I am still pinching myself that I have actually stood on the Great Wall of China. That monument to human endeavour that we learnt about at school and which I was told could be seen from space (I know now better!).
Standing at what seemed like the top of the wall, you could easily see the flatter, calm urbanised side and the mountainous, savage side. It was clear what they were trying to keep out. However, the wall also kept things in of course and so controlled both emigration and trade.
The Great Wall of China does not have just one architect, instigator or builder. It is the work of many generations which started in 7th century BC. Work continues to this day, although the restoration is now about tourism and heritage rather than defence and empire.
Despite that, the Great Wall does owe its development to some key individuals. Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China for the first time around 200BC and set about developing the wall by connecting old fortifications to protect from northern invaders. Emperor Qin was also the architect of the Terracotta army, on which I will write a future post, and the unification of the Chinese script and measurements. I can’t decide if he was a visionary or a megalomanic or a bit mad or perhaps all of those things. I did hear one of our guides explain that he burnt books in the name of stability, which is disappointingly destructive and tends to confirm my megalomanic opinion! His achievements are certainly impressive though and if you are interested in reading more about him, this article is very good and makes interesting links between Qin and Chairman Mao.
Emperor Qin’s wall has long since been eroded though and what we see today is largely the work of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century (with some modern restoration thrown in). The Ming dynasty used bricks for their wall rather than the earth of the Emperor Qin. The Chinese have used fired bricks in their buildings for at least 3,000 years. This is so much earlier than in England and had the effect, to my eyes, of making very old buildings, like the city walls of Xi’an, look much more modern than they actually are. I found that interesting.
Standing on the wall was a highlight of my holiday. The weather was beautiful and the feeling of deep history was palpable. Have you been or would you like to go? Do let me know!