China is the largest country in Asia and the world’s most populous nation. It also has one of the world’s oldest and continuous civilizations. The Chinese have occupied their vast territory for thousands of years and China has numerous achievements in a variety of disciplines. The country has produced many great thinkers and philosophers, and numerous artists and inventors from China have introduced creations that have changed perhaps billions of lives. Some of these creations include the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing, porcelain, and silk. But perhaps the most well-known and recognized symbol of China is the Great Wall.
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The Great Wall, or Chang Cheng in Chinese, is massive. It begins in the east at the Yellow Sea, travels near China’s capital, Beijing, and continues west through numerous provinces. For thousands of miles, it winds like a snake through China’s varied terrain. Smaller walls extend from the main wall. According to conservative estimates, the Great Wall’s length is approximately 2,400 miles, its thickness ranges from 15-30 feet wide, and it reaches in height to about 25 feet. For many centuries, the Great Wall has been considered one of the world’s wonders (Turnbull & Noon, 2007).
Although it is often mistakenly thought of as a single wall, the Great Wall is a series of walls that were constructed, reconstructed, and expanded over several centuries and, depending on the location, having different materials. The massive construction project was the idea of China’s first emperor, Shi Huangdi, who ended more than 250 years of regional fighting between several independent states, and united China. Once in control, Shi Huangdi wanted to maintain his power and position. The idea to create a massive wall along the northern border of the country was conceived by the emperor to bar assailants from kingdoms to the north of China. The construction of the Great Wall continued long after the reign of Shi Huangdi, particularly during the Han and the Ming dynasties. During these periods, features such as watch towers, gates, and garrisons were added or enhanced, and the Great Wall’s design was unified (Marsh, 2006).
The Great Wall is of great significance, as it reflects much of China’s extensive history. The Great Wall helped define the empire and mark a boundary between the Chinese and foreigners. The great emperor, Shi Huangdi, wanted to keep the Chinese people together and at the same time isolate foreigners, especially those to the north (Sterling, 2009). The Great Wall survives today, more than 2,000 years after its initial construction. It attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world each day, being one of the most toured and significant monuments in the world. This has helped boost China’s economy through tourism and foreign exchange (Collins, Staton & Milgrom, 2010).
The Great Wall is undeniably one of humankind’s most prominent and enduring architectural feats. It is a testament to a people’s ability to plan, organize, create, and work diligently together. The wall is a monument to Chinese civilization, one that came at great costs and through countless sacrifices.
Collins, T., Staton, J., & Milgrom, A. (2010). Building the Great Wall of China: An Isabel Soto History Adventure. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.
Marsh, C. (2006). The Mystery on the Great Wall of China. Peachtree City, GA: Gallopade International.
Sterling, B. L. (2009). Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? What History Teaches Us about Strategic Barriers and International Security. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
Turnbull, S. R., & Noon, S. (2007). The Great Wall of China, 221 BC-AD 1644. Oxford, UK: Osprey Pub.
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