How Many People Died Building the Great Wall of China?

March 12, 2024

The Great Wall of China is a marvel of human engineering. Its construction spanned more than 2,250 years, and many of its sections remain intact today. But there's a dark side to the story. The wall was built by convicts, prisoners of war and peasants, and they were paid very little for their efforts. Many died from hunger and exhaustion, while others were killed in battles with invaders.

After unifying central China and establishing his Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang commanded that the walls built by previous states be linked together. It was not a popular undertaking and one that cost lives. Historians believe that about 400,000 people died during the building of the wall, and some were buried within it, giving it the name "the long cemetery".

During Qin's lifetime, the wall was largely constructed using forced labor by prisoners and peasants. They were not paid for their work, and the construction was difficult and dangerous. Rocks fell on workers, and they were often sick from illness and exposure to the elements.

After the Qin Dynasty, the wall fell into disrepair and was used by frontier tribes to protect themselves from raiders from the north. It was eventually repaired and extended by the Northern Wei Dynasty, which had to defend against attacks by Genghis Khan's Mongol armies. The wall was also used as a stop for the famous Silk Road trade routes. The Ming dynasty added drains to the wall, which helped preserve its early sections by preventing water from seeping into them.


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