Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2/3

July 24, 2012

In 1999, I visited the The Great Wall for the first time.  We returned to visit a different section in 2008. The second time, I carried a digital camera (a few of those photos appear with this post)

Smithsonian Magazine reported, “Few cultural landmarks symbolize the sweep of a nation’s history more powerfully than the Great Wall of China. Constructed by a succession of imperial dynasties over 2,000 years, the network of barriers, towers and fortifications expanded over the centuries, defining and defending the outer limits of Chinese civilization. At the height of its importance during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Great Wall is believed to have extended some 4,000 miles, the distance from New York to Milan.

The sections of the Great Wall we visited are about an hour out of Beijing. The most popular site is at Badaling.  The second choice, Mutianyu, is more dramatic. This portion of the Great Wall runs along the ridge of a mountain range. Badaling, meanwhile, is in a mountain pass.

The best way to reach the Great Wall is by taxi or bus. After you get there, you will discover the usual tourist shops. Since I enjoy haggling, I spend time shopping.

At Badaling, there were camels and horses you could pay a fee to sit on while having your photo taken.

Once you reach Mutianyu, you have a choice—take a few hours to climb the mountain to The Wall or ride a ski lift to the top in fifteen minutes.

China’s Great Wall was not built by one emperor. It was built in segments by the kings of several nations over a period of centuries. In addition, the wall was completed and linked together by China’s first emperor in 221 BC.

When you are on the wall, if you get thirsty or yearn for a snack, there are venders that carried their goods often using horses.

Once you are ready to leave the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the toboggan ride is worth the price.( see the embedded video with this post)

Continued on July 25, 2012 in Visiting The Great Wall – Part 3 or return to Part 1

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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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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.

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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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Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 2/2

May 29, 2012

In the first 122 pages of Country Driving, Peter Hessler sets out to drive the entire length of the Great Wall in a rented Chinese made Jeep Cherokee and he achieves his goal. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians claim it was. Yes, in several thousand years, the wall failed a few times but it served its purpose and did protect China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall but wrote there are amateur experts (we meet a few in this section along with a unique view of rural China) that have proven through historical research that the wall did work.

In Part II, Hessler takes us into a small village a few hours drive outside Beijing where he rents a house and becomes accepted by the insular-rural village community making friends and becoming involved personally with local families. The man that becomes his closest contact and friend in the village eventually joins the CCP (there are only about 80 million members in China) and then uses this to his advantage as he continues to improve the quality of his family’s lifestyle.

In Part III, Hessler travels to the city of Winzhou in Southern China where he spends time developing relationships with factory bosses and workers.  In this section, the Chinese people he meets are open and friendly. Hessler sees a side of China that few witness and it is obvious that the factory workers are not victims because of low pay and long hours of work but see this new life as an opportunity.


Peter Hessler discussing his novel “Oracle Bones”

When I finished Hessler’s memoir, I walked away feeling as if I had experienced an in-depth taste of the dramatic changes that have taken place in China since Mao’s death in 1976. Since China’s critics mostly focus on the negative, which is the corruption and/or authoritarian one-party system, and never admit the good that the CCP has accomplished, most people would not understand what I discovered.  To understand what I mean, one must compare China before 1949 with today by reading such books as those written by Hessler and his wife.

Before 1949, more than 90% of the people in China lived in severe poverty, more than 80% were illiterate, the average lifespan was 35, few people owned land, and the risk of death from famine had been an annual threat for more than two thousand years. In fact, most rural Chinese were treated as if they were beasts of burden and not human.

Today, about 13% live in severe poverty and those people mostly live in remote, rugged, difficult to reach areas of China.  The lifespan is now about 73 years and Helen H. Wang writing for Forbes.com (February 2011) reported that China’s middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States and is expected to reach 800 million in fifteen years (2026). In addition, no one has died of famine since 1959-1961.

I highly recommend Country Living for anyone that wants to learn more about today’s dramatically changing China from an unbiased perspective.

Return to Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler – Part 1

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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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Chinese Crossbow and other Inventions (3/4)

August 1, 2010

The first firearm was invented in China about one thousand years ago. It was made of bamboo, fired pebbles and had a range of about thirty yards.

Bamboo is strong, flexible and hollow in the center. It was perfect for the first crude gunpowder weapons.  Over time, bamboo was replaced with bronze, and the pebbles became cast-iron chips or pellets. In fact, the first bronze handgun dates to 12th century AD. It was about a foot long and weighed eight pounds.

From these early weapons came cannons.  Long before the rest of the world knew anything about heavy artillery, the Chinese were making strong, mobile cannons from bronze. Since the Chinese already had repeating crossbows, the next step was repeating cannons along with exploding artillery shells.

During the Ming Dynasty, in the 14th century, the Great Wall was equipped with more than 3,000 cannons. In Europe, the first cannons were still being developed. The Chinese also invented the hand grenade about a thousand years ago along with grenade launchers—the bow powered grenade.

A computer analysis demonstrated that China’s largest cannons could fire more than a third of a mile.  It would take centuries before Europeans could match the weaponry of China.

Go to  hinese Crossbow and Other Inventions – Part 4 or return to the Chinese Crossbow and other Inventions Part 2

______________

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

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Chinese Cloisonné Vases

March 14, 2010

On our way back from the Great Wall at Mutianyu, we stopped at a factory and showroom where we learned about the manufacturing techniques for Cloisonné brass vases. First, we went on a tour where we watched men and women creating vases. Once the tour was over, we went into the showroom.

The vases I bought (after negotiating a price) are yellow with a blue trim.  One has a blue dragon on it, the second a phoenix beside a chariot, and the third running horses. Each one is about the size of my hand.

The cloisonné process is enamel on copper craftwork. It first appeared in Beijing in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and continued during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Cloisonné vases are crafted by using a copper porcelain process. The vase is made from copper with brass wires soldered to the body. Then a porcelain glaze is applied to cells between the brass wires.

After a series of complex procedures, such as burning, burnishing and gilding, the cloisonné vase is done.

Chinese name: 景泰蓝(jǐng tài lán)

If you are interested in the arts, discover Chinese Yu Opera

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. 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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Traveling the Great Wall

March 14, 2010

Everywhere you go in China, there is something new to see and do.  Disneyland is planning to build a theme park near Shanghai.

The sections of the Great Wall we have visited are an hour out of Beijing. The most popular site is at Badaling.  The second choice, Mutianyu, is more dramatic. This portion of the Great Wall runs along the ridge of a mountain range. Badaling, meanwhile, is in a mountain pass.

The best way to reach the Great Wall is by taxi or bus. After you get there, you will discover the usual tourist shops. Since I enjoy haggling, I spend time shopping.

Great Wall at Mutianyu

At Badaling, there were camels and horses you could pay a fee to sit on while having your picture taken.

Once you reach Mutianyu, you have a choice—take a few hours to climb the mountain or ride a ski lift to the top in fifteen minutes. Getting back is easy. Take the toboggan seen during the 2008 Beijing Olympics on network TV and ride down.

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions.