Visiting The Great Wall – Part 1/3

July 23, 2012

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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Tainting History

June 4, 2010

As a child, I had a fascination for Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.  Still do. I read everything I could about these men who built empires and yet I knew little because of the cultural filters the West puts in place for any history outside Christianity and Western Civilization.

Multi-story statue of Genghis Khan in Mongolia

In Reconsidering Genghis Khan, we discover how history written from a Western perspective was misleading.  Currently through November 1, Genghis Khan, The Exhibition is showing at The Tech Museum in San Jose, California. Prior to arriving in San Jose, the exhibition was on display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where it drew 175,000 visitors.

We now know that Genghis Khan was anything but the butcher and barbarian Western historians painted him as. Records from the period, many only now being uncovered, “give you a view of a person who is a superb organizer, a superb lawmaker, a fair and judicious ruler, somebody who supported women and gave women a lot of rights,” says William Fitzhugh, who is a consultant for the exhibition. “It’s wrong to say that Genghis created a democracy, but, for the time, he was remarkably enlightened.” Source: Mercury News

In fact, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) in China and ruled as the Emperor from Beijing. (Genghis Khan statue )

Discover China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi


Lloyd Lofthouse is the author of the award winning novels My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart. He also Blogs at The Soulful Veteran and Crazy Normal.

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The Man Who Made China

March 8, 2010

Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Tamerlane, Mussolini, Stalin, Togo and all the rest of the great conquerors failed where Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s First Emperor, succeeded. National Geographic has a short film that is worth watching.

Qin Shi Huangdi, the man who made China

While history records this emperor as a cruel and brutal tyrant, he did several things that made sure China would stay unified.  First, he forced every nation he conquered to accept one written language. Anyone who protested was killed.  Today, more than twenty-two hundred years later, China still has one written language but many spoken languages. He also created one form of money and a code of laws that everyone had to obey.  Soon after the man who made China died, a rebellion swept the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 B.C.) away and the Han Dynasty replaced it (206 B.C. to 219 A.D.).

Qin Shi Huangdi may have been the only conqueror in history who did not allow those he defeated to retain their written language. Because of this, China has survived for more than two millennia—something no other civilization may claim.

Visit Xian and see Qin Shi Huangdi’s capital and/or The First Emperor: The Man Who Made China (Part 1 of 9)


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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Daughter of Xanadu (viewed as single page)

January 28, 2010

A review (guest post) by Tom Carter of Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang

Who would win in a fight: Mulan or Emmajin Beki or Teenage Angst, Mongolian-style? “Can you imagine, a mere girl fighting on the battlefield?”

The role of females in combat is a debate as timeless as war itself, and one that remains divisive and unresolved to this century.

While present-day arguments for and against allowing women in the military revolve around psychological and biological issues, back in olden times, one needed only cite “tradition” and “familial roles” to silence the detractors.

The teenaged heroine of Dori Jones Yang’s new 13th-century historical fiction novel, Daughter of Xanadu, is one such detractor, albeit immutable.

Often imagining herself on the battlefield, “the son my father never had,” Emmajin Beki, the granddaughter of Mongolian king (and emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty) Khubilai Khan (1215-1294), learned to ride a horse before she could walk and can outshoot all her cousins in archery. She confidently and outspokenly aspires to emulate her female ancestors who assisted Chinggis Khan in conquering Asia (“the blood of all these earlier strong women flowed in my veins”).

Unfortunately, for this princess, “the days of strong women had ended once luxurious court life had begun.”

The Mongols, fattened, lazy and resting on their laurels, now prefer to tell stories of battles-past over lavish “orgies of excess” rather than engage in new wars, much to Emmajin’s restless discontent.

When she makes known her desire to “become a legend” like real-life women warriors Aiyurug Khutulun and Hua Mulan of China, the great Khan placates her by sending her on a secret mission to spy on a family of foreign merchants currently visiting the Mongol court.

The merchants’ young son turns out to be one Marco Polo, the now-legendary Venetian journeyer credited for introducing Asian culture to the west.

To Emmajin, however, he is just another “colored-eye man,” a court curiosity from Christendom whose gallantry and romantic gestures are as ridiculous to the manly Mongolians as his facial hair (“his beard was so thick I could imagine food sticking in it”).

Try as she might, however, Emmajin, caught in the peak of puberty, is unable to resist Marco’s western charm, and quickly finds herself enamored by his worldly vision (“I had learned to see the world through Marco’s eyes”) as well as his pelt.

“What would the hair on his arm feel like?” she often fantasized about at night.

But she was a Mongolian first, and reluctantly sacrifices her blossoming relationship with the foreigner to complete her spy mission (“He was not a friend but a source of information.”).

Authoress Dori Jones Yang is a Caucasian American, yet she is no stranger to writing from the perspective of conflicted adolescent Chinese girls, as evinced in her previous, award-winning novel, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang.

In Daughter of Xanadu, she hones in even deeper into the physiological confusion and emotional conflictions that make youth such a joy, turning Emmajin into such a hormonal wreck that this male reviewer often found himself gritting his teeth in frustration at such contradictive revelations as, “if he had pursued me, I would have rebuffed him. By holding himself aloof, he challenged me to win back his esteem.”

Daughter of Xanadu is not all-teenage angst. As our protagonist matures, so does the content of the story.

Emmajin eventually persuades Khubilai Khan to allow her to train for war against the Burmese at the Battle of Vochan (present-day Yunnan province), where the embarrassment of getting her period in front of the all-male troops is a bloody omen for what’s to come.

Upon seeing her cousin slain, innocent Emmajin is transformed into a “mindless killer.”

Bloodlust unleashed, the young princess swings her sword indiscriminately (“the hatred pounded in my ears…killing him felt good”), resulting in hundreds of men dead by her hand alone.

One can only imagine all the Mulan vs. Emmajin fan fiction that this novel will inspire!

By story’s conclusion, Messer Polo, who witnessed and wrote about the Mongols’ real-life battle against the Burmese in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, has elevated “Emmajin the Brave” into the living legend she wanted to be, though she now regrets it.

“These men needed a hero, but I no longer needed to be one.” She resigns her sword and rank, and departs with Polo back to Europe as the Khan’s emissary of peace, leaving the literary door wide open for a sequel.

Dori Jones Yang, who also penned the best-selling Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, is a skilled historian.

In researching Daughter of Xanadu, Yang, fluent in Putonghua, traveled all the way to the ruins of Xanadu in remote Inner Mongolia, which this itinerant backpacker can personally attest is no easy journey.

The short chapters and brief sentences, edited with razor precision for a younger audience, along with a helpful glossary for ESL students, make reading Daughter of Xanadu a breeze, though adults will admittedly want to beg this book back afterwards from their tweens.

This post first appeared as a four-part (guest author) series starting April 17, 2011 at Daughter of Xanadu – Part 1


Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of China: Portrait of a People (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), a 600-page China photography book, which may be found at

Discover more “Guest Posts” from Tom Carter with Is Hong Kong Any Place for a Poor American?

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