The wall that marked the history of China | In deep

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You have to feel history with your skin, said a Cuban journalist while briefly taking off his shoes and socks to walk along a section of the Great Wall of China, and that is to climb its steep stairs, with slopes that often exceed 45 degrees, and its irregular steps, means making your way through 21 centuries of Chinese history.

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Its majesty rises in the north of the country and covers the regions of Jilin, Hunan, Shandong, Sichuan, Henan, Gansu, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hebei, Quinhai, Hubei, Liaoning, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Beijing and Tianjin.

In its fullness, the wall measured more than 21,000 kilometers from the border with North Korea, along the Yalu River, to the Gobi desert, crossing the territory from east to west through mountains, rivers and swamps.

Its construction was in charge of three Chinese imperial dynasties, Qin, Han and Ming, the last separated from the other two by thousands of years. The rulers used local materials to build this engineering work currently considered one of the seven modern wonders of the world.

Two hundred years before Christ, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China who unified the previously divided country, planned and ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China.

The purpose of the barrier was to protect and defend the northern border, initially from the Xiongnu and later from the Mongols, both nomadic peoples who attacked and looted the agricultural villages in the border area.

Under the power of Qin Shi Huang, the first 5,000 kilometers of the work were carried out using compressed earth and gravel as there were still no bricks. In this section, which took a decade, the labor of the emperor’s dissidents and criminals who were sentenced to forced labor and turned into slaves was used.

The death of the emperor and a multi-year civil war ushered in the Han dynasty that ruled the Asian giant from 202 BC to 220 AD During this period, infrastructure was extended into the Gobi desert, using willow branches red and gravel to compact the soil.

In addition to fulfilling its defensive task, the new route facilitated the custody of the so-called Silk Road, through which China traded silk, gold, spices, wool and precious stones with Asian states, but also with Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

The exchange of products caused the cities located in the vicinity of the gates of the wall through which the merchandise entered and left to become prosperous and peaceful.

Photo: Xinhua

Trade underpinned by the protection provided by the Great Wall and the soldiers who guarded it strengthened the economy and also boosted cultural exchange between China and other regions of the world.

With the Han dynasty, the structure became a communication mechanism, because the messengers could cross the territory more quickly or, failing that, smoke signals were sent during the day and fire at night to report an event.

In the year 1368 AD, the Ming dynasty took control of the country, after their predecessors from the Yuan dynasty, of Mongol origin, were expelled from the territory.

The Ming rulers built the last 7,200 kilometers of the Great Wall of China. Unlike the two previous sections, this route was built with bricks, and thousands of watchtowers and cannons were added for defense, among other elements that made it almost impregnable.

The effort was aimed at definitively stopping Mongol incursions on the northern frontier. With the fall of the Ming after the Manchu invasion of China in 1644, the wall lost its military value, however, part of it is preserved today as a tourist attraction, which symbolizes the cultural wealth, as well as the technological power and country’s military.

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