Did the Great Wall of China really worked?

Did the Great Wall of China was worthwhile to build or it was a miserable waste of resources? Did it really served to its purpose all over its length?

Most of these military walls help with their defensive purpose, from the Scottish and German limes to China.

The alternative would be to keep large armies patrolling endlessly and rushing to each new front like General Model or any other military Fireman.


We can start by noting that it was not perfect. In 1644, a traitorous Chinese general simply ordered the gates be opened and allowed a northern army to come in, and conquer the country. In his defense, China was suffering internal strife at the time, with various rebellions happening within the country.

But there were also periods of hundreds of years when China was prosperous and peaceful behind the Wall.

I would say it must of worked since China is still standing. It at least slowed invaders down and provided lookout points to raise the alarm in case of attack. Can you come up with a better way to secure a 5,000 mile border in the 1300’s?

The walls certainly permitted a smaller Chinese standing army, acting as a “force multiplier” in modern terms. It’s possible that the resources required to build the wall were much less than the resources required to maintain a sufficiently large standing army, though I don’t know whether this is true.

I have read that the Wall did serve to make it very difficult for invaders to be effective. Most of the enemies to the North were heavily dependent on their swift moving cavalry, so while individual soldiers could easily scale the Wall via ladders, etc., the Wall made it very hard for the invading force to bring their horses into China with them. So they had to fight as slow moving infantry, much easier for the Chinese armies to defend against. They could have built ramps on both sides of the wall to get their horses into China, but that would have been a much slower and visible process, allowing time for the Chinese to get their forces to the point of invasion.

For most of its length, the Great Wall is more symbolic than functional. The parts that make the postcard, with actual castle-style masonry are on the eastern end. The western end was made out of packed earth and was not generally effective. The Emperors did station large units along the wall, usually by creating small farming towns so the troops could farm and feed themselves. But the sheer length of the wall makes it pretty much indefensible. There’s not enough manpower in China to man that much wall. One of the main reasons for the western portion of the wall was to act as a claim to that area. The boundary between China and the nomadic tribes was blurry and ill-defined. By putting that wall up, the Emperors were declaring, “This area is part of CHINA.”

The wall did need a large army. It was just dispersed along the length of the wall. By itself, it wasn’t going to stop anything.

I think the answer to the question is that the wall saved resources in the long run because it lasted for so long. Short-term, it can’t possibly have justified the resources required to build it.

Well, heck, we’re not trading with the Lizard People these days, are we?

China has over a billion people.

The Great Wall is 5,500 miles long.

So, if we assume an average person is 1’6" wide at the shoulders then you’d need 19,360,000 standing shoulder to shoulder to stretch from end to the other.

Figure you need 3x that for shift breaks and you’d need 58,080,000 people to do the job.

No problem for China.

There was nothing particularly short term about it. The main part of the wall (about 3700 miles of it) took 200 years to build. The whole thing was worked on and off for over 2000 years.

The point is with such a wall, the breaking-points in immediate danger could call to the nearest fellow garrisons to plug the breach, instead of calling to HQ to devote whatever floating forces might be within range.

The wall was never intended to be defended. It was meant to slow down and invading cavalry army long enough for messengers to reach the core provinces, where reserve forces would be activated to counter the invasion.

It also prevented a couple dozen nomad warriors from casually raiding into farming country and riding away with their loot before anyone could respond.

Obviously defense of the wall against a real invasion was impossible, but that’s not what the wall was for.

What is one person standing shoulder to shoulder with the next supposed to accomplish? To defend it, even atop a wall, you need defense in depth, so that when the one guy gets shot with an arrow and crumples, there’s somebody ready to take his place.

And while the population of China is over a billion NOW, it was only half that as recently as the 1940s, and was probably well under 200 million for most of the period when the Great Wall was the primary line of defense.

Obviously it didn’t stop Genghis Khan.

I’m not sure you’re right. There was a BBC program on the Great Wall a year or so ago, and I think I recall them saying that the real armies were well to the rear. When the Wall was attacked, messengers would be sent from the Wall to the real armies. It was more of an early warning system. Of course, this being China with its massive populace even then, the forces stationed on the Wall may have been large by Western standards anyway.

There was no gates in the wall?

The Great Wall also had one other benefit to the Chinese.

It helped to provide a tangible definition and demarcation of their cultural core from ‘the other’. In a region where Chinese culture is so vastly spread out, divergent and lacking natural boundaries, this has been particularly important in maintiaing the idea of a central unchanging ‘Chineseness’ and Chinese exceptionalism over centuries.

If you are defending ‘China’ then an easy proxy for that is whatever is within the wall [plus Tibet].

China is still standing. … China is still standing. … :smack:

This is a joke, right? CHINA IS STILL STANDING!!!

:smack: :smack: :smack:

The only way I can think to respond to this is—of course it’s still standing. You never brought a chair.