Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths that are not always true. Did you know that the history of the Great Wall of China started when fortifications built by various states during the Spring and Autumn (771 – 476 BC) and Warring States (475 – 221 BC) periods were connected by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi? But the best-known and best-preserved section of The Great Wall was built in the 14th through 17th centuries A.D., during the Ming Dynasty—more than two thousand years later.
If you want to know more about The Great Wall, I suggest reading Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. The first part of his book is about the months he spent driving the length of The Great Wall all the way to Tibet.
If you watch the video you will discover that before there was one wall, there were many—all built by different kingdoms before China was unified in 221 BC.
Although I enjoyed reading Country Driving, I think that the hundred and twenty-two pages that focus on The Great Wall are the best part.
Before reading Hessler’s book, I wrongly believed, as so many 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, Hessler quotes David Spindler who found evidence that the Ming Great Wall actually worked as a defensive structure.
The Great 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 conquer 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 to go raiding. That is if they could fight their way past The Great Wall guarding China’s heartland.
Hessler points out that no archeologists or 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 succeeded more than it failed.
Continued on April 7, 2016 in Part 2
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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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