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Back when it was still used, there were (and still are) towers every few hundred feet in which a small bunch of soldiers would keep watch (usually 3-4) in shifts. When danger was spotted, they would light a signal fire and troops would usually be sent from a garrison (usually near a gate) to repel the attack.

Pics of Gate:

3 crumbling towers:

This however failed as usually a treacherous general would open the gate:

Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Under the military command of Yuan Chonghuan, the Ming army held off the Manchus at the heavily fortified Shanhai Pass, preventing the Manchus from entering the Liaodong Peninsula and the Chinese heartland. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, when the gates of Shanhai Pass were opened by Wu Sangui, a corrupt Ming border general, after being bribed. The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and defeated the remaining Ming resistance, to establish the Qing Dynasty.

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Q: How do the armies protect the Great Wall of China?
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