Highlights of Chinese Culture and History

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The Great Wall

In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods, more than 2,000 years ago, the Hun nationality in north China often harassed the feudal states of the Zhou Dynasty to the south. In order to defend their own territories, Qin, Zhao and Yan, three of the seven independent warring states at that time, each built a long wall along their borders. The three walls, however, were not joined together.

When the First Emperor of Qin vanquished the other six states and had China unified, he appointed, in 215 B.C., his general Meng Tian as commander in chief who finally defeated Xiongnu with an army of 300,000 men. He then gave orders that the 300,000 men should work together with several hundred thousand civilian laborers to restore and extend the long walls. It took them more than ten years to join the three separate walls into one of over 5,000 li in length, generally known as the "Great Wall", but also called "the Great Wall of Qin" in historical texts.

Thereafter, the Great Wall was repaired time and again in all dynasties. During the Ming Dynasty in particular, three large-scale extensions were carried out to strengthen and lengthen the wall, and it was not until about 1,500 that this "Great Wall of Ming" was finally completed. Together with the Great Wall of Qin, it now begins in the east at Shanhaiguan, and winds its way, like a gigantic dragon, westwards through the provinces of Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia, and ends at Jiauguan in Gansu Province. With a total length of over 12,700 li, it is popularly know as the 10,000 li Great Wall." If the bricks and rocks used in building the Great Wall were so laid as to form a wall two and a half meters high and one metre wide, it could easily make a full circle around the earth,with much  to spare. In the course of building the Great Wall, people made ingenious use of topographic features such as mountain ranges and rivers, and had most of the wall built on mountain and hill ridges. The height of the wall was not uniform, lower where the ridges were steeper and higher where they were relatively flat. Part of the wall was even built on heights of 1,300-1,400 meters. Thus, rising and falling with the terrain, the Great Wall meanders along the Yellow River through deserts, forests, planes,and snowbound plateaus, presenting and imposing sight in all its magnificent grandeur.

The exterior of the Great Wall is all built of bricks and rocks. On top of the wall is a low rampart in which there are many small holes or embrasures fromwhich soldiers can watch on the outside. At intervals of 130 meters there are on top of the wall strongholds for observing enemy activities. At the highest points of the wall are many beacon towers to pass on military information. Whenever something unusual happens in times of war, straw mixed with wolf's dung will be burnt during the day to produce a dense pall of smoke, and firewood at night to light up the sky. When people  see this from afar, they will know immediately that the enemies are coming.

It is obvious that the building of the Great Wall was a gigantic and immensely difficult job. Out in the wilderness where dust and sand whirled about in the strong gales, laborers and soldiers, who had to toil among ice and snow in inter and under scorching sun in summer, died by the thousands because of fatigue, cold or starvation, at the very foot of the Great Wall. The story of "Meng Jiangnu who wailed at the Great Wall" has been handed down from generation to generation and is still popular among the people.

It is a story of a young couple, the husband called Fan Qiliang, and the wife Meng Jiangnu. They have just got married when the husband is seized and marched off to build the Great Wall. Missing her husband badly and thinking that it must be freezing cold in the northern mountains, Meng works day and night on a cotton-padded coat for her husband. Then taking it with her, she sets off to find her husband. Traveling across mountains and rivers and overcoming untold hardships, Meng trudges on an tasks her way until finally she arrives at the Great Wall.She looks everywhere for her husband, only to be told by fellow laborers that her beloved had died of illness long before. Overwhelmed by grief and bereavement, Meng bursts out in a passionate wail which reverberates through heaven and earth and moves all the ghosts and spirits. Then suddenly a section of the wall twenty kilometers long collapses of itself, and in a pit in this yawning breach, Meng finds her dead husband. The story ends when she herself jumps into the sea nearby.

The Great Wall, built with the sweat and blood of the laborers in ancient times, is witness to China's age-old culture and history. It is an embodiment of the courage, wisdom and power of the Chinese nation and a symbol of their indomitable spirit.


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