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The Great Wall of China Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

One of the most impressive achievements in human history, the Great Wall of China stretches across the northern part of the country. Learn about how the wall was built over the course of hundreds of years and what function it played in Chinese history.

A Wall for Defense

Imagine that the United States got so mad at Canada that we decided to wall off the entire country to be rid of them. Now imagine that instead of using bulldozers and cranes, we built a giant wall with nothing but our hands and a few tools. It sounds crazy, but China has used a massive wall throughout their history to protect them from outsiders. The Great Wall of China runs for over 13,000 miles through the northern part of the country. It's not one single wall, but a number of many walls that form a defensive perimeter, or boundary.

A section of the Great Wall
Great Wall section

Building the Great Wall

The Great Wall began construction over two thousand years ago, at a time when China was split between three nations. The first emperor to unify these three nations, named Qin Shi Huang (pronounced Chin-Shu-Wong), decided it would be a good idea to protect the new country. He ordered a wall to be built on the north to protect from attacking tribes. At the time, the emperor did not intend for the wall to be as long as it is today.

The wall on its own wasn't intended to protect China. The designs called for signal beacons, towers, forts and castles to be built along the wall. The emperor used thousands of soldiers, builders, prisoners, and slaves to work on the wall. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of workers may have died in the process, and that countless bodies may be buried within the wall itself.

Getting Larger

Emperors after Qin Shi Huang kept constructing more and more wall space in order to guard more and more land. Almost every dynasty, or ruling family of emperors, built up and repaired the wall, both to protect themselves and to appear capable, eventually stretching it to modern-day Beijing (China's capital) and the ocean coast. As the wall got bigger, emperors also built new cities to supply the wall with guards, food, and weapons.

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