When people think of China, their first though is often of the Great Wall, that snake of stone, brick and mortar that crawls and winds sinuously for 1,500 miles across China from the seacoast through the mountains to the southern border of the Gobi desert. With all its bends and curves, the actual circuitous course is closer to 3,500 miles. The despotic emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, unified China in 221 B.C., and over an eleven-year period hundreds of thousands of young men- dissidents, prisoners of war, state of criminals- labored to connect and strengthen existing tribal walls. Because so many of the workers perished and
were buried beneath the heavy stones, the wall carries the nickname of the “longest cemetery in the world”. The watchtowers were placed two bowshots apart, so that archers in each tower as a team could defend the entire length of the wall. The wall not only kept invaders out, but restrained itchy Chinese farmers from sampling nomadic life on the northern steppes. It repulsed Genghis Khan, but in 1273, his grandson, legendary Kublai Khan, broke through and made himself the first foreign invader to control the whole of China. The Mongols under Kublai Khan’s successors were expelled a century later, in 1368, by the native Chinese Ming Dynasty. The wall today, for the most part, is the one rebuilt by the Ming emperors on the ancient foundations. It is widely
believed to be the only man-made structure on earth visible from the moon.
Though earliest pre-human traces date to 1.6 million years ago, the Chinese claim the first Dynasty was that of Xia, about 2852-2205 B.C. The first verifiable Dynasty, with cities and writing, was the Shang Dynasty, 1766-1122 B.C.
After that Shang Dynasty in 1122 B.C., ten more Dynasties ruled China until Sun Yat-sen and other revolutionaries attempted democratic government in 1911. The most famous Dynasty is probably the Ming, 1368-1644. In 1916 a warlord period began that lasted into World War II. After that war, the Chinese waged war on each other, the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shel, the KMT, and the communists, the CCP, under Mao Zedong. In 1949, the communists overpowered the nationalists, and sent them fleeing to the island of Taiwan, off the China coast. The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, and still rules the country today. In the more than 50 years since the birth of the PRC, China has passed through the Great Leap Forward (1958), a rift with their primary ally, Russia (1960), the Ten Year Cultural Revolution (1966), the visit of the first U.S. president, Richard Nixon, (1979), and the massacre of unarmed, protesting students in Tiananmen Square (1989). At 98 acres, Tiananmen is the largest square in the
world. At the proclamation of the Republic, 1 October 1949, a half-million Chinese gathered across its stones. A crowd of one million collected in 1976 to mourn Mao’s death.
The emperor’s troops fill eleven corridors of the main burial pit. Each head is individually modeled, possibly to represent the various peoples Qin Shi Huangdi welded into a nation in his short reign, 221-206 B.C.
China’s statistics are awesome: it stretches over 3, 400 miles north to south, embracing tropical, temperate and frigid climate zones; it measures 3, 100 miles east to west, straddling four time zones. It’s total land area of 3. 7 million square miles makes it the second largest country in the world, after Canada, since Russia’s breakup.
China’s more than one billion people account for about one-fourth the world’s total, and make it the most populous. The Han represent 94 % if the population, while the remaining six percent is made up of 55 minority groups.
Our small tour of three married couples and I were escorted by state guides, who would give us city tours for three days, then shepherd us to the airport, give us instructions for boarding, and depart. They were amazingly open in answering questions, with the Shanghai guide stating that China’s future lies in a marriage of capitalism and communism,
using the incentive of the former, the discipline of the latter.