Who Built the Great Wall of China — When It Was Built and Why

The Great Wall was built by three warring kingdoms, then extended and rebuilt by at least six dynasties, and has been restored as a tourist attraction by the Chinese government.

The Great Wall's history stretches 2,300 years, from around 300 BC. It was built to keep outsiders out, but ironically it is now rebuilt to draw tourists in.

The Main Builders of the Great Wall

  • A Qi State Duke
  • The First Emperor - Qin Shi Huang
  • Emperor Han Wudi of Han Dynasty
  • General Qi Jiguang of the Ming Dynasty

who built the great wall

When the Great Wall Was Built

Dates Period Who Built the Great Wall
476–221 BC The Warring States Period
Overlords built kingdom border walls.
221–207 BC The Qin Dynasty
The First Emperor unified the Great Wall.
206 BC – 220 AD The Han Dynasty
Emperor Han Wudi extended the Great Wall west to Yumen Pass.
1368–1644 The Ming Dynasty
Chinese hero General Qi Jiguang rebuilt the Great Wall.
1957 People's Republic of China Mao Zedong had the Badaling Great Wall section rebuilt.
1978–now Post "Opening-Up" Deng Xiaoping's reforms started this era of foreign tourism and Great Wall restoration.

Why the Great Wall Was Built — Defence and Tourism

Over the centuries, the Great Wall has been built and rebuilt for three main purposes: as kingdom border defences, to defend China's northern border, and for tourism.

1. The First Great Wall Sections Were Warring States' Defences.

Warring States Great Wall MapThe Great Wall and State Walls in the Warring States Period

Before the unification of China, there were many warring states. Battles between states happened frequently to expand territory. Therefore, the princes and overlords began to build high walls to keep intruders out in the Seventh Century BC.

According to historical records, the Qi State was the first state to build such walls in 656 BC. During the Spring and Autumn Period, Qi Huangong (Duke Huan of Qi) became a Qi overlord (reigned 685–643 BC; mainly in today's Shandong Province). He ordered that walls be built to prevent incursions by the Chu State, south of Qi. The walls of Qi were mainly built with flat stones.

From then on, princes and overlords from other states began to build walls on their borders, and high mountain watchtowers to defend against invasion, mostly during the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). For more on the walls of the three northern states, which formed parts of the Great Wall, follow the links below:

The Great Wall kept out northern tribesThe Great Wall prevented northern invasion.

2. The Great Wall Protected China's North for 1,800 years.

After the unification of China in the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC), China's First Emperor, Qin Shihuang (you must have heard of his Terracotta Army), linked the walls of the three northern states (Qin, Zhao, and Yan). 

The Qin Dynasty Great Wall formed the first '5,000-Kilometer Great Wall' (the first "Wan-Li Changcheng" 万里长城 'Ten-Thousand-Li Great Wall', a li being half a kilometer).

This Great Wall linked walls in today's Gansu Province, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, Inner Mongolia, Hebei and Liaoning provinces, and North Korea.

When Han Gaozu became emperor in 202 BC, he ordered strengthening of the Great Wall, as northern nations were China's primary threat.

The Silk Road and the Great WallHan Wudi extended the Great Wall west to protect Silk Road trade.

A later emperor, Han Wudi (ruled 141–87 BC) opened the Silk Road for exporting silk to the west, thus the Great Wall was extended west to Yumen Pass and the Dunhuang Great Wall.

The following dynasties — Sui (581–618), Tang (618–907),  and Song (960–1279) — rebuilt, modified, and extended the Great Wall to protect the Chinese Empire from northern invaders. Today, in some areas, two walls built in two different dynasties can be seen running side by side.

Most of today's Great Wall was built or restored in the Ming Dynasty.

In order to consolidate the northern border, after reclaiming China from the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368), Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) never stopped building the Great Wall.

The most well-known sections (Simatai, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Badaling, etc.) were all built or strengthened by Qi Jiguang (1528–88, a hero general who also saved China's coastlands from Japanese pirates).

The Ming Great Wall runs from Jiayuguan on western China's Silk Road to Shanhaiguan on eastern China's Bohai Gulf coast.

3. The Great Wall Was Rebuilt for Tourism After 300 Years of Neglect

Emperor KangxiEmperor Kangxi

The emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) didn't build the Great Wall and even forbade it: they were Manchurians, who the Great Wall was built to keep out!

Second Qing Emperor Kangxi ordered that the Great Wall never be built, and there was almost no Great Wall built from the end of Ming Dynasty.

It's said that when Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722) saw the Great Wall, he reasoned that the era of Great-Wall-building emperors and enmity with northern neighbors was over. Moreover, Great Wall construction cost lots of money and manpower, which was bad for his people. He believed that the only way to protect China was to gain international support, instead of border battles.

The Great Wall wasn't rebuilt again until the restoration of the Badaling section in 1957 under the direction of Chairman Mao, who's famous for saying, "Until you reach the Great Wall, you're no hero."

Since then other sections like Mutianyu (the best-restored section), Juyongguan (an important fort), and Huangyaguan (World Heritage, but few visitors) have been restored for the benefit of tourists interested in China's Great Wall history. The Jinshanling section has restored Great Wall and original Ming Great Wall.

More on the Great Wall

The Jinshanling Great Wall sectionThere is beautiful scenery and interesting Great Wall architecture at Jinshanling.

We also have more detail on the history of the Great Wall.

Famous Great Wall Sections near Beijing, and more... Read about different features of the various sections, and find the best places for you to visit.

Touring the Great Wall with Us

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