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The Great Wall: Q&A

Q: Who actually built the Great Wall as craftsmen? What were the sources of labor?

Updated: Nov 1, 2022 www.chinaservicesinfo.com Print
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Workers restoring a steep section of the Badaling Great Wall in Beijing in September, 2020[Photo/IC]

A: The manpower that built the Great Wall had the following sources and types: The first is the garrison army, which was the main force that built the Great Wall. For example, according to different versions of historical records, 300,000 or 500,000 frontier troops were put to work constructing the Great Wall of the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC).

The second type was forced conscription of civilian workers, which was an important force in building the Great Wall. The labor force of soldiers alone was not enough, so every major dynasty had a history of forcibly conscripting male civilians of the right age to build the Great Wall. The third source and type was prisoners sent to the army. In the Qin and Han dynasties, a special punishment for criminals was to send them to the army to build the Great Wall. Fourth, the rulers of several dynasties skillfully set up many pretexts in order to recruit additional people to build the Great Wall.

A view of the Great Wall's Xipanjiakou site in Qianxi county, Tangshan, Hebei province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It should be noted that the Great Wall, for defensive reasons, was generally located in places with dangerous terrain and difficult access, such as on ridges, so the challenges in material transportation and construction were obvious to the ancient people.On the Great Wall of Badaling, a stone tablet from 1582 recording the construction work of this section of the Great Wall has been discovered. From this stele, we can observe that it took thousands of officers and soldiers from the army, plus many craftsmen and civilian carriers to build a wall no more than 70 zhang long (about 200 meters) and an accompanying stone gate.

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