There is no Great Wall of China, argues Lovell, who teaches Chinese history at Cambridge University. Instead, there are many Great Walls-physical, mental, cultural, military and economic-separating China from the outside world. The 4,300-mile-long wall is far more complex than any of the thousands of tourists taking a photo along its famous battlements realizes. Indeed, to the Chinese themselves, their wall has variously signified repression, freedom, security, vulnerability, cultural superiority, economic backwardness, imperial greatness and national humiliation. Still, myths about it abound. Far from it being unbreachable, Chinese emperors relied on the wall only as a last resort to fend off their enemies. (The Ming dynasty, for instance, found it useless against the victorious Manchus, who merely bribed the gatekeepers to let them in.) "As a strategy that has survived for more than two millennia," Lovell writes, "China's frontier wall is a monumental metaphor for reading China and its history, for defining a culture and a worldview...." Lovell tells the gripping, colorful story of the wall up to the present day, including a perceptive discussion of the "Great Firewall"-the Internet, which has replaced nomadic raiders as the most threatening of China's attackers. And no, you cannot see it from the Moon. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
For a long time in both China and the outside world, the Great Wall was the symbol of isolation, self-sufficiency, and arrogant tradition. But now that China has opened itself to the world (or "re-opened" itself, as it were), that stereotype no longer fits. A new understanding of China is needed, and historians have flocked to rethink historic foreign relations. With wide experience in contemporary China, Lovell (Chinese history & literature, Cambridge; trans., A Dictionary of Maqiao) tells the story of the wall as she shows how China was shaped over the course of 2000 years by interactions with Central Asia and the peoples of the steppe (she calls them barbarians, a term smacking of those old stereotypes). The opening chapter on the 18th- and 19th-century encounters with Britain does not reflect recent scholarly debates, but the terrific concluding chapter, "Great Wall, the Great Mall, and the Great Firewall," contains insightful personal observations on China's relations with the world today. Larger public libraries would do well to acquire this lively survey for curious readers with some knowledge of China.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.