The Qin Dynasty Great Wall
In 221 B.C.,QinShihuang,later known as “the first emperor in Chinese history”,successivelyconquered the six ducal states of Han,Wei,Chu,Zhao,Yan and Qi,and establishedthe first unified centralized multi-ethnic feudal country in Chinese historybased on the strength developed and accumulated by his ancestors.
After the Qin conquered thesix states,the greatest threat came from the Huns in the north.While QinShihuang went on expeditions up and down the country for the unification ofChina,the Hun tribes became increasingly powerful,having occupied the vastgrasslands in the north and the south of the desert.Later,while the state ofQin carried out a punitive expedition against the state of Chu,the Huns tookadvantage of the weak defense of the Qin’s northern and western garrison troopsto cross the Yan and the Zhao Great Wall and the Yellow River,penetrating intothe Qin Great Wall,only hundreds of miles from Xianyang,the capital of the QinDynasty.
In 215 B.C.,Meng Tian,ageneral of the Qin Dynasty,led 300,000 troops to attack the Huns ,and had theHun tribes in the Hetao area all mobbed up and wiped out.In 214 B.C.,Meng Tianagain led his troops to capture the northwest and south parts of Yinshan.TheHuns was forced to retreat to the north due to their fear of the Qin’s strongmilitary strength.
In order to prevent theHuns from harassing the border area again,Qin Shihuang ordered Mengtian’s armyto remain in the border area and to carry out a large-scale construction of theGreat Wall.They had the existing northern frontier Great Wall built by the Qin,the Zhao and the Yan repaired ,joined together and expanded so as to form aGreat Wall running through the entire northern frontier of the QinDynasty,which was known as “the Great Wall of Qin Shi Huang”or the“Ten-Thousand-li Great Wall”in history.While constructing the northern GreatWall,the sections of the Great Wall built by the former ducal states to protectthemselves from attacking each other were demolished.The Qin Great Wall wasfinally completed in 209 B.C.,lasting 5 years.
The Qin GreatWall,traversing from Linsanbei(today’s Minxian county in Gansu Province) in thewest to Liaodong Jun(today’s Liaoning province)in the east,had been roughlydivided into three parts:the western,the central and the eastern section.Thewestern section was built by virtue of the Yellow River’s natural barrier,whichwere mainly frontier fortresses ,not all connected to each other.Theconstruction of the central section was basically depended on the terrains ofDaqingshan and Yingshan mountains,mostly built with rubbles.Most of thissection was newly built,and only a part of it was built on the basis of theZhao Great Wall of the Warring States period along the north line.The easternsection of the Great Wall continued to build along the old historical sites ofthe north Yan Great Wall or to build new sections.Many defense buildings andfacilities,such as walls and moats,strongholds of military importance or beacontowers were built along the wall.Some sections of the remaining Qin Great Wallin today’s Chifeng,Weichang and Fengning area,were found with some visible tracesof seams in between the damaged stone walls,having proved that the constructionof the Great Wall was divided in to regional sections.
The Qin Great Wall wasbuilt according to the principle of “taking full advantage of the topographicalconditions to build forts and passes”,so most of the wall built on the mountainridges with the inner side on a relatively gentle slope.In the section wherethe Great Wall crossed the river valley,trenches were used to substitutecertain parts of the wall,or added a section of parallel walls in the rivervalley side.Between the two mountains,stone wall were built with naturalstones,thus forming a “stone gate”.In the places where the Great Wall wentacross the main roads of the valley,usually the roads would be cut off in the steep gorge and walls were builtinstead.
The Han Dynasty Great Wall
After the establishment ofthe Han Dynasty(206 B.C.-220 B.C.),the Northern Xiongnu(nomads) forces werestill very strong,and often infringed upon the Hexi area(or Gansu Corridor) bylooting property,grain and livestock,harassing the farming of the ethnicChinese.In his westward expeditions,the Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty tookrepeated large scale military operations for border peace and security.Afterdefeated the Huns,the Han Dynasty began the migration of the ethnic Chineseresidents to the Hexi area for agricultural production.Meanwhile,inaddition to repair the Qin GreatWall,the troops stationed there stepped up the construction of the new GreatWall,so as to prevent the repeat invasion of the Huns.It can be said that theHan Great Wall is not just one of the historical witnesses of the greatdevelopment of the western region for the first time in the Chinese feudalsociety,but also has laid the foundation for the later establishment of thewestern regions frontier command in Xinjiang and for the smooth flow of thesilk road.
The magnificent scale ofthe Han Great Wall project had surpassed that of the Qin Great Wall,and 18large scale restorations of the Great Wall had been carried out based on theQin Great Wall,almost having the Great Wall rebuilt again.
The Han Great Wall,fromeast to west,could be roughly divided into three sections,namely,Chifeng GreatWall in the Inner Mongolia,the external Great Wall and Hexi Great Wall.
The Inner Mongolia ChifengGreat Wall,running through the north and northeast of China with a total lengthof about 250 kilometers,was the first section of the Great Wall built andcompleted in 127 B.C.by general Wei Qingof the Han Dynasty.In its terrain selection,the Chifeng Great Wall took theKundui river as its frontier and built the wall along the north or west riverbank.The terrain of the Great Wall area was relatively high,and it was the eastextension of the Daqingshan(mountains) on the Inner Mongolia plateau.Most ofthe sections the Great Wall passing through were remote mountains and deep valleys,andthat were the places where the important passes of the Han Dynastylocated.Surely they had always been contended by the military strategists inancient times.
The external Great Wall ofthe Han Dynasty today is located in the western part of Inner Mongolia,and thesouthern part of the Mongolian People’s Republic.Formed by connecting togetherthe east and west section,it constitutes a complete defense system,and isreferred to as the “outer wall”in general term.
The Hexi Great Wall of theHan Dynasty is divided into three sections.Judging from the existing ruins,theHexi Great Wall was piled up layer by layer,mainly with the local driftingsand,scattered stones,and yellow clay as well as various kinds of plants alongthe wall,such as Chinese tamarisk,bluish dogbane,reeds,diversiform-leavedpoplar,etc.Each layer was about 12-15 centimeters thicks.The height of theexisting remnants is from two meters to half a meter.Despite thousands of yearsof the weather erosion,the Hexi Great Wall still stands firmly in the Gobidesert,rated as one of the best preserved section of the Han Great Wall.
The Ming Dynasty Great Wall
The Ming Great Wall was agigantic and longest time-consuming project.Its structure and defense systemwere perfect.It had played an active role for the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644)inguarding against plunders and intrusions,and had protect ed the nationalsecurity and the stability of people’s productions and daily lives,also haddeveloped the remote areas and preserved the transport links between China andthe northwest regions outside China.
Since the establishment ofthe Ming Dynasty ,the Mongolian nobilities such as the Tatar and Walatribes,who had already returned back to the grassland north of the Gobidesert,still kept harassing and looting to the south.After the middle period ofthe Ming Dynasty,the Nuzhen people of the northeast region were again graduallyon the rise,forming a constant threat to the border security of the MingDynasty.In the ruling of more than 270 years of the Ming dynasty,it had alwaysengaged in the construction of the Great Wall in order to consolidate itsnorthern border defense.In the meantime,the defense work of the Great Wall hadundergone three times of large scale construction s and eventually formed theGreat Wall in the true sense,a magnificent architecture of the giganticproject,starting from the Tiger mountain of Liaoning province in the east toJiayuguan of Gansu province in the west,running passed by from east towest:Liaoning ,Hebei,Tianjin,Beijing,Shanxi,InnerMongolia,Shannxi,Ningxia,Gansu and Qinghai,with a total length of8851.8kilometers.
The Ming Great Wall hadmade a number of improvements on the QinGreat Wall,such as building platforms and watch towers on the Wall,setting uprooms on the platform,building forts near the Great Wall,reserving a secretdoor under the city wall,such a series of improvements had turned the walls,thepasses,beacon towers and garrison forts together into a in-depth defensesystem.
Another feature of the MingGreat Wall was to have the regions along the route of the Great Wall dividedinto nine defense zones,known as “nine frontier region”or “nine garrison posts”,in order to have an over effectivecontrol of the defense and construction of the Great Wall.Each zone was designatedwith a commander responsible for the whole affairs.The defense zones such asShanhaiguan ,Juyongguan,Pingxingguan,Yanmenguan,Niangziguan,Jiayuguan etc.wereall important parts of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.