The Great Wall, China

 

 

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The Great Wall of China

 

To the northwest and north of Beijing, the Great Wall zigzags it's way to the east and west along the sharp mountain ridges. 

Construction of the Great Wall started in the 7th century B.C. The vassal states under the Zhou Dynasty in the northern parts of the country each built their own walls for defence purposes. After the Qin Dynasty unified China in 221 B.C., the walls were joined to hold off the invaders from the Xiongnu tribes in the north and were extended to more than 5,000 kilometers. 

The Great Wall was renovated from time to time after the Qin Dynasty. A major renovation started with the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and took 200 years to complete. The wall that is seen today is almost exactly the result of this effort. With a total length of over 6,000 kilometers, it extends to the jiayu Pass in Gansu Province in the west and to the mouth of the Yalu River in Liaoning Province in the east. 

It was during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) that the Wall took on its present form. The brick and granite work was enlarged and sophisticated designs were added. The watch towers were redesigned and modern canon were mounted in strategic areas. The Portuguese had found a ready market for guns and canon in China, one of the few items of trade that China didn't already have in abundance. The Ming Emperors, having overthrown the Hun dominance and expelled their Mongol rulers of the North devoted large portions of available material and manpower to making sure that they didn't return.

Throughout the centuries, armies were garrisoned along the length of the Wall to provide early warning of invasion and a first line of defense. Great piles of straw and dung used to build signal fires have been found during excavations. There must have been small garrison towns spotted along the length. There weren't many farms or trade towns to provide ease, relaxation and food. The supply trails were over mountains along narrow paths. To bring supplies to the top, ropes were slung over posts set in the Chinese side of the wall and baskets were hauled up hand over hand. Supplies must have always been short and chancy, particularly in the winter.

The Wall served China well. Only when a dynasty weakened from within were invaders from the north able to advance and conquer. Both the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368) and the Manchurians (Qing Dynasty,1644-1911) were able take power, not because of weakness in the Wall but because of weakness in the government and the poverty of the people. 

Over the past few centuries, the Great Wall has served as a source of building materials for local farms and villages. Aerial photos show that in sections, only the top battlements show -- the center of the wall was filled with sand and silt. The same brutal isolated conditions which made the Great Wall a triumph of engineering and determined planning make the restoration of the wall both problematic and slow.




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