(Aug 22, 2015) The Great Wall is well named. When all its branches are factored in it stretches 13,170 miles. That’s a lot of wall. It was built, ignored, rebuilt, and re-ignored over a parade of centuries and dynasties. More than 1 million gave their lives for its construction. It’s purpose was to keep out the trouble that always seemed to come from the north. For that it was impractical. A concentrated attacking army will always overwhelm isolated wall garrisons. Through force, threat or bribery. No, the wall succeeded elsewhere. As that of a radar and an early telephone. Manned beacon towers were placed every couple of kilometers. A structured system of smoke and flag signals in place. When a threat was recognized, the message was sent down the line. Tower to tower. In that way a warning could be sent at the speed of 800 miles a day. In other words, the great tripwire.
We spent time with the wall at both it’s ends. In the West lay Jiayuguan Fort. The last bastion of an empire. Beyond its walls desolation. Here persons in empire disfavor were sent. Flushed into exile by simply opening and closing a door. Their survival chances limited.
In the east we jumped on a bus that made its way to Mutianyu from Beijing. Here 3 miles of wall masonry had been restored for the tourist trade. Regardless it is magic to follow as it piggybacks along the crest of a mountain range. Put in the sweat and you will arrive at the end of restoration. Keep going for a primer on what 400 years of nature’s conquest is capable of.
At a high point I stopped and gave the wall a good eye soak. It made little sense to me. The mountain slopes were steep. Why put a wall on top of such a natural barrier? No invading army could possibly pass it summits. Why go to the effort? My theory is ego. Let’s call it the Everest theory. A climber makes it to within 25 feet of Everest’s summit but must turn back. Though the climber made it to 29,000 feet the climb would be seen as a failure to many. Because it wasn’t complete. The Great Wall succumbs to the same logic. To be complete and thus great it needed to be continuous. No matter how ludicrous the terrain. The demands of ego dictated a wall without break. Much to my appreciation.
Eventually the wall was rendered obsolete by the invading Europeans. Who rudely arrived by sea, on beaches behind the wall. Some curiosities. The wall is invisible from space, contrary to the popular opposite opinion. Marco Polo never mentioned the wall in his travelogue. Which to me questions the credibility of this entire journey. And finally, China’s massive Internet censorship program. Which bars Google, Facebook, Instagram and most articles critical of China to name a few. It’s official name? “The great firewall.” Still trying to keep the outside out.