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What was the Great Wall of China made of?

The Great Wall of China, which is the proud of all Chinese people, is a really great masterpiece of mankind and the treasure of China. The construction material of Great Wall is not just one kind, but is different in different areas and different dynasties of Chinese history.

Today, some famous sections of the Great Wall we see are made of bricks. Before the use of bricks, the ancient Chinese people mainly use earth, stones and woods to build the walls. And since the construction of walls required large quantity of materials, builders might try to use local materials. For example, when building on mountains, the stones of the mountain were the main materials; while building in plain, the earth made solid blocks were mainly used in the construction; in desert, builders even use sanded reeds and juniper tamarisks.

Construction Material pre and during Qin Dynasty

The walls before and during the Qing Dynasty (221BC-206BC) were mainly built from earth because the earth construction could withstand the attack of weapons as spears and swords. Since the low technology of productivity in that time, the walls were basically built of stamped earth between board frames. These stamped earths might be with gravel inside to make it stronger. In some place, the walls were even just piles of crude stones and earth. Nor fortresses were set up along the walls nor bricks used for the construction of gates. The site of the walls of Zhao State and Qin Dynasty still could be found around Dunhuang City in Gansu Province, Yulin city of Shaanxi Province and Baotou of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Construction Material from Han Dynasty to middle Ming Dynasty

In this Period, earth and crude stones were still popular in Great Wall construction. Before the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the construction materials did not develop to a new level, but it was became a maintained principle to use local materials for construction. In the construction of the Great Wall during this period, 300 million cubic meters’ earthwork were utilized, and appeared some large brick and lime workshops. These new materials also use in some parts of the walls.

Construction Material in Ming Dynasty

During the Ming Dynasty, gunpowder became available. There were musket, blunderbuss and cannon using in wars. Thus, forcing Ming made more solid bricks and stones to build the Great Wall. Bricks, as well as lime and tiles, were largely used in the construction of Great Wall. They set up workshops to burn the crude materials. There always had a material supply department in a construction team. For example, in Juyongguan Pass, names of material supply department can be found in record. They mainly used local materials, but some material such as the timbers for construction of passes, had to be delivered from other areas when they are not available in local areas. 

great wall  sections bulit by bricks

Bricks, which are more convenient than earth and stone with their light weigh and small size, were more convenient to carry and largely quickened the speed of the construction in Mind Dynasty. It was also an ideal material to bear the weigh, and according to sample experiment, the compressive strength, resistance to freezing and absorbency of the bricks of the time are no different from common bricks today. Stone also has its advantages and it might cut in rectangular shapes to build the foundation, inner and outer brims of the Great wall. And many gateways were also built from stones. The Badaling Great Wall is built from almost of granite, some of stones and some of some of white marble. Stone material parts are found to better resist weathering than bricks. 


The Great Wall of China is created by the wisdom and toil of ancient Chinese people. It is one of the greatest systems of defense in the world and also embodies the magnificent achievement in architecture in the history of China. All Chinese people and oversea friends should work together to protect the Great Wall, handing on the brilliant history generation by generation.