Cultural Significance of the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest construction wonders of the world, and ranks among the “Seven Wonders of the World”. The Great Wall of today starts from Shanhaiguan Pass in the east and ends at Jiayuguan Pass in the west. It is about 6,700 km long. So in Chinese we call it “Wan Li Chang Cheng”, which means Ten-Thousand-Li-Long Wall (li is a Chinese unit for measurement; one li is equal to half a kilometer).

Badaling Great Wall

The Great Wall was first built during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and continued into the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). After the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) unified China, the Great Wall was linked up and expanded, which laid the foundation for what we call today the Ten-Thousand-Li-Long Wall. In the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, the Great Wall was further constructed. Though thousands of years have passed, one dynasty replaced by another, you can still feel its grandeur and could not help marveling at how this huge project became possible when you climb up the Wall.

Simatai Great Wall

The earliest parts of the Great Wall were built amid incessant wars. It served the purpose of military defense in the age of cold steel, especially in preventing northern people on horseback from attacking people in the south who were mostly engaged in farming. The work involved in building the Great Wall was tremendous and the hardships are beyond imagination. People paid an enormous price for the construction of the Great Wall. Numerous people had to leave their homes and families to go north, where they toiled for years. Over a time span of over 2,000 years, many people lost their lives on the worksites.

Mutianyu Great Wall

Many legends and tales have left in China about the construction of the Great Wall. Among them, the story of Lady Meng Jiang (Meng Jiangnü), called “Meng Jiangnü’s Bitter Weeping”, is the most moving and known to every household in China.

Lady Meng Jiang lived during the reign of the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty. In order to build the Great Wall, Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered 300 thousand people to work. In other words, one out of every 20 people took part in the project then. Lady Meng Jiang’s husband was recruited to build the Great Wall just three days after they got married. Hearing nothing from her husband after his departure, Lady Meng Jiang missed him very much. She sewed some warm clothes for him and decided to set off to look for him. She traveled many miles, going through innumerable hardships. When she eventually reached the foot of the Great Wall at the present Shanhaiguan Pass, a fellow countryman told her that her husband had died and was buried under the Wall. Lady Meng Jiang was so sad and she cried for three days and nights until, legend has it, a 400 kilometer-long (248-mile-long) section of the Great Wall collapsed, revealing the dead bodies of her husband and many others. The heartbroken Lady Meng Jiang finally committed suicide by jumping into the sea.

This story tells of the hard work of Chinese commoners. Today, you can find a temple built at Shanhaiguan Pass near the sea in memory of this loyal lady.

The Great Wall today has high tourism value and historical and cultural significance. Over the centuries, the Great Wall has become a symbol of consolidation and strength for the Chinese people. It symbolizes that great achievement can be made with a common will and concerted effort. For example, the national anthem, composed during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945), called on the people to “build our new Great Wall with our flesh and blood”. A Chinese idiom vividly expresses the Great Wall as the achievement of many – “Efforts joined by many can build the Great Wall”.

Standing on the Great Wall, only a good imagination is required for you to form a picture of the past, of the battlefields, the chariots, the horses, the heavily armored soldiers and the emperors they fought and died for…

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