Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Great Wall, Better Stories

Long about 221 or so years before certain baby was born in a manger under a bright star in Bethlehem, a 13 year old boy was proclaimed the first Emperor of China. His name was Qin Shihuang, and he would grow up unite China into one empire under his rule. He also standardized Chinese writing, currency, and political systems, and had an affinity for having slaves build things for him. Big things. He ordered the construction of the first expanse of the Great Wall of China.

We got to hike the Mutiyanu section of the wall, some 60k north east of the city of Beijing. For roughly 2.5 miles we huffed and puffed our way along, marveling at the scenery. And at the end we climbed the 500 steps to the last tower on this section of the wall which is accessible to tourists, beyond which has not yet been restored.

Thousands of words have been written about The Great Wall, by writers much more gifted than I. But hiking it with my family was truly an awesome experience. And the Nolan flying wedge of death (refers to the 5 of us as we walk shoulder to shoulder deflecting advances of all on-comers) managed to make it safely and successfully to the end. Not so for one poor soul who had to be taken off by stretcher after what appeared to be a nasty fall.

The interesting part that we Westerners don’t often hear is that the wall was not something of which the Chinese were particularly proud, as the building of walls indicates a failure in diplomacy. In fact the Chinese name for the wall was originally the Long Wall. It wasn’t until leaders from other countries marveled at the wall, calling it “Great” that it became a source of national pride and symbol of Chinese strength and defense.

Additionally, the emperor Qin was a cruel ruler, who showed no mercy for the slaves constructing the wall. He literally worked them to death, and built the wall on top of them. The wall is considered the largest graveyard in all of China, literally built on the backs of slaves.
In the shrouded mist (again, officially NOT pollution) the sight of the wall trailing off in the distance is just what I expected. But the information that Sam provided, the stories I hadn’t heard about the Great Wall made our visit life-changing.


Anonymous Reza said...

Well said.

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