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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Beijing, at the Great Wall


There are so many things said and written about the Great Wall of China, which express the greatness of the Great Wall.  It derives fame from the countless works of poetry, folk literature, theater, movies and stories written about it by rulers, soldiers, literati, artists and poets.

Even the famous writer Franz Kafka wrote a short story in 1917 about the Great Wall. In his style, he questioned why did the emperor order the construction of the wall, against whom was the wall to provide protection, and why did emperor instructed the wall to be built in sections, rather than continuous ?

He wrote that the wall was built to protect the people from the people of the north, although  there was no real threat from people of the north. The north people are decribed as devils, pictured with their mouths flung open, the sharp pointed teeth stuck in their jaws, their straining eyes, which seem to be squinting for someone to seize, whom their jaws will crush and rip to pieces. When children are naughty, the parents hold up these pictures in front of them, and they immediately burst into tears and run into their parents.  The chinese people know nothing else about the northern lands. They have never seen them, and if they remain in their village, they never will see the people of north.  

So, Kafka suggested that the construction of this magnificent Great Wall was based on rumor to create fear of a false enemy. Written in 1917, Kafka would have known that the people of north, the Monggols, the Manchurians, did attack the Chinese several times. But the attacks happened  hundreds of years later and Kafka wasn’t writing about history, he was writing how the people followed the instruction of the emperor although it didn’t make sense.  He wrote that they didn’t understand the enemy from the north and didn’t understand why the emperor instructed the wall to be constructed in sections, leaving gaps in the wall that could be used by enemies to penetrate into their country.  They didn’t understand it, they just followed the instruction from the emperor, or so they believed. Kafka wrote that they didn’t even know who was the reigning emperor, they only knew those emperors that had been long dead! Kafka was writing about the absurdity surrounding  the construction of the Great Wall.

Actually later on in 221BC Emperor Qin Shi Huang commanded the linking of the separate sections of the walls built by previous states. After unifying central China and establishing the Qin Dynasty the  Emperor wanted to consolidate his power and rule the country forever. He sent a fortune teller named Lu Sheng to seek for a way of immortality. After countless empty-handed returns, Lu finally brought back a rumor that Qin would be overturned by the northern nomads. Hearing that, the Emperor was so frightened that he immediately issued an order to connect the walls and extend new ramparts to guard the northern border. It is surprising to know that the decision for this huge project was made due to a rumor!

Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China,  is often referred as the initiator of the Great Wall.  Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BC; these, later joined together and made bigger and stronger by Emperor Qin Shi Huang , are collectively referred to as the Great Wall.
His public works projects included a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by thousands of the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death in 210 BC during his tour of Eastern China.

Historically, hundred os years later there were several major attacks by the Mongols and the Manchurians.  In 1554, the Mongols used ropes to climb the walls. Chinese repelled them using arrows, crude cannons, clubs and even rocks. Although a useful deterrent against raids, at several points throughout its history the Great Wall failed to stop enemies. In 1576 there was another major Mongol attack. This time they penetrated through an area so rugged and remote building a wall was not considered necessary. During this raid the Mongols killed an estimated 20,000 Chinese.  In 1644 the Manchurians under Qing dynasty marched through the gates of Shanhai Pass and replaced the most ardent of the wall-building dynasties, the Ming, as rulers of China.

The Great Wall of China visible today largely dates from the Ming dynasty, as they rebuilt much of the wall in stone and brick, often extending its line through challenging terrain. Some sections remain in relatively good condition or have been renovated, while others have been damaged or destroyed for ideological reasons, deconstructed for their building materials, or lost due to the ravages of time. For long an object of fascination for foreigners, the wall is now a revered national symbol and a popular tourist destination.

The Badaling Great Wall near Zhangjiakou is the most famous stretch of the Wall, for this is the first section to be opened to the public in China, as well as the showpiece stretch for foreign dignitaries.

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Source: The Great Wall by Franz Kafka, Wikipedia