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China Chronology

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    China Chronology

    Construction of the Great Wall Begins

    221 BC



    The Qin (Ch'in) dynasty ruled China around 200 BC. They unified all of the provinces and set up a strong system of government. This system included a huge system of taxes and required public labor of all of the citizens of China. The unification under the Ch'in Empire allowed public works projects to be unified on a vastly larger scale. Along with the use of taxpaying peasants for labor, the rulers also used convicts and other unfavorable groups to complete massive public works constructions such as highways, dams and walls.

    Back to "Qin Dynasty" Chronology

    The Great Wall's construction was begun in 221 BC under the emperor Meng T'ien of the Qin Dynasty. Continual invasion and wars from the barbarians to the north drove the emperor to order its construction to protect the newly unified China. Meng T'ien's Great Wall is described in his biography: "He...built a Great Wall, constructing its defiles and passes in accordance with the configurations of the terrain. It started at Lin-t'ao and extended to Liao-tung, reaching a distance of more than ten thousand li. After crossing the [Yellow] River, it wound northward, touching the Yang mountains". (Cambridge 62) Although the wall is considered to be well under 10,000 li (one li is approximately a third of a mile) it was truly an amazing accomplishment.

    Meng T'ien employed some 300,000 men in the creation of the original section of the wall. The building of such a massive wall would definitely be a formidable undertaking. A wall that stretches through the wilderness is not easily accessed by supply lines, unlike a highway that creates its own supply line. There was also a massive loss of life during the construction of the wall due to widespread disease and injury. In fact, it is an ancient Chinese myth that each stone in the wall stands for a life lost in the wall's construction. It is recorded that Meng T'ien's section of the wall took only ten years to build, but it is believed that it actually took a substantially greater amount of time.

    After Meng T'ien's original construction, the wall was far from completed. Other walls were added to and encompassed within The Great Wall. The last major work on the wall was completed during the Ming Dynasty around AD 1500. The Great Wall extends around 1500 miles in an east-west direction. It travels through four provinces (Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu) beginning in northern Hebei and ending in the northwest Gansu province. The Great Wall is built of many different materials, from granite blocks to tamped earth. Ranging from 15 to 50 feet high with a base width between 15 and 30 feet, the wall has guard towers spread along the entire length of the wall. Although it is highly debated whether The Great Wall served its intended purpose of keeping the invaders out, it is truly one of the greatest accomplishments of all mankind.


    China, A Country Study. United States Government, Federal Research Division, 1988; 11-15.

    Twitchett, Denis and Loewe, Michael. The Cambridge History of China: Volume 1. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England, 1986; 61- 63.

    Twitchett, Denis. The Cambridge History of China: Volume 3. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, England, 1979; 61-63.

    Edited by: Kristian A. Werling
    Researched by: Chad E. Anderson
    Written by: Brankica Radonjic
    November 17, 1996

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