culminated in the creation of the Great Wall, a structure that symbolizes the strength and ambition of the Chinese nation and the relentless focus of the ruler and legendary general Qi Jiguang. Interweaving dramatization and interviews with the world's foremost authorities on the Great Wall and the Ming Dynasty, the film unravels the epic story of the world's single greatest structure -- 3,000 miles of an impregnable fortress

BEHIND THE GREAT WALL/Qi Jiguang Documentary

The Great Wall

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