Document Analysis

The Human Cost of the Great Wall

Soldiers

Qin Dynasty

  • 300,000 men from Qin's army ordered to build and guard the wall until complete
  • soldiers forced to leave families and village for several years
  • convict labor sent to do much of work
  • according to poetry and legend, then of thousands of soldiers died from hunger, sickness, and extreme heat or cold. No exact numbers of deaths are available.

Han Dynasty

  • soldiers ordered to work on wall for two or five years
  • manned the wall and outposts in desolate western frontier
  • Heavy fighting against the Xiongnu during much of 2nd century BCE. One campaign in 104 BCE reported 80% Han casualities

Peasants

  • During the short 10-year period of Qin wall-building, there was heavy use of peasant laborers, who worked seven day work weeks with little food. During the eight months on winter, temperatures reached 20- to 30- below zero, Fahrenheit.
  • In the Han period, peasant farm families were forced to move north and west both to colonize the Chinese frontier and to build some 4,000 miles of earthen wall. Not as brutal as Qin conditions, but life was still very hard. Many peasants and soldiers attempted to move across the border to live with the Xiongnu.

Questions to answer

  1. Name the two categories of people who worked on the Great Wall.
  2. According to the document, what evidence is there that conditions were harsh for Qin soldiers sent to the wall?
  3. According to the document, what difficulties were faced by Han soldiers sent to the wall?
  4. How could you use this document to argue that building the Great Wall was worth the cost?
  5. How could you use this document to argue that building the Great Wall was not worth the cost?