How was the Great Wall of China defended?

In order to defend the enemies successfully, some construction units were built to form the complete and solid Great Wall of China defense system in addition to the walls, like passes to station troops and beacon towers to deliver messages when enemies approached.
How did Great Wall of China defend?

Soldiers and troops stationed in or nearby Great Wall Passes.

Along the Great Wall of China there are many passes, where soldiers or troops used to station, like Juyongguan Pass, Shanhaiguan Pass and Jiayuguan Pass. When there was a battle, they could move via the wall to the battle site in no time. To strengthen the defensive ability of the passes, defensive towns and other military units with soldiers were set nearby.

For instance, in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 AD), there were eleven defensive towns with troops set along the Great Wall. These towns were all built with thick bricks and stones surrounded by quite high walls, which were easy to hold but hard to attack. Here is a list of troops’ distribution conditions in the Ming Dynasty.

Defensive Units Number of Soldiers
Town 3,000 soldiers or according to the actual military conditions
Road Town More than 12,000 soldiers
Wei Suo 5,600 soldiers
Qian Hu Suo 1,120 soldiers
Bai Hu Suo 112 soldiers
Zong Qi More than 50 soldiers
Fen Qi About a dozen
Juyongguan Pass, Beijing
Juyongguan Pass, Beijing
A Great Wall Beacon Tower
A Beacon Tower at Jinshanling Section

Beacon Towers were set to deliver military messages.

As early as in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC), the method of using beacon towers to deliver message were already in operation. As a primary communication media, beacon towers made a great contribution to the ancient military battles.

How were messages sent along the Great Wall?

The beacons towers were built a certain distance along the defense line, and firewood was put in the towers. These towers were usually built on relatively high sites, which were easy for the soldiers to observe the enemies’ situation. When the soldiers found the enemies moving closer, they would burn the firewood piece by piece to send military signals with fire or smoke, which could warn the troops. They usually used smoke in the day time and fire at night.

Beacon Tower Signal Rules in the Ming Dynasty:
Day Night Number of Enemies
One smoke torch, one cannon signal Fire torch, one cannon signal About 100
Two smoke torch, two cannon signal Fire torch, two cannon signal About 500
Three smoke torch, three cannon signal Fire torch, three cannon signal About 1,000
Four smoke torch, four cannon signal Fire torch, four cannon signal About 5,000
Five smoke torch, five cannon signal Fire torch, five cannon signal About 10,000

Apart from the beacon tower signal system, there is another important post system on land along the Great Wall, which consists of post towns, delivery stations and post houses, providing accommodation and horses for the officers who deliver the messages, as well as the safe guard for the military supplies. 
Wall of Great Wall
Wide Passage on the Wall

How many watchtowers are on the Great Wall of China?

It is roughly estimated that there are more than 10,000 watchtowers along the Great Wall of China. The exact number is hard to figure out, since the walls were built in different periods and some sections were already destroyed.


Soldiers patrolled on the Walls of Great Wall for possible invasions.

Due to the huge length of the Great Wall of China, it is impossible to set soldiers along the every inch of it. So the soldiers usually patrolled on the top of the wall to guard the Great Wall of China. The passages on the top of the wall were usually constructed widely. During the battles, the broad passages also make a great contribution on troop’s movement and supplies’ delivery at the highest speed; also, the wall itself is a protection for soldiers from direct attack by enemies.

Further Reading:

 Military Defense System of China Great Wall

 Who was the Great Wall of China built to keep out?

Did the Great Wall of China Work?

- Last updated on Jan. 15, 2024 by Brenda Lian -
Questions & Answers on How was the Great Wall of China defended?
Asked by Mason Baker from USA | Mar. 26, 2014 06:57Reply
How did meng jiangnu bring down a section of the wall?
Answers (2)
Answered by Heidi from GERMANY | Mar. 30, 2014 21:12

When she went to the wall, she was told that her husband was dead. Then she started to cry loudly. Suddenly, the wall collapsed.
Answered by Grace from USA | May. 14, 2016 19:04

Because when she cried on the wall a part collapsed revealing where her husband was buried.
Asked by john munn from USA | Jan. 16, 2014 12:09Reply
how long is the great wall of china i have tried to find it out online and theres sooo many anwsers!
Answers (2)
Answered by Helen from USA | Jan. 16, 2014 20:55

13,170 miles (21,196 kilometers)
Answered by Ryan | Jun. 30, 2022 04:31

I just drove roughly from Worcester, MA, USA to Toronto ON. This trip was roughly 500 miles and took just about eight hours of highway driving. I did the return trip the following day, bringing the total to 1,000 miles. The notion that the great wall is thirteen times this length is nothing short of flabbergasting.
Asked by Mr. brizendine from US | Feb. 18, 2011 13:37Reply
how much stone was used to construct the wall?
Answers (2)
Answered by Mr.Frank | Feb. 18, 2011 19:31

Tens of thousands of stones from the nearby mountans were carrioed to construct the Great Wall.
Answered by john munn from USA | Jan. 16, 2014 12:10

a lot of stone was use it is said 3 million stones were used
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