The Great Wall: The Extraordinary Story of China?s Wonder of the World


It is a wonder of the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists journey to the Great Wall of China, and a myriad of photographs have made it familiar to millions more. Yet its story remains mysterious and steeped in myth.

In this riveting account, John Man travels the entire length of the Great Wall and across two millennia to find the truth behind the legend. Along the way, he delves into the remarkable and complex history of China—from the country’s tribal past ...

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The Great Wall: The Extraordinary Story of China's Wonder of the World

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It is a wonder of the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists journey to the Great Wall of China, and a myriad of photographs have made it familiar to millions more. Yet its story remains mysterious and steeped in myth.

In this riveting account, John Man travels the entire length of the Great Wall and across two millennia to find the truth behind the legend. Along the way, he delves into the remarkable and complex history of China—from the country’s tribal past through its war with the Mongols to its present-day status as a resurgent superpower.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

According to Man, in his second book this year after Terra Cotta Army, China's Great Wall is really a series of walls, part stone, part rammed earth, that were built in different eras and do not form a continuous line. Traveling the wall end to end from Mongolia to Lanzhou, the capital of China's Gansu province, Man learns that the first Great Wall sprang from the towering ambition and brutal policies of the first emperor, Zheng, who around 214 B.C. repaired and joined up a collection of little walls totaling 2,500 kilometers in length. In 1138, China's Jin rulers built 4,000 kilometers of wall, but the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, burst through the wall in the 13th century and stayed for 150 years. To ensure that they never returned, the 15th-century Ming Dynasty built its wall. Mao co-opted the wall, which no longer served any defense purpose, as a symbolic monument to the achievement of ordinary, suffering people. This engrossing and well-researched history of China's most famous architectural project whets the reader's appetite to tread in Man's footsteps. Photos, maps. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

If you didn't get to China this summer, these two books will help make up for it. In his elegantly produced volume, Lindesay (founder, International Friends of the Great Wall; Alone on the Great Wall) pairs 72 historic 19th- and early 20th-century photographs of sites along the Great Wall with his own beautiful and informative photos of the same views taken when he revisited the sites in the last few years. Sometimes there is great change, other times little at all. Lindesay provides graceful essays on the lives of the earlier photographers and histories of the local communities around the sites, often with maps, excerpts from the writings of earlier visitors, or drawings.

Man's earlier books (e.g., The Terra Cotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation) combine travel and history. His latest amounts to a readable history of relations between the Chinese dynasties and inner Asia as he tells of the various walls in successive periods. He also regales us with his adventures traveling along the present-day Great Wall. His tone is knowledgeable, breezy, and sometimes a little breathless as he skillfully debunks what is left of the myths about the wall-no, it cannot be seen from space with the naked eye. In fact, the wall is not an "it" but a "them," that is, not a single thing but a process whose length cannot be measured because it is composed of overlapping bits made at different times. Both books acknowledge and make good use of recent Chinese scholarship, and both are recommended for larger public libraries, with Lindesay's also appropriate for college and special collections.
—Charles W. Hayford

Kirkus Reviews
A learned, lively history of the Great Wall's evolution that cuts it down to size without diminishing its allure. No, you can't see it from the moon. Nor is it an unbroken, serpentine glory of many thousand kilometers, all dressed stone and watchtowers; much of it is simply rammed dirt, sometimes a yard high. As a stone curtain keeping the northern barbarians at bay it was more of a sieve, though it did have its military uses. Sinophile Man (The Terra Cotta Army, 2008, etc.) offers a close, informed reading of historical documents as well as his observations based on many hours spent Wall-side. What emerges is a shifting, kaleidoscopic portrait-cultural, geopolitical, symbolic-that puts the mighty edifice into perspective. Man suggests that the Great Wall started as an expression of Chinese expansionism, rather than protectionism. Under the First Emperor, as China moved from city-state to nation-state in the third century BCE, the Wall marked borders, but they were fairly porous; "its main function [was] to serve China's internal political purposes: to define itself, to declare its identity to itself-and to keep its own people in line." The Han dynasty added to the Wall, which by the first century BCE also served as a road to transport goods, provide traders with safe houses and garrison soldiers. The pastoral-nomadic Mongols had no use for it and let it decay during the 12th century. After pushing them from power, the Ming dynasty embarked on a 200-year building spree designed to keep the Mongols on the other side of the Wall. The author's intent is not to diminish the Wall, but to ascertain its purposes and paint its many attitudes, from rude earth-and-reed bulwark to the fairy-taleadornment of the landscape. Man presents readers with a Wall for every season, even more awe-inspiring in its workaday clothes than in its romantic garb.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818394
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Man is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in China and Mongolia whose list of acclaimed books includes Genghis Khan. He lives in the United Kingdom.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps

A Note on Spelling


Introduction: The Wall of China Does Not Exist 1

Pt. I Earth

1 The First Emperor's Less-than-Great Wall 15

2 The Wall's Everywoman 37

3 A Threat from the North 51

4 War over the Wall 62

5 The Wall Goes West 77

6 Wall-hunt in the Gobi 103

7 The Concubine and the Barbarian 118

8 Losing the Lost Legion 125

9 A Grassland Mystery 138

Pt. II Stone

10 The Coming of the Mongols 155

11 Disaster at Tumu 179

12 To the Ordos, and Beyond 197

13 Guarding the Way West 216

14 The Centre Ground 225

15 Climbing around Beijing 244

16 The End of the Wall, the End of the Ming 274

17 The Wall Reborn 295

Appendix Dates and Dynasties 317

Bibliography 319

Picture Acknowledgements 325

Index 327

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