There is no “Great Wall”

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I’ve been reading The Great Wall of China by Arthur Waldron. He argues very persuasively that there is no such thing: The basic conviction that has thus emerged from my research is that the idea of a Great Wall of China, familiar to me since childhood, and with which I began my work, is a historical myth.

What does he mean by this? Obviously there are bits and pieces of walls, constructed mainly during the Ming dynasty, but there is no continuous wall stretching from the Pacific Ocean into the heart of Central Asia — and there never was! Instead the idea of the “Great Wall” was invented by Voltaire and other European philosophes at the end of the 18th century. It was part of their attempts to write-up the Chinese as a more rational civilization than Catholic Europe. To this day, the idea of “the Wall” lives on.

This explains a lot of things:

  • why the wall, according to excited and recurrent newspaper reports, “is about to crumble and fall apart” and why “large sections have vanished.” It was always thus.
  • why peasants living in the relevant area of northern China, to this day, don’t consider their local walls particularly “great.”
  • why you, contrary to rumors, can’t see the thing from outer space. There just isn’t anything to see.

OK, let’s check on GoogleEarth — I’ll do that tomorrow.

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