The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasties We See Today | History
Great Wall History

The Wall of the Ming Dynasty

Sui expensed large numbers of labors and set severe time limits for building walls. At such great cost, the constructions were finished. But it broke countless families so as to the extreme of tyranny, and eventually incurred uprisings. The Sui Dynasty breathed its last in 618 after its 37-year rule, and was finally replaced by the Tang Dynasty (618 ~ 907).

The strength of Tang Dynasty reached the peak of all times. And the north borderline was far beyond the Wall. So the Tang Dynasty didn't build any wall.

For the following period from Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms to the Song Dynasty, the walls fell into the territories of the two states of Liao and Jin and were not renovated.

In 1279, Mongol founded the Yuan Dynasty. With the north and south of China unified, it occupied a large territory, the largest ever in Chinese history. Without harassment form beyond the Wall, no wall was built.

In 1368, through a series of battles against Yuan, the Ming Dynasty established.

In its first years, to consolidate its rule and stabilize the society, Ming reduced taxes for peasants and propped up commercial activities. The social production gradually recovered and the economy began to evolve. The state-run industries, such as iron and bronze, weapon and ammunition industries and civil engineering, also developed and came to the highest level of all times.

On the other hand, Mongol, once defeated with their dynasty Yuan falling down and forced beyond the Wall, wished to come back to rule. It frequently harassed the north border of Ming. Besides Mongol, another nomad nationality, Nuzhen, sprang up to the northeast of Ming, ambitiously waiting for its chance.

To protect its borderline, Ming built walls for several times. It at first only fixed up the poor-conditioned walls hundreds of years old. Later it began to build new walls in large scales. The walls built during this time were grand and excellent for defense. Attributed to solid materials, they were much firmer than their previous ones, and have survived hundreds of years so people can see it today. The Great Wall today was mostly built in the Ming Dynasty. The following is about the wall constructions during the Ming Dynasty.

From 1399 to 1402, King Ming Huidi built the wall starting in present Xuanhua and ending in now Datong of Shanxi.

In 1413, to strengthen the defense on the north, King Ming Chengzu dug a deep and wide trench along the inner side of the above wall and piled the diggings into a stone fence. (Trench and fence heaped of the diggings was one form of wall for defense purpose. It was adopted in places where walls couldn't be easily built or materials lacked.) The trench started at Xi'ma'lin of Wanquan County of Hebei Province and ran about 100 kilometers eastward to the Chang'an'ling Fortress of Xuanhua of Hebei Province.

In 1436, King Ming Yingzong set up 22 watchtowers along the line running about 250 kilometers from Longwu County of Hebei Province to Dushikou to North Jixian County. The same year, Ming built beacons along the route from present Yanchi of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In 1466, King Ming Xianzong built two groups of 34 platforms along the two lines separately going from Dingbian County to Huanxian County and from Anbian County to Qingyang County. The both lines went northward from present east Gansu Province to north Shannxi Province.

In the time of Ming Yingzong, Mongolia lying in the north was dominated by Tuohuan, head of Wala, one major branch of Mongolia, and gradually thrived. Yexian, son of Tuohuan, continued his father's rule and focused on developing the military strength. With his military power, Yexian invaded Ming frequently. In 1449, Yexian led armies from three ways towards Ming. King Ming Yingzong commanded troops personally on wrong advice and was ultimately captured in Tumu, which battle known as "Tumu Crisis". Yexian was finally defeated in his attack on present Beijing, capital of Ming. He returned Ming Yingzong the next year after failures of taking him as hostage. Since then the kings of the Ming Dynasty all engaged in strengthening the north-border defense by adding devices and building new walls.

King Ming Xianzong noticed that though troops were already stationed in the Shanhaiguan Pass, Xifengkou, Gubeikou, the Juyongguan Pass and the Daomaguan Pass, yet these passed were disconnected from each other and exposed to invasion from the hillside. So in 1476, Ming Xianzong built the wall running west from the Shanhaiguan Pass to the Yanmenguan Pass by employing armies and residents.

In 1471, Yu Zijun, provincial governor responsible for the border safety of Shanbei Province, employed his army and people and built a wall in a very short time. The wall, together with 11 fortresses and nearly 100 beacons, ran about 850 kilometers from present northeast Shenmu County of Shannxi Province to present Yanchi County of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Furthermore, by cutting into mountains and flattening low lands along the south side of the wall, Yu paved up the passageway that started from Pianguan of Shanxi Province, ran west to Kuyuan County of Guansu Province and arrived in Yinchuan of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In 1372, General Feng Sheng crusaded enemies to the West Regions, where he built the Jiayu Pass. In the time of King Ming Xiaozong, the city gate tower and the outer city were added to the Pass.

In the time of King Ming Xiaozong, he took official Yang Yiqing's advice to build the wall from present Anbian of Shannxi Province to the east bank of the Yellow River in Wulin County of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The wall was to prevent enemies from sneak attack from the vast desert absent of natural barriers.

In the time of King Ming Wuzong, he took viceroy Weng Wanda's advice to fix up the 500-kilometer wall along with 363 beacons within Xuanfu and Datong County. Yet the wall blocked the road to Mongolia and made the trade inconvenient, so it was soon damaged intentionally. Weng Wanda advised to renovate it. King Ming Wuzong agreed. The wall was thus repaired again, thoroughly this time. Moreover, closets were added inside the wall for storing firearms.

In the time of Ming Muzong, two tribes called Anda and Tuman frequently invaded the border near Jimen, threatening Beijing. In 1568, Qi Jiguang was appointed chief officer dealing with military affairs of Jizhou, Changpin, Liaodong and Baoding. On investigation, he suggested repairing the wall from the Shanhaiguan Pass to Changpin and building along the line 3000 watchtowers. But King Ming Muzong consented only 1000 towers. The arduous construction started from 1569 and last three years. 1007 lookout towers were set up and the defense on the north border thus greatly strengthened.

On the whole, the Wall of the Ming Dynasty was built along the lines of the walls of the Northern Qi and the Northern Wei Dynasties. During the reigns of King Ming Taizu, Ming Yingzong and Ming Xianzong, the Ming Dynasty enhanced the north-border defense mainly by constructing passes and beacons. It's not until the time of King Ming Xiaozong that walls and over 1000 fortresses were built massively. The Great Wall we see today was mostly built that time.