Parts of the Great Wall were first built by princes and overlords in the Seventh Century BC as regional border defenses when China was divided into many small states.
After the unification of China in the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang (you must have heard of his Teracotta Army), linked the walls of the three states in the north (Qin, Zhao and Yan). This formed the first "Wan Li Chang Cheng" (ten thousand li Great Wall, li is a Chinese unit of length, 2 li = 1 km).
Since then, the Great Wall was rebuilt, modified or extended throughout Chinese history for over 2,000 years by millions of Chinese people drafted in for the task. The primary purpose was always to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Most of the Great Wall we see today was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In some areas, two walls built in two different dynasties can be seen running side by side.
The Great Wall is not just a wall. Other defensive works such as forts, passes and beacon towers were built along the Wall to house auxiliary soldiers, store grain and weapons, and transmit military information.
As a product of the clashes between agricultural and nomadic economies, the Great Wall provided protection to economic development and cultural progress. It safeguarded the trading routes such as the Silk Road, and secured transmission of information and transportation.
Today the world has completely changed and a few sections of the Great Wall have become some of the greatest tourist attractions in the world. The Great Wall has lost its former function. But does this mean that anyone has the right to use the its stones to build their own houses? It happened to Hadrian's Wall in the UK, and it is still happening to the Great Wall. Promoting national awareness of the value of the Great Wall is a challenge China is facing. See Great Wall Protection.
There is no easy answer, because over the dynasties the Great Wall has been eroded, built, rebuilt and extended many times. It was over 6,000 km (3,700 miles) long. Read more>>
In order to save this cultural heritage, many wise men suggest we should make the Great Wall better understood by the world, and make laws to protect it. Then the world can share this outstanding part of Chinese history and culture in this century and centuries to come. Read more>>
Over the years, dozens of world celebrities have left their foot steps on the Great Wall. Read more>>
The Great Wall offers a timeless charm to tourists, but scenery varies with the seasons. Visit in a different season and you will get a quite different experience. Read more>>