Emperor Qin Shi Huang repaired the Great Wall-秦始皇修长城

After the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, the first centralized authoritarian state in Chinese history, Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s first task was to reform the national system. During the Warring States period, each state had different policies, resulting in significant differences in the lives of the people. Take vehicles, for example; previously, the distances between the wheels of chariots in different states varied, and the roads varied in width. Emperor Qin Shi Huang stipulated that the distance between the wheels of each carriage should be six feet, and the width of each road should be fifty paces (one pace in the Qin Dynasty equaled six feet). Emperor Qin also standardized the script, mandating the nationwide use of the Xiaozhuan script. This became known as “standardized carriage tracks and unified script.” Additionally, the Qin Dynasty standardized weights and measures and mandated the nationwide use of square-holed copper coins as currency. Through these reforms, the daily lives of the people became standardized, and commerce was no longer difficult.

While Emperor Qin Shi Huang was busy with state affairs, bad news arrived: the northern territories were invaded by the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu were a nomadic ethnic group active in the northern part of China, known for their bravery in warfare and expertise in horsemanship. During the Warring States period, the states of Zhao, Yan, and Qin successively built sections of the Great Wall within their borders to resist Xiongnu aggression. However, these sections were disjointed and short. As the strengths of Zhao and Yan declined, the Xiongnu gradually encroached on their territories, seizing much of the region along the Yellow River. Unsatisfied, they launched further attacks southward.

In 214 BC, shortly after the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, external enemies invaded, much to Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s dismay. He dispatched General Meng Tian to pacify the Xiongnu. Meng Tian, living up to expectations, successfully reclaimed the Hexi region with a force of three hundred thousand soldiers. To prevent further Xiongnu incursions and secure the Qin Dynasty’s borders, Emperor Qin Shi Huang decided to dismantle the walls built by the vassal states within the country and utilize natural mountainous terrain to establish barrier fortresses. He connected the northern walls of Zhao, Yan, and Qin to form an extended and unbroken Great Wall, reinforcing it further to create an impregnable defense against aggression.

The construction of the Great Wall was a monumental undertaking, draining both manpower and resources. Apart from the considerable funds allocated by the state, tens of thousands of soldiers and laborers were dispatched to build it. The sixty thousand-strong army sent to conquer the Chu state likely comprised nearly all of the Qin Dynasty’s military might, with some young laborers conscripted on a temporary basis. With tens of thousands of soldiers deployed for the wall’s construction, coupled with the involvement of ordinary citizens, the scale of the endeavor was immense. Consequently, the absence of labor from society led to widespread discontent among the people, exacerbating their already challenging lives.

In an era characterized by underdeveloped transportation, productivity, and technology, the immense and arduous task of building the Great Wall brought unimaginable suffering. Countless people perished at the foot of the wall, a fact often lamented and sympathized with by poets in later generations.

The construction of the Qin Great Wall took five years and was completed in 210 BC. Stretching from Lin Tao in the west (near the southern bank of the Tao River in present-day Gansu Province) to Liaodong in the east, it extended over ten thousand li. The construction method employed by Emperor Qin Shi Huang was ancient: first, a layer of raw earth was laid, upon which a layer of compacted loess was pressed firmly to support the weight of the wall. Then, the wall was built using yellow clay mixed with small crushed stones. In an era of limited technological advancement, the emergence of such a magnificent architectural feat must be regarded as a marvel in human construction history.