The Great Wall of China is a monument that has been globally recognised as a symbol of China for years. This essay discusses the Great Wall of China from three aspects. Firstly we’ll discuss the historical aspect including who built The Great Wall of China and the man-power behind the project. Secondly, we’ll look at the political reasons behind why it was built and thirdly we’ll examine the cultural significance in terms of tourism, legends and other topics that have been associated with the wall.
The Great Wall of China is a national symbol which represents the input of millions of people from different periods in Chinese history. This makes its historical significance quite extensive (Great Wall 1998, p. 6). The construction lasted throughout 10 dynasty’s (Rucai n.d., para 9). During this time there have been four major walls built in the following historical periods. The Qin Dynasty (221-206), The Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), the Five dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (1138-1198).
Also including The Hongwu Emperor until The Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1620) (Great Wall 2012, para 4). The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi is closely associated with this monument, who ordered the incorporation of regional walls that were built by warring sates, into a few connecting walls. Unfortunately there are almost no remains from this period (Steinhardt 2000, p. 214).
There were many changes and reformations of the wall during the following years, although considerable construction of the wall was during the Ming Dynasty. In this time emperors were committed to building on a larger scale and with better materials (Rosenberg n.d., para 3). The wall was taken so seriously during the Ming Dynasty that if damage or reasonable problems occurred with the project, the officer who was deemed in charge of that particular area, was prosecuted or punished. China places immense historical value on emperors who ruled throughout the dynasty’s connected with the monument (Rucai n.d., para 9).
In addition, in terms of area and mass, The Great Wall of China is the largest man made structure built to date (Great Wall 2012, para 2). The man-power behind this sort of a project included 30,000 troops ordered from the first emperor and an additional 50,000 in a second request (Rucai n.d., para 16). General Meng Tian of the Qin Dynasty famously sent 300, 000 soldiers to work on The Great Wall of China (Steinhardt 2000, p. 214). Mainly convicted criminals were ordered to build the wall.
Although there were also peasants, frontier guards, disgraced noblemen and unemployed intellectuals sent to the wall. It has been referred to as the longest cemetery on earth. This is due to over one million Chinese civilians who have passed away along the wall. Many of these dead civilians have been buried inside or around the structure. The Great Wall of China has been recently measured at over 20,000 km long in total and built over 2,000 years of significant periods in Chinese history (39 Interesting Facts About: The Great Wall of China 2009, para 26).
The main political aspect of this feature is unquestionably the fact it was a defensive project as well as protecting cultural progress and economic development. The wall was originally built to keep out northern neighbours and other races, which were described at the time by the Chinese as ‘barbarians’ (Steinhardt 2000, p. 214). Its main political aim was to reinforce the local regime. Watchtowers were built along the wall, in which beacons were lit continuously across various sections to warn the military headquarters and troops of an invasion.
The wall included military facilities such as terraces, arsenals and barracks to keep out other non-Chinese races. Soldier’s wages were paid, through Chinese taxes being raised. Another political aspect involves trading. The Great Wall of China strengthened and established the process and development of trading in China. It also prevented nomads, in particular Mongol, looting and stealing across the wall with horses (Rucai n.d., para 18).
The Great Wall of China also defended the Silk Roads, which was a main trading route that secured transportation and the transference of information (Great Wall 1998, p. 3). During the Chinese Revolution the wall was also seen as despotism, which is a sign that the ruler has absolute power. In response to this, Chinese civilians took bricks and other resources from the wall to build their own homes and farms. Political aspects have been recognized in correspondence to The Great Wall of China since its original construction (39 Interesting Facts About: The Great Wall of China 2009, para 22).
In terms of culture, The Great Wall of China, along with the legends associated with it has attracted tourists from around the globe. Steinhardt (2000, p. 214) claimed that the wall is ‘China’s greatest monument and one of its most powerful symbols’. The first area opened to tourists was Badaling close to Beijing in 1957. President Nixon visited Badaling in 1972, which in turn made tourism soar drastically and pushed the Chinese government to restore and re-built certain areas (39 Interesting Facts About:
The Great Wall of China 2009, para 23). Other sections open to tourists include the “North Pass”, “Number One Pass Under Heaven” and the “Shanhaiguan Great Wall” (Great Wall 2012, para 15). The wall in Chinese culture has also been associated and compared to a dragon which is a symbol of protective divinity. The Chinese believed that the earth was full of dragons which formed the shape of the mountains. On top of this temples have been constructed along the wall to worship the war God Guandi, which also adds to its cultural value (39 Interesting Facts About:
The Great Wall of China 2009, para 24). A well know story from the Great Wall is the legend of Lady Meng Jiang’s husband. It has been told that her husband had been conscripted to work on the wall and during the winter she travelled hundreds of miles with warm clothes for him only to find out he had been deceased. As she wept next to the wall a piece of the wall collapsed revealing her husband’s remains which she took to the burial grounds.
This shows how The Great Wall of China has influenced Chinese culture throughout the years (Steinhardt 2000, p. 215). In conclusion, from the historical value of the dynasty’s The Great Wall of China has been built throughout, to the political aspects of keeping away Mongol’s and other non-Chinese. Also including the cultural influence of tourism and legends behind the moment have all played a major role in The Great Wall of China’s significance globally and in particular its value within Chinese civilization. The historical, political and cultural factors greatly contribute to making this monument an ultimate symbol of China.
Reference List 39 Interesting Facts About: The Great Wall of China 2009, retrieved 14 August, 2013, from http://facts.randomhistory.com/2009/04/18_great-wall.html
Great Wall 1998, retrieved 19 August, 2013, from http://www.chinahighlights.com/greatwall/
Great Wall 2012, retrieved 14 August, 2013, from http://www.greatwall-of-china.com/
Rosenberg, M n.d., The History and Development of The Great Wall of China, retrieved 18 August, 2013, from http://geography.about.com/od/specificplacesofinterest/a/greatwall.htm
Rucai, L n.d., The Great Wall: Past and Present, retrieved 13 August, 2013, from http://china.org.cn/english/culture/238548.htm Steinhardt, NRS 2000, ‘Architecture and Planning’, in EL Shaughnessy (ed), China: The Land of the Heavenly Dragon, Duncan Baird Publishers, London, pp. 214-215.