The Great Wall was mainly built during the time of the First Emperor Qin more than 2,000 years ago. By then it was just a clay structure.

The Great Wall we see today was largely restructured during the early Ming Dynasty in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with special brick-making and mortar-producing techniques not fully understood by people today, other than knowing that sticky rice was used. Each brick had the name of the producer printed on so if a problem occurred the producer would be held responsible.


Plautus Satire:

It’s said that some sections of this structure are made of rammed earth or earth and gravel between rows of wooden boards. In some places, there are just piles of rough stones as walls.

It’s believed the builders exploited local materials to a great extent. In the mountains, they used rock from those mountains. On plains, they used pressed earth blocks to build. In the desert, sanded reeds and juniper tamarisks were used.

It’s calculated as much as three hundred million cubic meters of earthworks were used. Bricks were similar in properties to modern bricks but were produced in different shapes and sizes to be assembled like a jigsaw puzzle. Somehow the builders knew where stone would survive better than brick and in those places they used stone, mainly granite but also marble and other stone.

All Things Chinese: 

Thanks for your input, and quite detailed information. The construction and reconstruction of the Great Wall were huge events so were recorded meticulously in the chronicles. As for the techniques of the engineering projects, it isn’t a traditional practice for Chinese historians to record all details in official documents. Some were regarded as conventional methods at the time therefore nobody thought it was necessary to elaborate further; but since the methods were no longer in use for centuries, people today have difficulties grasping them to their full extent.

With regard to the Great Wall of the Ming, the most magical part is the mortar they used, but the record just mentioned there was sticky rice flour and local sands involved, with no list of all ingredients and the exact ratios between them. Besides, the climate around Beijing was quite different 600 years ago (not as dry as today) thus the soil and the vegetation might not be exactly the same.

Then we have to remember the Ming Chronicle was compiled under the directive of Manchus who is known for having a passion for destroying all original records after producing the “written history” according to their preference or understanding. Since they were exactly the enemies that Chinese built the Great Wall to keep out, they of course saw no need to repair the structure and thus had no interest in related technologies.

It also explains why the Great Wall was thoroughly repaired during the early years of the Ming Dynasty. After a century of the Mongols’ rule, the Great Wall was left dilapidated, therefore as soon as the Chinese armies drove the Mongols to the north of the Wall, it became urgent to strengthen the border with this military defence structure.

Sheila Nagig: 

Almost a third of the wall is gone now. Tourists, people stealing bricks, erosion, etc. I saw a photo series by a guy who hiked out to some of the more remote parts of the wall. It was risky because so much of it is not in a very good state and there’s nobody out there. If you run out of water or food or get hurt, you’re in trouble. There’s no guarantee help will come.

It goes all the way to the sea. He stayed in some of the towers that weren’t too broken down

All Things Chinese: 

Thanks for adding your friend’s personal experience, which is very interesting. The Great Wall restructured by the Ming had 8851 km in length, and the total length of the wall is 24496 km.

Most part of the wall was built with compact earth, only the sections around the passes (the main entry points to China from the north) were structured with bricks. Of which, the section of Mountain Sea Pass (Shanhaiguan) on the Eight Hills (Badaling) near Beijing is the most magnificent of all. But even this part there is only one-third accessible by tourists now.

The folks who steal the bricks to build their own houses are mainly local villagers and the illegal demolition is still going on (too hard for authority to patrol). That is the sad fact about the dark side of Chinese peasants. 🙁

Daniel Rechard: 

I climbed on a section of the Great Wall north of Beijing. As I ascended to the various guard towers I couldn’t help but think what it might have been like to be stationed there. it also occurred to me that these stairs we’re not meant to be easily climbed, but that a single soldier or two could have stood off a hundred people trying to ascend the stairs!

All Things Chinese: 

Before 1949, there was an old saying in China: Good iron won’t be made into nails; Good men won’t become soldiers.

Military life was (of course still is) such a hard way of living, that throughout Chinese history, no man wanted to join the army unless he had no other option.

But it becomes a great honour to join the military force after 1949 …. however, the trend is slowly changing again …. now…

Tom Weiss: 

Did the Mongol Hordes pay for it?

All Things Chinese: 

Mongol Horders trashed it when they occupied the land the north of Yangtze River in the 11th century and then the entire China and half of Europe in the 13th century.

Chinese thoroughly repaired it in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty and what we see today are the works from that era.

JiePing Stella Wang:

According to Chinese history, it was the most important project (built Wall) during the Shong Dynasty 900 years ago. “Many many Chinese men died” when building the Wall.

All Things Chinese: 

I don’t know where did you get your information. Do you mean Song Dynasty 900 years ago?

By then nobody built the Wall, let alone “many many Chinese men died” because of that.

Instead, the wall was broken under the attacks of Jin (also known as early Manchus) and Mongols, and there were “many many Chinese men died” during the wars and as the result of systematic massacres by the invaders.

Consequently “many many Chinese men” and Chinese women fled their native land to the south, and North Song became South Song and the wall was left in ruin until the Ming Dynasty.

Meg Moses: 

I read the history of this, many slaves built it.

Aquil A Rahman:

What’s the name of the history book?

Meg Moses:

The Great Wall of China and the Chin Dynasty

All Things Chinese: 

There were convicts being sent to do hard labour, including building the Great Wall and the emperor’s tomb, 2,200 years ago, but on the whole, the Great Wall is not a result of slave labour.

It was a defence project against the constant raids by nomadic tribes from the northern grass fields, and every household in the kingdom contributed their part to the project, either through financial support or labouring work.

Such defence projects were and are common in any nation during any period, even today. And they are vitally important to ensure nationhood and protect civilization.

As for the Great Wall we see now, particularly the parts near Beijing, it is the work done during the Ming Dynasty, 1,600 years after the First Emperor Qin.

Brenda Minor: 

Whether endentured or not, i wouldn’t doubt that there was slave labor to help build these walls. There were slaves during that period. Possibly forced labor including prisoners as well.

All Things Chinese: 

There were convicts and even war prisoners involved in the forced labour on the construction of the Great Wall, as I mentioned before, but the project was not built on slave labour.

China abolished a slave system much earlier than most civilizations in the world. However, slaves still existed spotishly throughout history, mainly girls and boys sold by their families to be rich households’ servants for a certain period of time (say five years or ten years).

Even today slaves still exist in many countries. The number of slaves is estimated at around 21 million to 46 million worldwide, of which 60,000 slaves are in the U.S.A., according to the Washington Post.

Cackling Muse: 

Their dead bodies were buried into the wall

All Things Chinese: 

Do you have the proof to make such a claim?

Cackling Muse: 

I don’t…but I’m assuming the people working on that wall weren’t of much importance except for their labor and I’m sure many of them died from exhaustion…it would make sense for the task master to just throw them in the wall and keep working instead of digging new graves.

All Things Chinese: 

That’s just your imagination as you said. I can also imagine those dead received a state honour and were buried in a beautiful graveyard for martyrs – none of us has any evidence to support the imagination, so we are just making pointless assumptions here.

Aquil A Rahman: 

Before the very young existence of technology, labor was incumbent on the millions and millions that worked the earth for its gifts.

Before electricity and gas ovens and Kentucky Fried Chicken ….the chickens were killed plucked and cooked right from the back yards.

Energy and labor was what was exerted for everyday survival.

There is an interesting history of the railroads built in America by the Chinese , as well as the builders of the early irrigation fields in California , that eventually led to California becoming the breadbasket of America.

When the Chinese laid tracks through the mountains , connecting economies of the east and west coasts of the US……they weren’t paid much for their labor.

Respected for their building genius, but cheated of fair wages.

Many died from the building of the railroad through the western mountains.( But they had strong work ethics)

Shortly thereafter, the Chinese were banned from America for over 70 years.

From what I understand of the history of the wall, it took centuries and several lifetimes to continue to build such a long wall.

I would wonder though, if it was all forced slave labor ….what manpower was available to ward off invaders from the north?

How could a Chinese army fight off invaders while controlling slaves that may have the desire to fight with the invaders for their freedom from such harsh (?) Oppression.?

Obviously no incentive(for slaves?) not to join a formidable enemy.

Clacking Muse: 

The wall was built by forced labor…that includes soldiers, common people and criminals…these ppl were not special and would never be considered a martyr…a martyr dies for his beliefs…not because he died from exhaustion being forced to build a wall…l I’m sure they didn’t get a proper burial…they were thrown into walls or were burned.

The emperor had 300,000 soldiers watching…he could care less if the slaves wanted to fight…he already had that covered.

Aquil A Rahman: 

The wall is 5000 miles long.
It took quite a few lifetimes and centuries to complete.
There literally had to have been millions of hands that built the wall as well as multiple rulers and armies over that long period of time.

Is there any archaeological evidence where so much material and bricks were taken from?

The laborers no doubt were stronger than armies that had no guns.
They would have been fed and housed for centuries.

Not to mention that the Chinese have preserved a very continued and sophisticated culture for thousands of years.

There had to be more of a determined and structured mindset to finish that project over centuries.

It wasn’t just Helter Skelter.

It would call for a more scientific approach, not just an exaggerated comment.

All Things Chinese: 

So you know their martyrdom is of my imagination? Yes, I’ve already stated that is my groundless imagination without evidence, just like your imagination that they were buried in the wall after died on site. Then what’s the point for us to argue over our own imaginations? Don’t you think it’s quite ridiculous?

The Great Wall went through many repairs in the two thousand years and no human remains ever been found.

When First Emperor Qin built the Great Wall 2,000 years ago, the wall was built with compact soil, not bricks.

Even in the late 14th century when the Great Wall underwent the most thorough renovation, it was just a small section near Beijing plus the major passes that were built with bricks.

By then the renovation projects were outsourced by the government and the bricks were made by family or village-based work teams with the brick-maker’s names imprinted on each brick so the responsibility could be tracked if there were any quality problems found.

Besides, there were never women working on the wall construction.

By the way, in a normal society, only criminals might be made into forced labourers. Do you call soldiers forced labourers? Do you call common people who paid their service as tax to the state forced labourers? I have no idea from which country you come from. Is in your country the army viewed as being formed by forced labourers? The taxpayers are considered using money to get away from their forced labour?

Also let me remind you, the English term “martyr” does not bind with religion. Anyone who gives away his/her own life to help others, to serve the community and to defend the country can be honoured as a martyr.

Meg Moses:

It is the road that killed billions but the one in control was called chin.
It does, for great men kill,  but now we have isis.

All Things Chinese: 

I have to say it is bad taste to compare Qin with ISIS. Qin built the Great Wall to defend China not attack and kill the people in the neighbouring states.

Meg Moses:

Did you know he took mercury as medicine, and was buried  in a lake of  mercury, with all his slaves and animals, how cruel is this.

All Things Chinese: 

What crime did he commit by taking mercury as medicine?

There are allegations that his son buried the last group of craftsmen and labourers worked on the tomb project with him to ensure its actual location would never be disclosed, but the claims were yet to be supported by the evidence so far.

By the way, those working on the tombs, the Great Wall and the palace projects were not slaves but peasant labourers, which was a form of tax to the state (when you didn’t have money or crops to pay your tax, you could pay with your service).

First Emperor Qin did burn some books, but mainly the books on politics and philosophies, and mainly Confucius’s works. That was part of his political battle with the Confucius scholars who insisted to return to the old Zhou System, which was more a federation of a group of small states ruled by the princes independently than a unified kingdom, which inevitably led to civil war as happened during the Autumn and Spring as well as the Warring States eras that lasted for more than four hundred years.

He never burned books on science, technology and arts. That is totally different from Manchu’s burning of books during the Qing dynasty.

True, he was not a tender-hearted guy. But even if he was indeed a cruel man in some way, it doesn’t mean the Great Wall is evidence of cruelty. Can you ever be able to tell the difference here?

In 1779, George Washington said to Major General John Sullivan when instructed him to raid Iroquois settlements: don’t “listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected” (Stannard, David E. AMERICAN HOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.). The troops were allowed to skin the bodies of Iroquois “from the hips downward to make boot tops or leggings “. Approximately 28 of 30 Seneca towns had been destroyed within a five-year period.

But Washington is still considered a great founding father of America.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota Sioux prisoners in Mankato, Minnesota, most of them were holy men or political leaders and none of them were responsible for committing the crimes they were accused of. (Brown, Dee. BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1970. pp. 59-61)

But Lincoln is still considered a great liberator of African slaves.

Why? Because we shouldn’t deny their positive contributions for what they did negatively.

And why do some people become extremists? Because they view the world in only black and white two colours. They regard a course or a person as either absolutely great that they are willing to die for or totally wretched that must be completely destroyed.

As a result, they make themselves unhappy people, and they also make other people unhappy.

Branka Cl: 

I’m glad to see finally someone knows what A. Lincoln and “American people” did in the past to the Indians.

It’s not just for money, but also for power and domination.

All Things Chinese: 

I couldn’t agree more with you Branka, it’s the lust for dominance in all areas, race, politics and culture, not just about money.

S. Davod Imdad

Well, Chengiz Khan, Ivan the Terrible, Lennon, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Spanish Burnings, European colonists killed most of the natives in Australia, Africa and Americas, 1st and 2nd world wars, use of nuclear bombs and now the Middle East is in ruins because of power and wealth, millions are killed for what?? paper money !!! we can only live in peace if we share with others what we like the best for ourselves.

All Things Chinese: 

Mao Zedong killed people in Australia, Africa and America? That’s quite a news to me.

S. Davod Imdad:

Just trying to explain so many people are killed by so few hot-headed greedy and bloody leaders and their followers.

All Things Chinese: 

Ok … but you’ve got some wrong examples. I would list the war criminals of WWII, for instance …. and maybe include those who ignored popular opposition and insisted to send troops to Iraq and etc …

A ruined part of the Great Wall near Beijing


JUNE 13, 2020

If the Great Wall wasn’t real and you read about it in a work of fiction, you’d think it was too unbelievable. Is it possible to walk the entire length?

All Things Chinese
It’s not possible to walk the entire length of the Great Wall as it would be equivalent to walking from the never sleep New York to a sleepless Seattle. During the Ming Dynasty, the wall ran from China’s northwest to its northeast to fence off the looting tribes.

Ever since 1644 when a looting tribe (Manchu) broke through the Great Wall and turned China into their colony, the reason for the wall to exist is no longer there so, except for a short selection near Beijing as well as a few significant Passes, the main body of the wall is gone.

You are welcome to share your thoughts here