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  • A 13,000 mile dragon of earth and stone

  • winds its way through the countryside of China

  • with a history almost as long and serpentine as the structure.

  • The Great Wall began as multiple walls of rammed earth

  • built by individual feudal states during the Chunqiu period

  • to protect against nomadic raiders north of China and each other.

  • When Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified the states in 221 BCE,

  • the Tibetan Plateau and Pacific Ocean became natural barriers,

  • but the mountains in the north remained vulnerable

  • to Mongol, Turkish, and Xiongnu invasions.

  • To defend against them,

  • the Emperor expanded the small walls built by his predecessors,

  • connecting some and fortifying others.

  • As the structures grew from Lintao in the west

  • to Liaodong in the east,

  • they collectively became known as The Long Wall.

  • To accomplish this task,

  • the Emperor enlisted soldiers and commoners,

  • not always voluntarily.

  • Of the hundreds of thousands of builders recorded during the Qin Dynasty,

  • many were forcibly conscripted peasants

  • and others were criminals serving out sentences.

  • Under the Han Dynasty, the wall grew longer still,

  • reaching 3700 miles,

  • and spanning from Dunhuang to the Bohai Sea.

  • Forced labor continued under the Han Emperor Han-Wudi ,

  • and the walls reputation grew into a notorious place of suffering.

  • Poems and legends of the time told of laborers buried

  • in nearby mass graves,

  • or even within the wall itself.

  • And while no human remains have been found inside,

  • grave pits do indicate that many workers died

  • from accidents, hunger and exhaustion.

  • The wall was formidable but not invincible.

  • Both Genghis and his son Khublai Khan managed to surmount the wall

  • during the Mongol invasion of the 13th Century.

  • After the Ming dynasty gained control in 1368,

  • they began to refortify and further consolidate the wall

  • using bricks and stones from local kilns.

  • Averaging 23 feet high and 21 feet wide,

  • the walls 5500 miles were punctuated by watchtowers.

  • When raiders were sighted,

  • fire and smoke signals traveled between towers

  • until reinforcements arrived.

  • Small openings along the wall let archers fire on invaders,

  • while larger ones were used to drop stones and more.

  • But even this new and improved wall was not enough.

  • In 1644, northern Manchu clans overthrew the Ming

  • to establish the Qing dynasty,

  • incorporating Mongolia as well,

  • Thus, for the second time,

  • China was ruled by the very people the wall had tried to keep out.

  • With the empire's borders now extending beyond the Great Wall,

  • the fortifications lost their purpose.

  • And without regular reinforcement, the wall fell into disrepair,

  • rammed earth eroded,

  • while brick and stone were plundered for building materials.

  • But its job wasn't finished.

  • During World War II,

  • China used sections for defense against Japanese invasion,

  • and some parts are still rumored to be used for military training.

  • But the Wall's main purpose today is cultural.

  • As one of the largest man-made structures on Earth,

  • it was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1987.

  • Originally built to keep people out of China,

  • the Great Wall now welcomes millions of visitors each year.

  • In fact, the influx of tourists has caused the wall to deteriorate,

  • leading the Chinese government to launch preservation initiatives.

  • It's also often acclaimed as the only man-made structure visible from space.

  • Unfortunately, that's not at all true.

  • In low Earth orbit, all sorts of structures,

  • like bridges, highways and airports are visible,

  • and the Great Wall is only barely discernible.

  • >From the moon, it doesn't stand a chance.

  • But regardless, it's the Earth we should be studying it from

  • because new sections are still discovered every few years,

  • branching off from the main body

  • and expanding this remarkable monument to human achievement.

A 13,000 mile dragon of earth and stone

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B2 US TED-Ed great wall dynasty emperor china earth

【TED-Ed】What makes the Great Wall of China so extraordinary - Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen

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    Ann posted on 2015/11/08
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