Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Wall of China

This article in the Globalist has some interesting B&W pictures of the series of walls which today are collectively referred to as The Great Wall of China.  I am adding Daniel Schwartz's book to my wish list. There are other photographs at the Amazon website.

If you are truly interesting in the history of the Chinese walls and of China, I recommend reading Julia Lovell's book The Great Wall: China Against the World 1000 BC - AD 2000.  China has been building walls for two thousand years.  Lovell's book covers each dynasty from 221 BC and the associated building of walls, complete with maps.  Fascinating reading, especially when each successive series of walls fails but the next dynasty continues on because they are unsure of what else to do.  Keeping the people in and the barbarians out was an obsession that Lovell, in the Conclusion "The Great Wall, The Great Mall and The Great Firewall" suggests continues to this day.

The product description and  Nathan Hoturoa Gray's review of the book on the Amazon site cover the topic pretty well.  Having spend some time in China in the 1990's, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a great deal from it, background to what I observed.  For me it was a can't put it down kind of book.  For the true historians among you, it is well end-noted with a comprehensive bibliography.

Julia Lovell teaches Chinese history and literature at the University of Cambridge.  Her next book, due out this year, she says, is about the Opium Wars, which were a serious defining period in China;'s relationship with the outside world.  It too is on my wish list.


  1. I loved my forays into Chinese history back when I was a history major. Fascinating country, culture, mindset. One of my all time favorite books is "Red Star Over China". I guess it was a must read for college courses everywhere. But that didn't make it bad. I have re-read it many times.

    Covers the rise of Mao and Red China by a Westerner who was there. It is especially interesting given my father's connection as an Air Force officer dealing with Chiang Kai-shek and his efforts with the Nationalists to defeat Mao. My father was involved after the fact in the 1950s.

    Regardless, China and my family have connections going back to the 1850s when my great great grandfather hired coolies off the boat to work in his chandler business in San Francisco.

    I will check this book out.

  2. Watched a show recently called "An Idiot Abroad" in which they sent this guy to the Seven Wonders of the World. When he got to the end of the Great Wall where it meets the sea, he said, "What's the point of all this? You can just walk around it, the water isn't that deep."

  3. A history major with a bike shop. Wonderful. If I had it to do over, I might have studied history instead of cows. Or maybe been a carpenter.

    I added Red Star to my wish list. My understanding of KMT is that if they had won over Mao, the Chinese people would have been under the control of a ruthless dictator as well. Whether they would be better off today is anyone's guess. Mine is they would not.

    You might enjoy Red China Blues by Jan Wong, a Chinese Canadian who didn't even speak Chinese when she went to China to participate in the Cultural Revolution. Great read.

    Also Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux. He spent two or three years traveling through China riding the railways. Sucker for punishment, their trains are (were?) awful.

    More historical is John Man's Kublai Khan, the Mongol King who remade China. That was a great book. The Mongolians were tremendous administrators.

  4. Kulkuri, the guy was obviously type cast. Perfect for the part. Actually, they didn't need to walk around. When they invaded, the Manchurians just bribed a guard. It is a little more complicated than that but the lesson is if you treat your officers and soldiers like dirt, don't expect hem to defend you to the death.

  5. I read your blogs regularly. Your humoristic way is amusing, continue the good work!

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