Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Great Wall of China - c. 215 BC

It has been said, with considerable justi­fication, that the Great Wall of China is the most stupendous example of human endeavour. Known in China as the Wan­Lich’ang Ch’en, the Wall of Ten Thous­and Miles, it formed the northern boun­dary of the Chinese Empire and was actually some 2,400 kilometres long, varying in height from four-and-a-half metres to nine metres.

It was built at the command of Shih Huang Ti, of the Ch’in dynasty (22I— 206 BC) who pressed every third able-bodied man in his kingdom into its build­ing. The result was truly the eighth wonder of the world. It was built across northern China, over high mountains and through very difficult country. In terms of human suffering and futility a writer once said, ‘The Chinese never got over it . . . but the Tartars did!’

Shih Huang Ti was a brutal ruler who cared little for art and learning, and who ordered that every book in China should be burned with the exception of religious, medical and agricultural works. In 206 BC, Liu Pang led a revolt against the Ch’in and, changing his name to Kao Tsu, be­came the first ruler of the Han dynasty.

The Great Wall stretches over approximately 6,400 km (4,000 miles) from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia, but stretches to over 6,700 km (4,160 miles) in total; a more recent archaeological survey using advanced technologies points out that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). At its peak, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.