Doing the research to write a Blog about how they built the Great Wall of China reallt surprised me! Great Wall of China – Wonder of the World, can be seen from space, built about 14th Century, blah, blah, blah!
It is far more interesting than all these bits we all know!
For a start, it was a far longer running job than I realised! They began it about 476 BC and didn’t call it a finished job until about 1644 AD! Took ‘em 2,000 years to build it! To be fair, it was built to keep invaders out of China; the trouble was that “China” kept changing, potential invaders kept changing and the directions from which they came meant different bits of Wall had to be built! Bits of wall all over the place, as you can see from the map below, to keep the “Chinese” tribes off each other’s territory!
Some of these got run together in 221 B.C. after a war merged some tribes together in the North of today’s China.
The weapons it had to defend against kept changing, as well – started out sticks and stones, moved on to bows, arrows and swords, then, finally gunpowder! It was the weapons consideration which kept changing the build-technology of the Wall. This meant that the building materials changed over the years to match the threats. Started out as mud and clay blocks but evolved into stone and mortar. Anyway, let’s get onto today’s Great Wall.
Much of today’s Great Wall was originally built by the Ming Dynasty. It kind of evolved from all the previous ones and, by the time it was built, leading up to the 13th.Century A.D., the building materials had become stone and mortar. In 1211 A.D the flawed thinking behind this Wall was rather shown up! The Mongol Hordes, led by Genghis Khan, simply invaded round the western end of the Great Wall and conquered China! Ironic, isn’t it that the Maginot Line in 1940 was treated the same way by the German invaders! Some people never learn!
Anyway, on to today’s Great Wall.
This is believed to have been started during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th. Century. The build have become far more sophisticated and was using bricks, huge granite blocks and locally quarried stone. The mortar was made from a mixture of clay, lime, and a “secret ingredient” (recently discovered to be rice flour).
Brick kiln and laid bricks.
These impressive Ming sections of the Great Wall stand about 25 feet (7.5 m) high and anywhere from 15-30 feet (4.5-9m) wide at the base. Modern studies have found the bricks and mortar to be surprisingly sturdy. The mortar was made from a mixture of clay, lime, and a “secret ingredient” (recently discovered to be rice flour). The down-side of using the bricks was that this required more labour. The bricks had to be transported from the kilns to site whereas local stone was already there. How many were required to quarry it, though, has never been recorded.
Now we come to the bit that has astounded me; the number of people working on the Wall! It seems that during the Ming Dynasty there were at least 1 million people slogging away at it! Some studies even suggest that might have been 1½ million at any given time! The military were just seconded to it, but for the peasants it was different. If they volunteered their time for a year they were exempted from taxes! The other big group at it were convicted criminals but there was a sadistic twist to their efforts: if they died on the job another member of their family was grabbed and stuck in their place!
That takes us to the final outlandish bit of the Great Wall; the number of people who died building it. This is something else for which there is no written record; however Chinese folk-lore has its views on the subject! :-
“The whole of the Great Wall is built on the bones of those who died building it.”