The Great Wall stood as a wall of defense for many years, and It still stands today as a great wonder of the world. It is a man-made wonder, spanning thousands of kilometers. Much of it has stood for hundreds of years, with some portions over 2000 years old.
Thousands of years ago at the present territory of China existed a region of separate states, ruled by their own leaders, its own languages, cultures and currencies, permanently in war condition toward each other and neighboring areas.
Four states built fortification walls along the north of China around 700 BC. having aim to protect their territorial borders. They built side walls, circular walls and parallel walls, and in some areas, rivers or high mountains formed part of the wall.
The original walls were built of gravel and earth, packed between wooden frames, designed for defense against swords and spears. In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang (Chinese 秦始皇) defeated the separate states of China and united them in one empire. He became the first emperor of China and the founder of Qin Dynasty (Chinese 秦朝). The north was the only open area where China could be easily invaded. Emperor Qin’s idea was to link the walls in the north to form a barrier from the invading Huns.
At the time the Hun was a small northern municipality that kept attacking China’s territory. Emperor Qin sent General Meng Tian (Chinese 蒙恬) who led the army of three million men, and successfully defeated the Hun. After that event it was clear that existing walls could not stop invaders. Old walls were repaired and linked, and new sections were built. To build a wall construction campaign lasted 10 years for two million workers.
To the early emperors the neighborhood states nomads were just naturally warlike, uncivilized and even sub-human.
Between 400,000 to one million workers died during construction. The bodies were buried inside the wall and archaeologists have uncovered many bodies buried inside the wall.
The second major wall was built in the first century BC by the Han Dynasty, and it was longest ever in its history.
Mongols invaded China around 1271 led by Genghis Khan. His powerful Yuan Dynasty ruled until 1368. At that time the wall had no purpose, therefore no reconstruction occurred. From 1368 China regain back its land ruled by the Ming Dynasty. The Mings built a new wall along the southern border of the Ordos desert. The Ming dynasty started building the wall around 1474. The Ming Wall was a 100-year project and it included battle forts, watchtowers, bridges, temples and pagodas.
The Ming’s Wall is in fact a present Great Wall of China. It spreads from the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Gobi Desert and beyond in the west with the official length of 21,196.18 kilometers in regard to all sections of the wall.
Unfortunately, since the Ming dynasty witness defeat in 1644, the wall was not maintained. Only at the beginning of 20th century wall near Beijing was repaired by the Chinese government.
The Great Wall of China goes west from Shanhaiguan, at the China Sea, to Lop Nur, in Gansu province. It crosses deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus. In some areas, it crosses over mountain peaks. In other areas, the mountains are used as part of the Wall.
Cultural symbolism of the Great Wall
The Chinese attitude and love of enclosing walls are inscribed deep into the Chinese language itself. Since 1200 BC the very first Chinese characters – pictographic ideograms for ‘settlement’ and ‘defence’ (respectively 城and 防) represent walled compounds; both concepts were clearly unthinkable without four-sided enclosures, e.g. China (中國). Later classical Chinese used the same word for city and city wall: cheng (Chinese 城). The character meaning ‘capital city’ (Chinese 京) was originally a picture of a guardhouse over a city gate.
Wall-building and the written language have intertwined to define Chinese civilization both physically and figuratively ever since it came into existence, dividing and distinguishing China’s peoples and settlements from their less settled, less literate neighbors to the north. To understand the millennia-old Chinese impulse to wall-building, to understand the conflict that created the wall, we need to understand these two incompatibly different, geographically adjoining cultures: that of agrarian, self-confidently literate, walled China and that of the pastoral nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppe.
In summary, the Great Wall symbolized the triumph of the determination to hard labor and resources at a project, regardless of any obstacles, a spirit that, for the time being, had been well and truly lost.
The Great wall character – three life stories
The Chinese ‘interest” of their Wall happened much later than the foreign enthusiasm, and Sun Yat-Sen, the republican who replaced the Qing dynasty, was the first politician to see the Great Wall as a potential national symbol.
Mao wrote poems about the Great Wall during the ‘Long March’, but at some point his attitude changed, and then during the Cultural Revolution hundreds of kilometers of the Great Wall were destroyed. Local peasants were encouraged to build houses using bricks from the Great Wall.
Deng Xiaoping’s 1984 famous sentence, “Let us love our China and restore our Great Wall!” is the message which stopped such a troublesome event and changed national attitude toward the Wall.
Sun Yat San (1866 – 1925)
Since 1919, starting with Sun Yat San (Chinese 孫逸仙), who served as the first president of Republic of China, and the co-founder of the Kuomintang, the Great Wall becomes a mask for modern Chinese nationalists. It represented a structure of sacrifice built by loyal Chinese against foreigners, then an object of great respect by foreigners which relieved Chinese Wall from its troublesome history, and reinvented it as one of unique wonders of the world.
President Sun Yat Sen developed a fondness for the Great Wall. During his time China struggle for national survival in years of war, and installed the Great Wall as a symbol of national strength and endurance in the popular imagination.
Sun’s known political credo was democracy, although he did not believe China needed European type of democracy, such as individual freedom for instance. In Sun’s opinion’s, too much individual liberty would prevent Chinese people from united resistance against enslaving of the nation under imperialism. He was vocal on the freedom of the nation over that of the individual, and on unspecified length of time Chinese people would be ‘taught’ to be democratic under a military dictatorship. Such point of view clearly explains his attachment to the Great Wall, that millennia-old monument to the autocratic Chinese state and military protection.
Sun died without seeing his dream of China reunited as a true republic, but most importantly, in China it stays his sponsorship of the Nationalists and the Communists, and slowly grew national consensus about him as the Father of the Nation.
Mao Ze Dong (1893 – 1976)
The historical purpose of the wall, its controversy associated with it, history, appearance, got little of importance after President Sun Yet Sen died. It didn't take a long time until chairman Mao Ze Dong (Chinese 毛泽东) – communist leader, advertise the Great Wall as an idea of powerful autocratic political philosophy. He enjoyed and embraced the isolationist psychological character that the wall visibly expressed. Chairman Mao liked to think of himself as an internationalist, as a dynamic representation of the Communist world revolution, but in practice his belief was based on the corrupting influence of foreign ideas and thought.
Deng Xiao Ping (1904 -1997)
The veteran Chinese leader, inventor of capitalist-style reforms did not match such changes with political changes. Deng Xiao Ping (Chinese 邓小平) China’s creator of open-door policy of reforms. The Great Wall appealed to Deng’s attitude toward Chinese people and foreign relations. He often compared “China’s great wall of iron and steel” pointing at the communist rudiment system of social protection and political stability. The second point of view is that he proclaimed open-door economic policies without foreign cultural and economic influences, comparable to the Great Wall itself.
Re-design of project China – inspiration and dignity
From 221 BC or first unification of China exists idiom zhong guo 中國for China - (Chinese, zhong 中 – middle, guo國 which is made of 或and 口with original meaning - territory) meaning Middle territory. Along with traditional Chinese characters the government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China, promoted the simplified form of Chinese characters from 1950s in order to encourage literacy. The simplified form of Chinese character for China slightly changed - zhong guo (中 - middle,国 - country, made of 口, 王king and玉 jade ) means: middle country/nation. Just a slight difference in character writing conditioned a huge difference in Chinese appearance and attitude as a nation. Therefore as a result evolution of the idea of China has changed. The very basic idea of belonging to united territory protected by wall evolved to the idea of a unique central country led by a magnificent ruler.
Raise of technological, cultural, and living conditions in the last thirty years triggers self-confidence in China, and revival of its old geostrategic points of interest which goes back to the time of building the very first Chinese wall.
In conclusion, today we witness further Chinese national changes and aspirations having the aim to take their deserved seat under the sun among the most geo-strategically anticipated civilized and influential nations.