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The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth (Canto Original Series)

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The Great Wall of China

From History to Myth (Canto Original Series)

By Arthur Waldron

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Format: Paperback, 316 pages, Revised Edition
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United Kingdom, 31 January 1992
The Great Wall of China is renowned as one of the most impressive and intriguing man-made structures on earth. It is also the subject of an awesome mythology, embedded in both learned and popular imaginations, which has grown up and now obscured the historical record. Even the maps which chart the Wall??'s position offer erroneous accounts of a phenomenon which has never been accurately surveyed. Arthur Waldron reveals that the notion of an ancient and continuously existing Great Wall, one of modern China??'s national symbols and a legend in the eyes of the West, is in fact a myth. His fascinating account reveals the strategic and political context for the decision to build walls as fortified defences, and explores its profound implications for nomadic and agricultural life under the Ming dynasty. Taking up the insights offered into more recent Chinese politics, the book concludes with a searching investigation of the Wall??'s new meanings in the myths - departing from that history - fostered in our own century.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations; Acknowledgments; Note on romanization; 1. Introduction: what is the Great Wall of China?; Part I. First Considerations: 2. Early Chinese walls; 3. Strategic origins of Chinese walls; Part II. The Making of the Great Wall: 4. Geography and strategy: the importance of the Ordos; 5. Security without walls: early Ming strategy and its collapse; 6. Toward a new strategy: the Ordos crisis and the first walls; 7. Politics and military policy at the turn of the sixteenth century; 8. The second debate over the Ordos; 9. The heyday of wall-building; Part III. The Significance of Wall-Building: 10. The Great Wall and foreign policy: the problem of compromise; 11. The Wall acquires new meanings; Notes; Bibliography; Chinese and Japanese materials; Western materials; Glossary; Index.


The Great Wall is a powerful symbol of China's national tradition and historical continuity, a monumental defensive barrier supposedly built more than 2000 years ago to keep out Central Asian nomadic aggressors. However, as Waldron demonstrates in this learned and lively work of scholarly iconoclasm, the notion of a Great Wall is a historical myth developed over the past few centuries. Carefully examining the history of wall building in China, particularly during the Ming dynasty (1369-1644), he suggests that domestic political conflict, not cultural or ecological factors, determined why and when defensive walls were built. In examining the economic and political-military interactions between the nomads of the steppe and Chinese court officials, Waldron probes deeply into basic questions of China's national identity. A superb scholarly work that belongs in all academic and larger public collections. History Book Club selection.-- Steven I. Levine, Duke Univ . , Durham, N.C.

'Historical writing at its best, a brilliant and very readable account.' The Asia Society 'This book has a wisdom, a patience, and a confidence about it that enrich Waldron's wonderful knack for writing history.' History Book Club 'One of the few books that change our basic assumptions about China.' Publisher's Weekly

China's modern rulers have nurtured the popular myth that the Great Wall of China is a single, continuous barrier built in the third century B.C. and surviving to the present. Actually, as Princeton historian Waldron demonstrates in a landmark study, most of what we today call the Great Wall was built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Despotic, palace-reared Ming rulers, fearful of a potential invasion by Mongols and other nomads, chose wall-building over trade or diplomatic relations. But the Ming fortifications, like the French Maginot Line, proved ineffective: Manchu warriors entered China in 1644, captured Peking and established the Ch'ing dynasty, a vast multiethnic empire which lasted until 1912. The Great Wall became a symbol of failure and irrelevance. Its recent transformation into China's unofficial national symbol is an enigma deftly unraveled in Waldron's investigation, one of the few books that change our basic assumptions about China. Illustrations. History Book Club selection. (Aug.)

EAN: 9780521427074
ISBN: 052142707X
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Dimensions: 21.95 x 13.87 x 2.13 centimetres (0.32 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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