Visiting The Great Wall – Part 1/3

Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths and lies.

I’m reading Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving“, which is a great book that I plan to review when I finish it. However, his first chapter covers the months he spent driving the length of the Great Wall all the way to Tibet.

In fact, before there was one wall, there were many—all built by different kingdoms before China was unified under Qin Shi Huangdi in 221 BC.

Although I’m enjoying all of Hessler’s memoir, the hundred and twenty-two pages that focus on the Great Walls are the best part of the book.

Before reading Hessler’s memoir, I wrongly believed, as so many others do, that The Great Wall was a failure as a defense against invaders.  However, Hessler proves that myth wrong.  For the most part, the wall did keep marauders out.

In fact, on page 116 of the paperback, he quotes David Spindler who found evidence that the Ming Great Wall actually worked as a defensive structure.

The Wall failed when the unified Mongols invaded China in the 13th century but it didn’t happen overnight. It took sixty years for the Mongols to conquor all of China.

Before Genghis Khan unified the Mongols, there was no unified Mongolia—only nomadic tribes that fought amongst each other and raided into China whenever one or more tribes decided on a whim—that is if they could fight their way past the Great Wall guarding China’s heartland.

In section one of “Country Driving”, The Wall, Hessler points out that no archeologists/historians have studied the history of The Great Wall but there are amateurs that have, both Western and Chinese and these Great Wall amateur (experts) have discovered original documents written by Ming Dynasty military officers and troops detailing the defense of the wall against nomads intent on raiding into China to loot, rape and steal. According to this information, the wall served its purpose more often than not.

Continued on July 24, 2012 in Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2

Note: I wrote this post about two months ago and scheduled it to appear July 23 before I finished reading Hessler’s memoir. Then after I wrote the review, I scheduled it to appear before this post appeared. You may find the review here: Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler

I often write and schedule posts weeks in advance with the goal to stay one month ahead. That way I may take a few days off now and then from writing posts.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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7 Responses to Visiting The Great Wall – Part 1/3

  1. merlin says:

    Nice book that details the past. I’m currently reading a 600 pg book, my online schoolwork, and flipping pages on google for the long lost website I found months ago for a ticket. Too many agregators that jack prices.

    The Great Wall a success? What surprises me is why the Mongols never thought of going AROUND it? The Chinese had power over the RIVERS, but not the sea. Even Japan was capable of invading and causing a mess of the entire east coast. Another angle to look at is the barbarian races of the south. The Nanman tribes and others that stretched into southeast asian peninsula (vietnam, laos, cambodia, etc) or the powerful Indian tribes that could push back Alexander the Great and weaponized the largest beast of the era, the elephant.

    Strangely, the US today is so much like China of the past. We’ve got our Great Wall along Mexico, even though there are extremist pockets in Canada that fight back against English/American culture in the name of France.

    • Mountains and rugged terrain. China has a lot of mountains and the tallest mountain range on earth sits between India and China. The supply lines would be too long for an invading army from India (and India was never unified as one country as it is today) and the countries in South East Asia are divided and too small by themselves to invade China successfully. In fact, the Qing Dynasty attempted to conquer Burma (but failed at a great cost), and Vietnam was once occupied by China for a thousand years.

  2. Marjorie says:

    Sounds like a great read and I am looking forward to your review.

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