Since China has no natural barriers to the north, early Chinese emperors ordered walls to be built to protect their territories from invasions. Unlike the wall we see today, these early walls were not connected. They were more like a series of dots than a solid line.

When First Emperor Qin came into power around 221 B.C., he wanted the walls to be connected. Qin demanded that a strong wall be built 30 feet wide and 50 feet high.

In order to construct such a large wall, Qin forced thousands of peasants, captured enemies, and criminals to build the wall by hand. The workers were not paid and the work was very hard.

Construction of the wall was extremely difficult and dangerous. Workers were fed only enough food to keep them alive. Rocks often fell on workers, injuring and sometimes killing them. Also, workers often died of disease and exhaustion.

Building the wall was such a difficult job that the ancient Chinese came up with a special saying about it. It says: “Each stone in the wall represents a life lost in the wall's construction." Sadly, historians estimate that more than 1 million workers died during the construction of the Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall was not completed during Qin's lifetime, and many emperors after Qin used the same forced labor system to continue work on the wall. Most of the modern Great Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).

Measuring the exact length of the Great Wall is a difficult task, because many of the sections of the wall are located in very remote mountains, grasslands and deserts. Many pieces of the wall are also thought to have crumbled and eroded over time. As recently as 2009, undiscovered portions of the wall built during the Ming dynasty were still being discovered.

So how long is the wall? Recent research indicates the wall is longer than archaeologists once thought. A 2009 survey of the wall estimates it to be more than 5,500 miles long!

To give you an idea of how long that is, grab a map. If you were to walk from toasty Miami, Florida, to frosty Anchorage, Alaska, your trip would be approximately 5,000 miles — 500 miles shorter than walking the entire length of the Great Wall of China!

Great Facts About the Great Wall:

  • The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure ever built.
  • The early sections of the Great Wall were built of dirt and local stone, while later sections were made mostly of brick.
  • Many of the workers who died during construction of the Great Wall were simply buried under sections of the wall.
  • The most-visited section of the Great Wall is in Badaling, near Beijing. It was the first section of the wall to open to tourists in 1957.

Wonder What's Next?

It’s about to get wet in Wonderopolis tomorrow! Grab an umbrella. We’ll be heading outdoors to find out why raindrops keep falling on our heads.