Did the Great Wall of China fail?

Did the Great Wall of China keep out whomever it was to keep out (assuming those on the north side were still a threat after it was (largely) completed).

If you accept Wikipedia’s interpretation of the wall’s purpose:

then the wall didn’t fail.

In any case, the wall certainly didn’t keep the northern barbarians out. The Khitan, Jurchen, Mongols, and Manchus all conquered at least parts of China.

People don’t just erect walls and then go home thinking they’re safe.

Defensive walls have forts every few miles and patrol units in between so that soldiers can watch for enemy incursions. Realistically, walls are only good as long as the soldiers remain. Take the soldiers away and the walls are easily overrun.

The Chinese wall lasted as a defense as long as the emperor could keep it patrolled. Same with Hadrian’s wall in England and all the other walls everywhere.

It was designed to start arguments over whether it is visible from space.

In that goal, it has been a rousing success.

I’ve always understood that the Chinese built Great Wall not to keep barbarian attackers out, but rather to keep them in. The point being that while a band of barbarians could get over the Wall easily enough, they couldn’t steal herds of livestock and flee because there just wasn’t any practical way to get thousands of cows back over the it.

And where on earth did you hear this from?

Probably on Youtube under the ufo videos.

Not to hijack, but this post so directly addresses the issue of a 700+ mile long fence along America’s southern border…

Given good intell, could Chinese army batallions ( or whatever they were called hundreds of years ago when the Wall was built ) move to an area where an invasion was predicted/expected and “defend the wall” there ? Or, did it really mean there had to be humans on the wall, century in and century out, along the full length?


In this respect, one important function of the wall was communications. A sentry on one end could signal fairly quickly using smoke signals from the towers if there was something suspicious.

Note that the quote linked in Post#2 is referring to earlier walls in north China, not the massive, more recent “Great Wall” familiar to all of us from tourist brochures. The “current” Great Wall was built between 1550 and 1640, it was intended to keep out northern invaders, and yes, it failed.

It failed because the Ming dynasty, which built the Great Wall, found itself weakened from within by rebellion and civil disorder. The warlord in charge of the northwest, Wu Sangui, decided in 1644 to ally himself with the Manchus in the hope that they might be an improvement over the tottering Mings. He opened the gates in the wall and invited the Manchu army to enter.

After the Manchu conquest, the Wall had no military use; Manchuria and Mongolia were part of the Qing empire. The Qings were careful to maintain good relations with the natives of their homeland, so that they wouldn’t be overthrown in turn by a new generation of rebels.

The great wall wasn’t intended to be a fortification along the border. They weren’t expecting to be able to repulse an invading army of nomads at the wall. That’s impossible, the nomads can concentrate at one section of the wall and overwhelm any local defenders.

The wall was patrolled, and if the soldiers spotted an enemy army massing to cross the wall they could signal the other towers and messengers could be sent to reserve units. What the wall did was prevent small raiders from just crossing the border at will. Any serious invasion force could easily cross the wall, but not fast enough that messengers could be intercepted. A border camp or fortress can be surrounded and isolated to stop communications, the contiuous wall could not.

Also, the Chinese like the Romans and Byzantines negotiated with the nomads, and might for instance pay tribute as long as a tribe stayed out of Chinese territory. And this meant staying north of the wall, there could be no confusion about what was Chinese territory and what was not.

This is incorrect in a number of places.

  • Wu San Gui was not a “warlord”, but a (relatively) loyal Ming general. He only defected to the Manchus after the Ming had already been effectively overthrown by Li Zi Cheng, and the capital had been taken and the last Ming emperor had hanged himself. He (Wu) had maintained on and off that he had only enlisted the help of the Manchus to put down Li’s rebellion, and not to help the Manchu’s conquer China. In any case he himself launched another rebellion against the Manchus some years later that came very close to succeeding.

  • The area Wu had been in charge of was on the North EASTERN (not the North West) end of the wall, near the coast. The Manchus and Manchuria are in the North East.

  • The original Ming wall WAS actually built to repel invaders from the North West, namely the various tribes of Mongols/Tatars on the steppes of Mongolia and Central Asia that were the remnants of the old Mongol empire. This was also not particularly successful since it cumulated in the defeat of the Chinese at the hands of Esen Khan and the Oirat Khanate at the Battle of tumu in 1449, resulting in the capture of the Chinese Emperor. The Chinese were eventually able to buy off the Mongols who had splintered into factions and had in any case turend their sights west towards Tibet and the Modern Central Asian Republics. All of this happened more than 100 years before Nurhachi managed to unite the tribes of Manchuria into a credible threat.