The Great Wall of China, one of the world’s wonders and one of the greatest engineering projects in the history of the humankind is surrounded by myths and controversy which attract researchers and tourists all over the world. Preserved since ancient times, the Great Wall of China consists of scattered fragments which were built as the fortification lines but losing their defense value, are recognized as a historical and cultural relic.
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Separate fragments of the Great Wall of China are more than 2, 000 years and the history of their creation is lost in centuries, giving rise to numerous myths and legends as well as debates of the historians.
The construction of the first parts is dated back to the Warring States Period. The conventional view on the creation of the first fragments is that these fortifications lines were the product of the struggle between Chinese farmers and nomadic horsemen at the end of the Warring States Period around 200 BC. However, there are scholars who oppose this traditional approach, viewing the history of this colossal project from a fresh perspective.
For example, Nicola Di Cosmo considered the wish of Chinese governments to expand into the neighboring territories as the main precondition for intensifying the fortifications and building the walls. “Di Cosmo has pointed to an important shift in Chinese military strategy during the Warring States Period” (Slavicek, Mitchell, and Matray 20).
Later, Quin Shi Huang who was the first emperor of the Quin Dynasty, managed to overcome his competitors and to unite China into a single empire. He is known for a number of political and economic reforms aimed at transforming the old China and strengthening the empire. Quin Shi Huang joined the parts of the Wall and extended it to a total length of 5, 000 kilometers for the purpose of creating a formidable defense line in the north, destroying the old inner defensive systems such as the complexes of walls and watchtowers.
“The giant wall would not only serve as protection against invading nomads but also stand as a symbol of the Chinese emperor’s great power” (Richardson 10). Only scattered parts of the original construction have survived till the modern times, and the precise length of Huang Di’s Wall is unknown.
The majority of modern scholars believe that the Great Wall of that period was not less than 1, 500 miles as compared to 3, 889 miles of the present day construction (Slavicek, Mitchell, and Matray 26). That project of the Qin dynasty is defined as the First Great Wall, and the following projects of the Second Great Wall by Han Dynasty, the Third Great Wall by Jin Dynasty and the Final Great Wall by Ming Dynasty contributed to the original construction.
At present, the Wall is not used as a defensive barrier. “The Great Wall completely lost its purpose, both as a military defense line and as a national boundary” (Slavicek, Mitchell, and Matray 4). The last battle took place at the wall in 1938 and since then it has been damaged by the sun and wind. Within the previous century, a significant part of the wall was robbed by the local inhabitants who used the rocks and stone for building their houses.
The government used the materials of the Wall for more ambitious projects and ruined it for building the highways and enlarging the cities. It was only in 1984 that the President Deng Xiaoping started the restoration of the Wall, recognizing its cultural and symbolic value for China and its people (Evans 8). Initially built as a fortification line, the ancient Great Wall of China has lost its defense value and became a historical and cultural relic of the country.
The numerous myths surrounding the history of construction of the Great Wall are preconditioned with the remoteness of the date of its origin and the lack of knowledge of the Chinese citizens concerning the history and the purpose of creating the fortification line. As an important historical relic and cultural symbol, this colossal construction attracted attention of historians, archeologists and artists all over the world.
The first well-known associated with the Wall says that one million of people were buried in the wall for making it stronger. “To date, however, no bones, human or otherwise, have ever been found in the wall, nor are there official records that humans, alive or dead, were deliberately or accidentally buried in the wall” (Evans 11).
This myth was reflected in Chinese poems and fairy tales, but can be explained as the misinterpretation of the claim that millions of people died because they worked hard on the project of the Wall. Another widely spread myth is that the mortar used in the Wall was made of crushed human bones. However, there is evidence that the Ming dynasty used rice as a bounding element for the wall and confiscated it from the south population for completing the project.
The majority of these terrifying myths are rooted in the draconian methods of exploitation of the workers which were implemented by the Chinese emperors for completing the colossal building project. Like many other military constructions, the Great Wall of China was innovative for its time and required combination of innovative architectural designs and defense measures along with hard labor of millions of Chinese citizens, the whole garrisons of soldiers and prisoners.
Though the Great Wall consists of scattered fragments built in different periods of time and projected by different people, the features of ancient Chinese architectural style can be found in it. There are five major types of construction and materials which were used in the construction of this ancient fortification line, namely stone, brick, rammed earth, adobe and cliff.
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Rammed earth is the oldest type of construction which presupposed combination of wooden planks, clay and layers of earth. The samples of this construction can still be found in the present day Wall. Adobe walls were erected mostly in dry regions because the adobe bricks had to be dried in the sun after cementation.
Though these walls could be easily eroded by rains, the accessibility and cheapness of the required materials were their advantages. Cliff walls construction means that the natural cliffs have been incorporated into the construction of the Great Wall. The stone walls have been popular among the Chinese builders for several millennia and were used mainly in the mountainous regions because of the availability of the necessary materials.
The brick walls were used by the Ming dynasty and could be easily transported and modified. As a historical relic preserved since ancient times, the Great Wall of China can be regarded as storage of ancient Chinese culture and wisdom. The samples of rock art on the Wall are of great interest for historians and sociologists because they can tell much about the life of people and their system of beliefs.
The architectural methods, military designs and constructions were really progressive for their time, making this project one of the recognized world’s wonders, a part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage and an important historical site. Disregarding all the myths and controversy surrounding the history of the construction of the Wall, its remains one of the greatest architectural projects in the history of the humankind and its art value is undeniable.
The Chinese people are proud of the Great Wall and consider at least one visit to this important historical hub as their moral duty. As one of the colossal architectural projects, the construction of the Wall required sacrificing materials and human resources. Along with the lack of historical evidence from the times of its construction, the draconian methods used by the emperors for building the Great Wall of China give rise to numerous myths and scientific debates, however, not diminishing its historical and cultural value.
Evans, Thammy. Great Wall of China: Beijing and Northern China. Guilford: Globe Pequot Press. 2006. Print.
Richardson, Adele. Great Wall of China. Mankato: Creative Education. 2006. Print.
Slavicek, Louise, George Mitchell, and James Matray. The Great Wall of China. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. 2005. Print.