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When was the first Long Wall constructed?

By William Lindesay

July 26

Three very early text records provide clues on when the first changcheng, or long wall, may have begun.

Three very early text records provide clues on when the first changcheng, or long wall, may have begun.

Three very early text records provide clues on when the first changcheng, or long wall, may have begun, and where it can be found, as they all use the term or indirectly refer to it in geographical context to describe a feature and place name.

[Photo provided to China.org.cn by William Lindesay]
Changcheng appears in Guan Zi, a collection of essays on ancient Chinese politics and philosophy, named after Guan Zhong (c.723-645 B.C.), a prime minister of the Qi State. A passage in the book reads: ‘The State of Lu lies south of changcheng, and the State of Qi lies north of changcheng.’ Considering historic documentation concerning the lives of Guan Zhong and Duke Huan of Qi whom he served, we may infer that the ‘changcheng’, where there was a long wall, may have been constructed between 685 and 645 B.C. This inference, however, may not be conclusive. The book Guan Zi was compiled by a Han Dynasty scholar named Liu Xiang (c. 77-6 B.C.) as a review of Guan Zhong’s thinking, prompting speculation that the term changcheng may have been used by Liu Xiang, and was not coined necessarily by Guan Zhong.

The Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Lü, a work written during the Warring States Period, refers to what appears to be a battlefield or theatre of war named changcheng. The book was written by Lü Buwei (c. 291-235 B.C.), a chancellor of the Qin State who played a vital role in China’s eventual unification by Emperor Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty. The story records that Marquess Wen of Wei Statedefeated invaders from the Qi State, and took the Duke of Qi prisoner at a place called Changcheng. Since Marquess Wen of Wei State received his hereditary title in 403 B.C., it can be inferred that the Long Wall mentioned must have been built before that year.

Archaeologists have correlated the above historical references to ruins of a long wall structure that describes three sides of a massive square, originally as long as 500 km, and extant throughout Yexian County, Henan Province. According to Zuo Zhuan, or The Chronicle of Zuo, which is the earliest Chinese work of narrative history, and covers the period from 722-468 B.C., in 656 B.C. Duke Huan of the Qi State led his allies to attack the Chu State. At Fangcheng – meaning ‘square wall’ – he was persuaded by a Chu general named Qu to withdraw. This reference permits us to theorize that construction of the first changcheng, actually the Walled Square of Chu, must have begun at least some years before 656 B.C.

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