“In 220 B.C., under Qin Shi Huang, sections of earlier fortifications were joined together to form a united defense system against invasions from the north. Construction continued up to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when the Great Wall became the world’s largest military structure. Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance.” This is the description made by UNESCO when the Great Wall was inscribed on the World Cultural Heritage List in 1987.
Built with materials such as earth, stone and bricks, the Great Wall is more than just a wall, but a comprehensive defensive system comprised of fortresses, passes, walls, watchtowers, pass cities, camp forts, garrisons, city wall and moat, and beacon towers. It is thus considered a wonder in the history of Chinese architecture.
The Great Wall wanders eastwards for thousands of miles across the territory of China like a massive dragon. In the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.), sections of earlier fortifications constructed by vassal states during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) were connected together to defend invasions of the Huns in the north, forming the Great Wall that extended from Lintao in the west to Liaodong in the east. The Han dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D.220) further expanded the west end of the Great Wall to the Ershi City (today’s Osh City in southwestern Kyrgyzstan) of the Dawan Kingdom, while its east end was extended to the north bank of the Heilongjiang River. At that time, the Great Wall extended nearly 10,000 kilometers, the longest in its history. The existing Great Wall was mainly reconstructed in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) to resist the Mongols and Jurchen. With a total length of more than 7,000 kilometers, it runs from the Yalu River of Liaoning Province in the east to the Jiayu Pass of Gansu Province in the west, crossing nine provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions such as Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia, and Gansu. As the first pass at the east end of the Great Wall, the Shanhai Pass is dubbed the First Pass under Heaven. The west starting point of the Great Wall, the Jiayu Pass has been known as the First Pass of Hexi and served as an important traffic hub along the Silk Road since ancient times. The Badaling section of the Juyong Pass Great Wall in Beijing is considered the best-preserved and most magnificent part of the Great Wall of the Ming dynasty.
As one of the earliest group of Chinese landscapes listed as World Heritage Site, the Great Wall was included into the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. There are numerous historical stories, myths and legends set in the Great Wall, such as “Zhaojun Going Beyond the Great Wall as a Bride”, “Su Wu Herding Sheep” and “Meng Jiangnv’s Bitter Weeping Over the Great Wall”. In addition, those poems and verses chanting the Great Wall, such as “Please drink one more glass of wine since there will be no old friends after you go westwards out of the Yangguan Pass” and “The moon and the Great Wall haven’t changed since the Qin and Han dynasties, but nobody has returned from the crusade,” formed an important genre in Chinese classical literature called frontier fortress poem. A line of the lyric of China’s national anthem reads: “With our flesh and blood, let’s build our new Great Wall,” which uses the Great Wall as a symbol of national spirit and strength.
Throughout the river of history, the Great Wall has become a symbol of the Chinese nation.