The real reason the Great Wall of China was built

Many myths surround the Great Wall of China, from the story that it can be seen from space (it cannot), to the reasoning that it was built to keep the Huns from invading China, as seen in the opening scene of Mulan. That one, it turns out, might not be true either. Researchers from the Hebrew University speculate Chinese emperors had the wall built to control the movement of people and cattle, the Jerusalem Post reports.

For decades, the prevailing belief among historians and researchers is that the Great Wall was built for defense, particularly against barbarian nomads like Genghis Khan's Mongols, according to History. But with the latest study, this theory may only be partially true. The Great Wall of China is actually a bunch of different walls, writes New Scientist. The Hebrew University researchers investigated a portion of the wall in the north of China. This part of the wall is called the "Northern Line" or the "Genghis Khan wall" because of its proximity to Mongolia.

The researchers excavated portions of that wall and found it was only about two meters tall, or around six feet, with several structures at lower altitudes, and did not "seem so fit for defensive purposes." The wall probably halted the movements of people, perhaps to tax them. This part of the wall could have been built during the Khitan-Liao Dynasty, during the 10th century, before Genghis Khan was even born.

What other secrets does the Great Wall of China have?

The researchers noted the northern parts of China experienced harsh winters. People living in those areas may have wandered south to look for resources. Budding empires want to keep track of their people, so the wall may have been constructed as a means to prevent too much moving around. Studies are still ongoing, the Jerusalem Post says, but the team cannot go back to the site until the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Now, there is a part of the Great Wall of China that was built to keep out Mongols and Genghis Khan, says New Scientist, and that's the one most tourists in China are familiar with. This 5,000-mile stretch of the wall near Beijing was built during the Ming Dynasty, which did have to deal with Mongol tribes trying to get into China.

The Great Wall of China may yield some more secrets in the future. Other portions of the wall system are still being excavated. One thing is for sure, though — it's good the older emperors of China built the wall back then, because it'd be really expensive to build today.