As a form of defense against various nomadic groups from the Eurasian Steppe, the Great Wall of China was built across the old northern borders of Chinese states and Imperial China. The first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, built selective stretches of these walls as early as the 7th century BC. Very little of Qin wall remains today. Following this, successive dynasties constructed and maintained a large number of border walls. The Ming dynasty built the most famous sections of the wall.

Besides defense, the Great Wall has also served as a border control system, a way to charge duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, a way to regulate or encourage trade, and a way to control immigration and emigration. As part of its defensive capabilities, the Great Wall also housed watchtowers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through smoke and fire, as well as a possible transportation route.
It is common for different dynasties to build different courses of the frontier walls. Overall, they span a distance of 21,196.18 km with Liaodong in the east, Lop Lake in the west, and the Sino-Russian border in the north to Tao River in the south, roughly defining the edge of the Mongolian steppe. Among the greatest architectural achievements of all time, the Great Wall’s defensive system is generally considered one of the most impressive in history.
As the Ming empire began to fall between 1600 and 1725, the Great Wall played a vital role in protecting the empire from the Manchu invasions. The Ming army held the heavily fortified Shanhai Pass, which prevented the Manchus from taking over the Chinese heartland even after losing Liaodong to the Manchus. Several years after Beijing fell to Li Zicheng’s short-lived Shun dynasty, the Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644. Previously, the Manchus had crossed the Great Wall several times to raid, but this time they crossed to conquer. Wu Sangui, the Ming general in charge of Shanhai Pass on May 25, formed an alliance with the Manchus to use them to expel the rebels from Beijing, opening the pass’ gates. Beijing was quickly seized by the Manchus, and the Qing dynasty eventually consolidated its rule over all of China proper by defeating both the Shun dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance.
Construction on the Great Wall was halted due to the expansion of China’s borders under Qing rule and the annexation of Mongolia. In contrast, the Qing rulers in Manchuria constructed the Willow Palisade, which followed a pattern similar to that of the Ming Liaodong Wall. But, it was not a defense measure but rather an attempt to prevent Han Chinese from migrating to Manchuria.

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