The Great Wall of China is perhaps the wonder of the world that has most captured the human imagination, and as the quotes about it indicate, the wall has acquired special significance even outside of China. The places and ways in which it has taken hold vary greatly, but one thing is certain: The Great Wall of China is as amazing as it is mysterious, and it's as mundane as it is magical.
Naturally the Wall has become the most recognizable symbol of China, used for both aggrandizement and criticism. Nationalists see it as a symbol of China's peaceful nature, engineering capability, and historic longevity while detractors see the wall as the embodiment of China's backwardness, closed-mindedness, and hubris. While history allots arguments for the claims of each side, both of them are colored by Great Wall mythology and current geopolitical concerns. Though the wall can symbolize all of these things about China, it is important to remember that the many long walls, upon some of which the current landmark was constructed, were put up by specific people for specific purposes.
The first step to a more accurate conception of the wall is getting a better understanding of its name because "The Great Wall of China" is a misleading label. More accurately it may be called the "Great Walls of China," for several dynasties beginning early in Chinese history built fortifications of some kind, usually to the north. These constructions were alternately expanded, connected, dismantled, or neglected depending on the circumstances and preferences of those in charge.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors
Realising I didn't know all that much about the Great Wall on the morning I was due to visit, I found this short book, just the right length to listen to on the bus journey from central Beijing to the wall.
The content was interesting and seemed to be well researched. However the narration was a bit of a let down. While there's nothing wrong with Violet Meadow's voice her pronunciation, even of quite a few English words, was often off and her spoken rhythm made it sound like she recorded the first half of sentences separately from the second half. I don't know whether those are faults or the narrator or the editor but they distract from the content. In hindsight I'd have preferred to have read the text myself.
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