The Great Wall
China’s Great Wall north of Beijing is one of the world’s most famous sights. Millions every year climb the snaking line of stone. It’s so familiar it seems a cliché. Wrong - it is too big, too varied, too complex for easy understanding.
It is the subject of many myths: that the stone barrier crosses all China, that it has been there for over 2,000 years, and that it is visible from the Moon. In fact, most of it is made of earth, if it’s there at all. It cannot even be seen from earth orbit. Estimates of its length vary from 1,500 to 5,000 miles. It? It’s not an it, a single entity, but many walls built at different times. The stone sections are only about 400 years old.
Yet behind the confusion are great simplicities. The many walls are united by two ideas – self-protection and unity – which go back to the First Emperor, who founded the nation in 221 BC. For 2,000 years, the Wall(s) marked the border between China and nomads. Their hostility inspired centuries of attacks, counter-attacks and Wall-building, until the northward spread of China made the Wall redundant. 2,000 years of history end in irony: the Wall, conceived in war, has become a symbol of peace.
I travelled the Wall, selectively, from the far western deserts to the Pacific, with many side-tracks. I am, I think, the first writer to explore two unknown ‘walls’ – now mere ridges - in Mongolia. But there are many more accessible sections. For a glorious walk, go from Jinshanling to Simatai.
Man transforms a forbidding barrier into an inviting passageway into Asian culture
Man does an exceptional job of seeing the philosophy behind the structure and in explaining its history
A learned, lively history - cultural, geopolitical, symbolic – that puts the mighty edifice into perspective