This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of  Sri Lanka,  

The entire text of Historical Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website.  

The Great Wall seen from a satellite in space

The Great Wall of China is said to be the only man made object we can see from space. It stretches 1400 miles over mountains, plains and rivers. It was built by Emperor Shih Huang Ti around the year 214 BC. 

China’s history was always influenced by geography. It is a very large country. This has made it very difficult to conquer, but also very difficult to unite. China is protected from invaders by mountains in the South and West. However, no such protection exists in the North. 

Shih Huang Ti - first emperor of China


When Shih Huang Ti became king, he was determined to create a nation and rule as a strong king. He realized though, that he could not unite China through force alone. So he ordered all the rulers of the little Kingdoms, into which the country was divided, to live at his capital. This way he was able to keep an eye on them. He also won the loyalty of the peasants by allowing them to own the land they work on. But Shih Huang Ti was also a cruel king. He killed anyone who criticized him. 460 scholars were buried alive because they had dared to tell him he was wrong. He burnt their books and sent other scholars to work on his wall. 

The wall began because of a dream which Shih Huang Ti had. He dreamt that barbarians from the North would invade his country unless he built a great wall. He collected 300,000 workmen, peasants and prisoners and made them into a construction team. Work on the wall began. 

The work was very hard and the workers were badly treated. Many of them died of starvation and weakness. They were buried inside the wall and stones laid around their bodies. The Great Wall has therefore been called ‘The longest graveyard in the world’. 

The Emperor had heard something else about the wall. Some soothsayer had told him that unless 10,000 people were buried in the wall it would not be finished. There is a story that the cruel Emperor found a man whose name Wan meant 10,000. He buried him in the rampart and the work continued. 

Great Wall of China


The Great Wall is 20 feet high. The towers are 44 feet high and are spaced at intervals along the Wall. There were higher towers called Beacon Towers. Messages could be sent from beacon to beacon in a very short time. The Wall itself was used as a road to transport troops and provisions across the country. A full army was stationed across the entire Wall and China was safe from invaders for many years. 

Terracotta Army guarding the emperor's tomb


When Shih Huang Ti died there were few to weep at his funeral. He was buried in an elegant tomb, but all were glad that his strict rule had come to an end. However he had done many things for China, the most important being uniting the country. In fact no other nation can boast of having been united over a period of 2,000 years. After him, other emperors added to and strengthened the Great Wall. 

The Great Wall was a magnificent feat of civil engineering and parts of it stand even today. It is probably China’s greatest tourist attraction, drawing thousands of visitors each year. 


Grammar and Vocabulary 

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person. Which proper nouns are used as adjectives? Are there any proper nouns that name things?
  4. Identify the clauses or sentences in this passage that give results that are unexpected, or reasons that did not lead to the expected result. What are the conjunctions or connecting words that introduce these clauses or sentences?
  5. Find three noun clauses in this passage, that are themselves modified by adverbial or adjectival clauses.

Comprehension and Further Activities  

  1. Describe three ways in which Shi Huang Ti fulfilled his main determination.
  2. Mark the main rivers and mountains of China on your map of the world, together with China’s neighbours, including those separated from it by sea.
  3. What are China’s neighbours to the west? Which of these people succeeded in breaking through the Great Wall, and what happened then to the Chinese Empire?
  4. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal mainly with Shi Huang Ti and which with the Great Wall?
  5. Describe briefly the main uses of the Great Wall.
  6. Find out about a famous Chinese who lived before Shi Huang Ti, and write a brief paragraph about him.
  7. Evaluate, giving weight to both positive and negative points, Shi Huang Ti’s contribution to China.