Great Wall of Northern and Southern Dynasties

Relics of Tieque Pass of Northern Dynasties, Wuning County, Hebei
Relics of Tieque Pass of Northern 
Dynasties, Wuning County, Hebei
China Great Wall of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589) was built by the Northern Wei (386-534), Eastern Wei (534-550), Northern Qi (550-577) and Northern Zhou (557-581) in north China.

During the turbulent Northern and Southern Dynasties, China split into two parts: the Northern Dynasty and Southern Dynasty. The former included a series of regimes: Northern Wei, Western Wei (535-557), Eastern Wei, Northern Qi and Northern Zhou. The latter included four short-lived dynasties: Liu Song (420–479), Southern Qi (479–502), Liang (502–557) and Chen (557–589).

The Great Wall was built by the Northern Dynasty as a defense against aggression from northern nomadic tribes, while the Southern Dynasty, which was free from the threats of northern nomads, built no walls. The defensive line ran from Shanxi to Shanhaiguan, via Hebei and Beijing. The relics have been found near Pianguan, Shanxi.

Northern Wei Dynasty Great Wall

The Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) was established by the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei people, and the capital city was Pingcheng (today's Datong, Shanxi). At that time, the Rouran people, a nomadic tribe living to the north of the Northern Wei, became increasingly powerful. To thwart the advance of the Rouran people, the Northern Wei Dynasty built about 621 miles (2,000 kilometers) of the Great Wall and set up six important garrisons along its northern border in 423. The wall ran westward from Chicheng County in Hebei to Wuyuan County in Inner Mongolia.
Ruins of Northern Wei Great Wall
Wall Ruins of Northern Wei,
Yuxian, Hebei
Relics of Northern Wei Great Wall, Guyuan County, Hebei
Wall Relics of Northern Wei, 
Guyuan County, Hebei

Later in 446, a thinner and lower earth wall, known as Sai Wei, was erected around the capital city of Pingcheng. It started from Shanggu (today's Guangling County, Shanxi), and ran northward to Tianzhen County, Shanxi. Then, it turned westward, and ended at the eastern bank of the Yellow River. The total length is about 311 miles (500 kilometers). The Sai Wei worked together with the northern wall, forming a sound defense.

Eastern Wei Dynasty Great Wall

Great Wall of Eastern Wei Dynasty
Wall Ruins of Eastern Wei
in Ningwu County, Shanxi

Later, the Northern Wei split into the Western Wei (535-557) and the Eastern Wei (534-550). To prevent intrusions by the Rouran people, the Eastern Wei built the wall from Maling Garrison (to the west of today's Ningwu, Shanxi) to Tudeng (to the east of Ningwu, Shanxi), stretching about 47 miles (75 kilometers) long. Though it was not long, the wall blocked the passage, through which the northern nomadic people entered the central plain. The wall helped to consolidate the northern boundary of Eastern Wei Dynasty.

Northern Qi Dynasty Great Wall

In 550, the Northern Qi took the place of the Eastern Wei. In order to protect the western and northern borders, the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577) erected the wall on a large scale for six times.

 1. In 552, the Northern Qi built the first section to prevent invasions by its western neighbor- Western Wei. This section ran from Huangluling (today's Fenyang, Shanxi) in the south, and ended at Sheping Garrison (today's Wuzhai County, Shanxi) in the north, stretching about 124 miles (200 kilometers).
Great Wall of Northern Qi Dynasty
  Wall Ruins of Northern Qi, 
Miyun, Beijing

 2. When the northern Turks became powerful, they often invaded the northern boundary of the Northern Qi. In 555, the Northern Qi had to renovate and extend the northern Great Wall built by the Northern Wei. This section was about 279 miles (450 kilometers) long, running westward from Xiakou near today's Juyongguan, to Hengzhou in today's Datong, Shanxi.

 3. In 556, another large-scale construction took place. The wall was extended to the Bohai Sea near today's Shanhaiguan in the east. By then, the whole wall was about 932 miles (1,500 kilometers) long. Many garrisons were set up along the wall.

 4. In 557, an inner defensive line was built from Kuluobo near Pianguan in the west, via Yanmenguan and Pingxing Pass, and ended at Wuhe Garrison near Xiaguan Pass.

 5. In 563, the wall was constructed on the Taihang Mountain along the boundary of Shanxi and Hebei.

 6. In 565, threatened by the northern Turks, the Northern Qi extended the previous wall built by the Eastern Wei to Yanmenguan, restored the inner defensive line built in 557, and added the wall between Xiaguan and Juyongguan, via Chajianling, Futuyu, Zijingguan, and Mashuikou. Also, it repaired the wall between Juyongguan and Shanhaiguan.

Northern Zhou Dynasty Great Wall

The Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581) was established after overthrowing the Western Wei. In 579, the Northern Zhou restored the Northern Qi Great Wall. The wall stretched from Yanmenguan in the west to Shanhaiguan in the east.

Great Wall of Northern Qi Dynasty, Shanxi
Wall of Northern Qi Dynasty, 
Map of Great Wall of Northern Zhou Dynasty
Map of the wall of
Northern Zhou Dynasty (

Relics of China Great Wall of Northern and Southern Dynasties

With the passage of time, later dynasties built the defensive line on the site of the Northern and Southern Dynasties Great Wall. So, only a few sections could be distinguished today. For instance, the ruins of Northern Qi Dynasty Wall were found near Pianguan Pass, Shanxi. It separates from the Ming Dynasty Wall at Xinzhuangzi Village. Then, it runs southeastward, while the Ming Dynasty Wall extends southwestward. They join together at Beichang Village. The remaining wall is about 16 miles (25 kilometers) long, 10 feet (3 meters) high, 13 feet (4 meters) wide at the bottom, and 1.6 feet (0.5 meter) wide at the top.
- Last updated on Oct. 25, 2021 -
Questions & Answers on Great Wall of Northern and Southern Dynasties
Asked by m from USA | Oct. 16, 2021 04:24Reply
Were there reasons for constructing the walls other than purely defensive ones?
Answers (1)
Answered by Henry | Oct. 25, 2021 09:58

First of all, the top reason is for national defense. Secondly, it helps border trade and economic development. Besides, it can promote cultural exchange and ethnic amalgamation. :)
Asked by Mathew from SPAIN | Sep. 15, 2015 10:37Reply
Why did the northern regions of China such as Jilin and Harbin not have walls around them?
Answers (1)
Answered by Steve from HONG KONG | Sep. 16, 2015 02:02

Mathew, the walls we talked today were mainly built during the Ming Dynasty. At that time, northern China was part of Ming's territory. So there was no need to build the walls. Just my opinion. However, some archaeologists have found out that there were some remains of Han Walls in Northern regions, to be precise, Jilin Province.
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