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Suzhou - The City of Garden

Great Wall Building Materials

As we all know, the Great Wall is a a masterpiece of China, and the world. What many people may not know, however, is that in different periods of Chinese history the material of the Great Wall is different in different areas.

Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from earth, stones and wood. Due to the large quantity of materials required to construct the Great Wall, the builders always tried to use local sources. When building over the mountain ranges, the stones of the mountain were exploited and used; while in the plains, earth was rammed into solid blocks to be used in construction. In the desert, even the sanded reeds and juniper tamarisks were used to build the Great Wall. Before and during the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC), because the earth buildings could withstand the strength of weapons like swords and spears and there was low technology of productivity, the Great Wall was basically built by stamping earth between board frames. As such, only walls of plain earth or earth with gravel inside were built. No fortresses were constructed along the wall, nor bricks used in the construction of gates at the passes. Some of the walls were even made only from piles of crude stones.


During the period following the Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD), earth or crude stones were still popular building tools. The construction material did not reach a new level until the middle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644); however the principle of using local material was maintained. Three hundred million cubic meters (393 million yards) of earthwork were used in the construction of the Great Wall, and with the appearance of large brick and lime workshops, some parts were also built with these new materials. Bricks were used in a lot of areas during the Ming Dynasty, as well as materials such as tiles and lime. Attempts were always made to produce the materials locally, so kiln workshops were established to burn the crude material. In a construction team there was Material Supply Department. For example, in Juyongguan Pass names of supply departments such as kiln workshops, stone ponds and material supply departments were recorded. Some materials, such as the timbers for the construction of the passes, did have to be transported from outside areas when there were none available locally.


Stone, however, still has its advantages. Stones cut in rectangular shapes were mostly used to build the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the Great Wall. In the Badaling section, the Great Wall is made almost entirely of granite, some of green and white stones and some of white marble. The stone material was found to better resist efflorescence than bricks.

It is not only because of the high level of productivity of the time that hard material like bricks and stones were used in the construction of the Great Wall, but also because of the development of weapons. Before the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall was built from board frames and, although not very solid, could withhold simple weapons like swords, spears and bows. But during the Ming Dynasty, gunpowder became available. The musket, blunderbuss and cannon appeared. Due to the use of these weapons, more solid bricks and stones were required to build a stronger Great Wall.


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