“不去长城 非好汉” – He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man!
— Chairman Mao, the founder of modern China
I was the 200 million-first visitor to the Great Wall of China. Just as the infamous “Tricky Dicky” Nixon was the first US President to visit the Wall in 1972. The over 460 world leaders who have visited the Wall include Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher, PM of England, Emperor Akihito of Japan, President Voroshilov of USSR, President Mandela of South Africa, and several Presidents of the US and of Russia. But the first Head of a Govt or of a State to be received at the Wall was Nehru, our first PM, in 1954. The first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Enlai, received him there.
“The Wall can be seen from the moon.” That’s a myth. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon said, “no, it cannot be seen from the moon.” Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, endorsed Armstrong’s statement.
Visible from the moon or not, the Wall is a marvel, a wonder. Built over 2000 years (476 BCE to 1644 CE) to a length of 13,170.69 miles (21,196.18 km) from east to west of China, it winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus. UNESCO recognised it as one of the greatest man-made structures when designating it as World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Wall was begun by Qin Shi Huang (the name means “First Emperor”). He ascended the throne in 247 BCE at age 13 and within 12 years crushed the seven disparate states to create one unified China to become its First Emperor and founder of Qin dynasty (221–206 bce). The Wall was to protect his people and territory from invasion/incursions from the north by nomads from Inner Asia.
The Wall failed to stop enemies. Genghis Khan came from the north to conquer China and establish Yuan (Mongol) dynasty (1206-1368) and create the largest land empire – all of China, parts of Asia and sections of Europe – in history. In 1644 the Manchu Qing came from the north and replaced the most ardent of the wall-building dynasties, the Ming, as rulers of China.
Ming Chinese siege cannon on the Great Wall of China, 1629
Construction of the Wall began around 221 BCE and continued through the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BCE). About 20% of the country’s population was forced to build it and 400,000 of them died during construction. Many of them were buried within the wall. Labor force was mostly soldiers and convicts.
Construction of the Wall as it is known today began around 1474 during the Ming dynasty and continued up to 1644. From a base of 15 to 50 feet, the Great Wall rose some 15-30 feet high and was topped by ramparts 12 feet or higher. Guard towers were placed on it at intervals.
The best-known section of the Wall – Badaling, 43 miles (70 km) northwest of Beijing – was rebuilt in the late 1950s. It attracts thousands of tourists every day.
October 2, 2013, the Crowded Great Wall (China National Day Holidays, three days in 01 – 07 October)
October 2 is also Gandhi Jayanti holiday in India
The Wall is a symbol of China’s over 5000 years of colorful history, of its enduring strength, and of the psychological barrier between Chinese civilization and the world. So that China’s name, “Middle Kingdom (“中国”),” that dates from 1000 BCE, from the days of Chou empire who believed that their empire occupied the middle of the earth, surrounded by barbarians, survived till not too long ago.
The Wall is also a symbol of 2000 years of dynastic imperial govt that built the Wall. The imperial govt that ended with the Xinhai revolution of 1911 that established the Republic-of/Nationalist China, and then the Communist People’s Republic of China in 1949.
“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see it.” – Chinese Proverb