Meng Tian (蒙恬) (died 210 BCE) was a general of the Qin Dynasty who distinguished himself in campaigns against the Xiongnu and in the construction of the Great Wall of China. He was the elder brother of Meng Yi. He descended from a great line of military generals and architects. His father Meng Wu was also a Qin general who fought under Wang Jian.
By the time the Qin Dynasty conquered the other six states and began its reign over a unified China in 221 B.C., the nomadic Xiongnu had grown into a powerful invading force in the north and started expanding both east and west. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, sent a 100,000-strong army headed by General Meng Tian to drive the Xiongnu northward for 1,000 li (about 416 km) and began work on what has become known as the Great Wall to guard against invasion. The defensive works he began were said to extend over 10,000 li (4,158 km) "from Lintao to Liaodong and even extended across the Yellow River and through Yangshan and Beijia.", that is, from the southwest corner of the Ordos Loop to the Yellow Sea. Yangshan and Beijia are hard to locate, but the wall ran along the Yellow River and included all of the Ordos Loop.
Meng Tian's ingenuity can be seen in the efficient (though inhumane) building policy, the consideration of topography, and the utilisation of natural barriers. Meng Tian supervised the construction of a road system linking the former Yan, Qi, Wu and Chu areas, as well as a number of roads especially for imperial use. The system eventually formed played an extremely important role in ancient transportation and economic exchanges. He is also traditionally revered for important improvements of the "Ink brush" (毛筆) and is specially remembered at the "Huzhou Pen Festival", which developed from festivities at his ancestor temple.
When Prince Fusu, Qin Shi Huang's eldest son and the then-crown prince, was exiled to work at the northern border for disputing his father's policies, Meng Tian was ordered to assist the prince — a task he had accomplished loyally. When the First Emperor died, Meng's death was brought about through the plotting of Zhao Gao. He was forced to commit suicide in prison, and his family was killed. Three years after his death, the Qin Dynasty collapsed.
Meng Tian is one of the 32 historical figures who appear as special characters in the video game Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI by Koei. He also appears as a non-playable character in Prince of Qin.
- Huzhou ink brush, first developed by Meng Tian.
- Watson (1993), pp. 133, 194
- Watson, Burton. (1993). Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian. Translated by Burton Watson. Revised Edition. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08167-7.