How Old is the Great Wall of China?

For millennia, the Great Wall was built and renovated for the prevention from invasions by the northern nomadic tribes.

The history of the construction of the Great Wall can be traced back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC.). In order to defend against the attacks of Yanyun (俨狁), a group of nomadic people to the north, the Zhou Dynasty once constructed a series of castles "Liecheng (列城)" for defense.

How old is the Great Wall of China?

In the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC.) and the Warring States Period (475-221 BC.), in order to fight for hegemony and defend their own territories, some kingdoms built the walls on the border based on their defense requirements. The earliest defense project was called the "Fang Cheng” finished by Chu State in the 7th century BC. Inspired by this idea, many other states, like Qi, Han, Wei, Zhao and Qin, etc., have successively set up their defense systems by building various types of walls. In order to distinguish them from later built walls, historians named these walls the “Pre-Qin Great Wall”. But frankly speaking, these walls can’t be regarded as the real Great Wall, as they were not that great at all due to its length and engineering work load.

Among them, the three kingdoms of Qin, Zhao, and Yan in the north confronted with enormous pressure from the brutal nomadic Hun (匈奴) tribes, which had great cavalrymen and bowmen in their troops. It was difficult for the three states to resist their enemies’ lightning attacks. So they built some walls on their northern border for the defense.

In the twenty-sixth year of Qin Shihuang’s reign (221 BC), Qin conquered six other kingdomes, unified the whole country, and established the first vast multi-ethnic empire in Chinese history. In order to maintain and consolidate the security of his state, Qin Shihuang successively adopted a series of major strategic measures for national defense construction, one of which was the large-scale construction of the Great Wall.

In 215 BC, General Meng Tian led an army of 300,000 to attack the Hun tribes (Xiongnu, 匈奴) in the north and occupied a large piece of land to the south of the Yellow River. Then he made his soldiers to connect various sections of the defensive walls built by different states previously. Later more efforts were put into the new constructions of the defense system in the following years. When it was finished, the Qin Great Wall stretched all the way from Lintao (临洮), Gansu to Liaodong, Liaoning with a distance of more than 5000 km. From then on, it has been known as the Great Wall (万里长城,literally, 10000-Li-Long Great Wall, 2 Li equals to 1 km). And this is the very first version of the Great Wall.

According to historical records, Qin Shihuang used nearly a million laborers to build this mammoth defensive system, accounting for one-twentieth of the country's total population at that time. But ironically the project didn’t play its role to make his empire survive longer, which lasted only for 14 years, then it was overthrown by the uprisings all over the country.

In the following dynasties, most of the rulers ordered to build and renovate the Great Wall intermittently, especially during the Ming Dynasty. To protect the capital - Beijing, the Ming emperors built a sophisticated defense system in the north of the capital city. Currently the famous sections of the Great Wall near Beijing (like Mutianyu, Badaling and Simatai, etc) were mainly constructed in Ming Dynasty.

Keep reading:

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