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The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC - AD 2000

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Legendarily 2,200 years old and 4,300 miles long, the Great Wall of China seems to make an overwhelmingly confident physical statement about the country it spans: about China’s age-old sense of itself being an advanced civilization anxious to draw a clear line between itself and the “barbarians” at its borders. But behind the wall’s intimidating exterior—and the myths that have built up around it—is a complex history that has both defined and undermined China. Author Julia Lovell has written a new and important history of the Great Wall that guides the reader through the conquests and cataclysms of the Chinese empire, from the second millennium BC to the present day.
In recent years, the Wall has become an ever more potent symbol of Chinese nationalism, of a determination to resist foreign domination. But how successful was the Wall in reality, and what was its real purpose? Was it a precursor, albeit on a huge scale, of the Berlin Wall—a barrier designed to keep its population in as much as undesirables out? Lovell looks behind the modern mythology of the Great Wall, uncovering a three-thousand-year history far more fragmented and less illustrious than its crowds of visitors imagine today. The story of the Wall winds through that of the Chinese state and the frontier policy that defined it, through the lives of the millions of individuals who supported, criticized, built, and attacked it.

432 pages, Paperback

First published February 28, 1981

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About the author

Julia Lovell

26 books124 followers
Julia Lovell has worked at Birkbeck since 2007. Before then, she was Junior Research Fellow at Queens’ College, Cambridge. She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at Emmanuel College, Cambridge; she also studied for a year at the Hopkins-Nanjing Centre for Chinese Studies. She has translated many works, as well as writing insightful works into the history of China.

She has written articles in the Guardian, the London Times and the Economist on China.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Dmitri.
202 reviews157 followers
November 26, 2021
I was ready to concede this as a lesser of Julia Lovell's efforts before the end of the introduction. A worn riff on Britain's spurned 1793 mission to Beijing illustrates the insularity of the Middle Kingdom. The Great Wall is dusted off as a metaphor of sinocentrism. A whiff of western told-you-so lingers in the air. Once awkward advances are rejected a curious attraction remains. Any attempt to fold 3000 years of Chinese history into 300 pages is ambitious but here it is nearly pulled off. The story of 'The Wall' as deconstructed is transformed into a device which telescopes time.

After obeisance to the legendary Yellow Emperor tales of the Warring States and Confucius from 500 BC are told. The Qin First Emperor of 221 BC built a wall in far off Mongolia to the north of his terra cotta army and mausoleum where mercury rivers flow. This was no brick watchtower affair, but mud and wattle breastworks between mountains and valleys. The Han extended it in 100 BC to the distant deserts of Turkestan where silk roads pass by Buddhist caves. How things this ancient are now known is no mystery. The grand historian Sima Qian recorded them during his lifetime.

Following the fall of the Han in 220 AD disunity prevailed during the Three Kingdoms. Barbarian fought barbarian and the victorious fell victim to settled life. Nomadism was well suited for warfare and conquest but agrarianism and urban centers were far better for rule. Those who fought their way in became assimilated to Confucian governance, such as the 13th century Mongolian Yuan dynasty and the 17th century Manchurian Qing dynasty. The greatest wall builders were the Ming, who began the classic ramparts in the 14th century as they are now known throughout the world.

A theme of this book is the inherent flaw of defensive walls. The 7th century Tang dynasty is given as an example that forward campaigns were more effective, and that offense was the best defense. The walls, straddling peaks with forts at passes, make it hard to imagine they did not give an advantage to the defenders. Why else would they be built over again for 2000 years if they were of no use? The best explanation is weakness and corruption kept them from being properly guarded. Useful for early warning, to mobilize men and material, by themselves walls would never suffice.

Lovell proposes a revisionist understanding of the barbarians beyond the wall. Not allowed trade with China during certain reigns, they were forced to raid and pillage to obtain goods they were unable to produce. In peaceful times there was a tribute system, evolved during the Han dynasty. In return for furs and horses the emperor gave money, metals, silk and grain, often of greater value, and marriage alliances. The tribal leader would submit authority to the emperor and accede to treaties of non-aggression. The exchange favored the foreigners but it was cheaper than wars or walls.

Lovell notes a 'gulag' aspect to building the walls over the millennia. Prisoners were press ganged into construction and then garrisoned along the wall. Sections were built by a similar method as the Grand Canal, linking Luoyang to the Yangtze in the 7th century, with corvee labor. Once a symbol of feudalism they were adopted by the communists in the late 20th century as an icon of national excellence. Mao Zedong exclaimed "He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true hero!" Richard Nixon laconically intoned: "This is a great wall. It must have been built by a great people."

The author gives vivid descriptions of the places involved. There may be too much coverage of reigns and campaigns, perhaps inevitable in a study of fortifications. Dry recitation of names and dates is a potential pitfall but offset by her keen wit and sharp selection of ancient anecdotes. Beside lecturing at the University of London, Lovell is a translator of Chinese literature. The book works well as an introduction or a refresher on the dynastic successions from a perspective of the frontier. Although not as good as her later works on the Opium War and Maoism it is worthwhile to read.
Profile Image for Phrodrick.
900 reviews39 followers
March 11, 2023
It is perhaps harsh to down star Julia Lovell’s A Great Wall: China Against the World. She is a relatively accessible historian, and her work is well researched. Overall, I can recommend this book as a better than average history of 3000 years summarized into 300 pages. She has over used China’s Great Wall in order to propose several ideas about how to consider China. Herein are some difficulties.

The most obvious theme behind her read on history is that walls are inherently inefficient and ineffective at a national defensive measure. In proof of this she highlights the relative success of those Chinese dynasties that built little of the various structures now grandly known as The Great Wall against the relative failure of those dynasties that were more aggressive wall builders. The key to this comparison is to skip the number of years a dynasty survived and grew while building and defending walls and focused on the portion of a dynasty , where in decline it could no longer muster the funds, labor force and military that is necessary to maintain walls and the attendant watch. Not being military, the maxims, attributed to among others China’s own Sun Tzu:
” If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak. “
"The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.”

In short, a purely defensive strategy, for a country with ever increasing miles of reinforced defensive lines will be hard pressed to defend from all possible routes for a mobile attacker. Mostly the Chinese were fighting a variety of horse-mounted, fast moving attackers.

Except that Prof. Lovel tends to elide over the fact that several of these failed, defensively forward ruling houses lasted centuries longer than for example the United States.

Never argued by the author is the problem of what constitutes defensible, or natural boundaries. That there were always way around walls, suggests that large stretches of the Chinese boarder, especially in the north and west is easily traversed and not clearly demarked by oceans, mountains of other natural fortifications. Absent these kinds of barriers many areas, from the plains of Poland to the Mediterranean Middle East have long histories of invading armies and sequential changes in invading masters.

Instead, the professor suggest an interesting idea. What ancient China was attempting to administer was a northern, area typified by a nomadic, trading and raiding population and a southern, agricultural society. This was an inherently stable society; much dependent on a centralized and consistent authority to maintain extensive flood control efforts. In addition, the more southerly people had developed a highly attractive and sophisticated culture, much admired and coveted by the northern raiders.

A result is that the various ruling houses of whatever ethnic origins came to believe that China was the center of the continents and that is was natural to consider any one or thing as less than what China had developed and as natural subordinate nations to the throne of China.
By the 18th Century this was at best hubris. By the 20th China was a nation alternatively, targeted by Christian Missionaries and Capitalist/Colonial exploiters. Neither one distinguished by there appreciation for the depth and breath of ancient Chinese culture or its legitimate claims to being the home of much that made the West feel patronizing toward their little Asian Brothers.

With the rise of an independent, modernized and increasingly powerful China, their nationalism and wounded amor propio is proving to be cause for concern. Most immediately among their geographic neighbors. Recent events across a multitude of types and kinds of actions suggests that 21st century China has move beyond its walls and out of a tradition of defensive national policy. This without comparable concessions in its attitude of cultural supremacy.

Professor Lovell is correct in dismissing the notion that The Great Wall is visible from space. Never mind. China is very visible around the planet.
Profile Image for Maureen.
204 reviews3 followers
April 27, 2009
Pros: By focusing on the history of wall-building and public perception of the Great Wall, Lovell does a good job of making 3000 years of history digestible. This book is a good resource for an overview of Chinese history that includes greater themes as well as little details.

Cons: The repeated stories of uprisings, massacres and famines were a little depressing- how could nobody ever learn? Also, the author's (justifiably) snide tone was funny at first but got tiresome and made me wonder- if all she can say about Chinese government is sarcastically critical, why did she choose this subject matter as her life's work?
Profile Image for Trice.
536 reviews86 followers
September 8, 2011
Most of this book felt tainted by an obnoxiously sarcastic undertone which seemed to hint at derision for much of Chinese history. While I've nothing against criticizing modern or historical leaders, the kind of criticism, implied or obviously stated, that was found in the pages seemed more snide than helpful. Overall, though, this was a very readable overview of Chinese history. It is definitely from a macro view, so you don't get a lot of the details, but from this view it presented well the continuance implying repetition of a certain kind of Chinese perspective on the nation known as China and on the outside world - and it definitely is an inside-outside/insider-outsider perspective.

I'm trying to be careful, because while I've seen hints of this, I don't think it's true for everyone in China and the majority of my personal interactions have belied it in fact. But there is something to support it in the fact that in China you are either Chinese or a foreigner. And there is a lot of serious confusion and, I think, annoyance at this confusion, over ethnically Chinese people who consider themselves members of other nations but return to China to learn about and understand it and their parents' (or parents' parents') history and who may not be completely fluent in Mandarin - definite shock and confusion at the least.

On a side note, I almost hesitate to write anything in a review, partly due to my own ignorance of Chinese culture and history (I'm working on it - slowly, but working nonetheless) and the so often experience of being sure of a fact or understanding of China one moment, having it disproved the next, and reproved the next, and... well, you get my point. And foreigners (is it strange that I include myself in a word that means, basically, 'outsider'?), both within China and without, seem to get it wrong so often... but then, I suppose many Chinese are mistaken on things regarding China as well. We are never so blind as when we try to examine our home culture/nation.
1 review
June 10, 2015
Wasn't sure at the outset whether this would be a subject that I would find compelling, as I've always found Chinese history to be a bit mysterious and shrouded. The book turned out to be as interesting as any non-fiction I have ever read. It presents a great overview of Chinese history, presented as somewhat of a "biography" of the Great Wall. I was unexpectedly impressed with the author's wit and keen sense of irony as she uses the Great Wall to trace the ups and downs of Chinese foreign relations and apparent impulse to retreat from the larger world, to it's own detriment.

For an academic (as the author is) to double as such a capable narrator has been rare, in my experience. I was also impressed by her boldness is making judgments regarding the weaknesses of Chinese governance over the millenia. Recent books appear shy to make claims that could even slightly be considered to contain a "Western bias" (no worries, she pokes an equal amount of fun at the European "gentleman explorers of the 19th Century as well). It is a clear-eyed view of both the good and the bad points of Chinese history as it relates to frontier policy.

The main thrust of the narrative is that most Chinese royal dynasties have felt compelled to sink vast resources into wall-building, despite the fact that China nevertheless fell several times to foreign invaders to whom the Great Wall (which isn't actually a "wall" or particularly "great") presented an apparently minor obstacle.

Thus, what I considered the only flaw in the book: although the Great Wall did not prevent China from falling to several foreign peoples, one must also ask the question "what if the wall hadn't been there?" Proving a negative is indeed impossible, but perhaps the Wall was more useful for it's deterrent effect than it's actual performance in reality. Indeed, the author points this out in the last chapter when discussing China's control of the internet (i.e., although few dissidents are punished for their online activity, the greatest value is in deterring the vast majority of Chinese from even attempting to express their views in this way...). This same analysis can be considered regarding the wall itself, as we can never know whether China would have lost cohesion or how many invasions would have taken place in the absence of the Great Wall. Taking this point into consideration, the decisions of Chinese monarchs to continue pouring lives and treasure into wall building may be more understandable.
127 reviews13 followers
July 3, 2020
The book argues China historically used walls to distinguish barbarous outsiders from civilized Chinese. That physical reality reflects a worldview that tended to lead to hostility and misunderstanding with its neighbors, particularly the Mongols. In modern times the author worries that The Great Wall itself has become a symbol that reflects this historical worldview - representing the long, proud and superior history of China set against a less important supporting cast of other countries. The best part of the book, by far, is the detailed history of Chinas relationship with its mongol neighbors, how they thought about each other, traded, fought, influenced one another, and occasionally ruled one another. For anyone who is curious how a newly powerful China might think about its neighbors, or at least is curious how they have in the past, the book is a good intro.

The book does a few things: (1) summarize a dominant worldview that has persisted throughout Chinese history - of foreigner and civilized national - via the symbol of the Great Wall; (2) explain the history of Chinese political relations with its Mongolian neighbors, who the wall was meant to keep out; (3) revisit the wall’s meaning to Chinese people throughout history, and how that view changed and (4) speculate on what all that means for an international China in the 21st century (required of any book on China, these days).

The main points I took away are as follows:

1. The book starts by exploring Chinese imperial views of Chinese culture and foreign barbarians via a specific encounter between British diplomats and the Chinese Qing emptier in the 1700s. The encounter illustrates that Chinese leaders tended to view themselves as culturally superior to outsiders and that the appropriate relationship with outsiders was one in which the later was subservient. The author lingers on the 18th century British diplomat refusing to kowtow and the confusion among Chinese leaders over why this might be.

The author never explicitly states it, but it seems she chose to zoom in on a moment when British power was ascendent to see how Chinese culture reacted to a change in relative power. The author’s point seems to be that isn’t a configuration that makes any sense within an internally consistent Chinese worldview. The superiority of Chinese culture and the subservient position of outsiders are all just sort of assumed.

It’s at this point that some folks have criticized the author as somewhat trivializing the Chinese she depicts. “Are you really telling me that you think Chinese leaders couldn’t understand an equal relationship with an outsider,” the critics ask.

I think the criticism misses the mark, the author spends a lot of time exploring the complexity of China’s various historical worldviews. In the sections on Wei and Tang the author explores eras in which China’s leaders held more multicultural world views.

That said, a British author that sought an impartial depiction of Chinese culture might have chosen something other than the lead up to the disastrous opium wars through which to introduce her subject. I wish she had written a slightly different introduction.

Anyhow the first main point: Historically, Chinese leaders have often viewed the world through the lens of civilized interior and barbarous exterior. This leads to walls, literal and figurative, which limit exchange of ideas and trade. Ironically, the author argues this view has more often than not led to the stultification and decline of Chinese dynasties.

(2) Relations with the Mongols have been both adversarial and stratified. Chinese leaders have looked down on the Mongols, who returned the favor by raiding Chinese settlements for provisions they could not find on the steppes.

When the Chinese have viewed the Mongols as equals as I’m the Tang and Qing dynasties, trade flourished and peace ruled the north. When the Chinese isolated the Mongols, resentment flourished and the Mongols eventually figure out how to get around whatever wall has been built and sack Xi’an or Beijing or whatever happens to be the capital at the time.

The narrative framing is heavy handed but also overlaid with a lot of historical detail. Look, I don’t know how accurate it is, but I will tell you this sort of a device makes remembering the rise and fall of dynasties much easier to wrap your head around. What it may or may not lack in historical nuance it certainly makes up for in mnemonic clarity!

Anyhow the main point here, physical walls reflect the closed relationship to the Mongols, which throughout history has just led the Mongols to find ways to get into China, and occasionally take the place over as with the Qing and the Wei.

The sense we’re supposed to be left with is - wow, that worldview just is not conducive to treating neighbors as equals, even when it’s somewhat obviously beneficial to do so.

(3) Ok so if the walls didn’t really work and have generally reflected Chinese leaders views of barbarian inferiority, well what do the common folks think?

Well, for most of Chinese history, they have felt the walls were somewhere between a wasteful extravagance and a terrifying death sentence, when certain Qin and Ming emperors really got revved up on wall building and sent thousands of folks off to build walls essentially until they died.

Recently, though, the author argues that the wall has become a symbol of Chinese greatness, history, and defensive “live and let live” views on the world. The author is at pains to point out that the wall isn’t really that old or all that big, which also likely leads some readers to feel she is trivializing China, but again I don’t agree. The author identifies areas where reality is different from propaganda and uses that to explore meanings that have been constructed, rather than reflect the world.

In particular, the author seems to argue that the old Chinese leaders attitude of superiority and reclusiveness has been transmitted to the civilians through the symbol of the Great Wall.

So now we’ve got (1) a superior view relative to outsiders that (2) has generally led to frayed relations and (3) has now been symbolically transmitted to the the whole country / national identity.

Well that brings us to (4) the prognostication. The author basically says - hey watch out. This could go well, but it often hasn’t before and then spends some time talking about the great fire wall, which if I’m honest I skimmed.

So look, the book has a lot of good history in it and I think does a reasonable job of trying to get inside the head of some of its subjects. The author tends to use strangeness of behavior to identify the boundaries of Chinese culture in a sort of “you can tell this is distinctly Chinese because it’s different than what you would expect” style. That can fee off putting and judgmental, but it’s also somewhat useful for one culture to understand when another culture might behave in unexpected ways. A book that helps us understand that surely deserves a read.

Four stars!
5 reviews
September 2, 2014
The book I chose to read was The Great Wall: China Against the World by Julia Lovell. It covered Chinese culture from 1000 BC to modern times. The book focused on walls, particularly the Great Walk, throughout China, their purposes, and what they meant, both figuratively and physically.
This book turned out to be a fascinating examination of the Chinese mentality when it came to interacting with other cultures. Lovell used walls as a metaphor for Chinese isolationism and imperialism, discussing how in the early days of the days of the Great Wall, when it was still a collection of much smaller walls, those walls had names that were very clearly anti-outsider. Multiple instances of failed Western/Chinese diplomatic attempts and why they failed were discussed. The Great Wall was a long history of Chinese politics and diplomacy that used the Great Wall as a central point.
I would recommend this book to another reader. It is a fascinating piece of writing filled with information. It's well paced and well written. My personal favorite part about the book was that it included many smaller stories and details about events in Chinese history. While the book was not written by a Chinese author, it was written by an author who had spent a lot of time in China, and I felt she had an interesting perspective about the country and its mindset. Overall, I found The Great Wall to be a fantastic, interesting book.
Profile Image for Persephone Abbott.
Author 2 books15 followers
July 17, 2015
I prefer reading long history books confined to limited periods in history however, I thought this book would hold my interest. I was wrong. I do wonder if the author would write about the United Kingdom using the same tone. Some other readers have made remarks about her style. I don’t in any way doubt Ms. Lovell’s intense knowledge of Chinese history at all, it just seems to me that the entire premise of the book was based on the thought, “Everyone knows about the Chinese Wall, let’s write a book “The Great Wall” breezing through Chinese history focusing on military matters and adding Western involvements as much as possible, stamp ‘BBC’ someplace on the cover, and that will sell copy.” Curious, I read an article she wrote for the Guardian, in an effort to examine whether I was being too harsh, and I found her referring to popular culture to orientate her audience. Nothing wrong with this, but then no, and I understand that style is a matter of personal taste.
Profile Image for Harald Groven.
168 reviews27 followers
April 17, 2017
An excellent 3000 year history of China. The book's recurrent theme is the imperial regimes different foreign policies towards the outside world, excemplified how to keep the barabarians out by maintaining the Great Wall fortifications.
The first chapters are truly remarkabl examples of cultural history, stressing the surprising point that it was actually western visitors in 18th and 19th century that taught the Chinese to appreciate the Great Wall as something to be proud of (as national identity). Before that, the wall was simply a fortification system carrying no significance as a national symbol.
Most chapters are standard traditional political history (i.e. dynasties and wars), but the cultural history parts really stand out as a wonderful account of how history are USED, not that it just something that happened.
Profile Image for Frank.
771 reviews38 followers
August 17, 2015
vor langer Zeit ließen die chinesischen Kaiser die Gesandten der Barbaren aus allen Herren Nationen zu sich kommen. Die Gesandten wurden kleine Geschenken mitbringen und dem Kaiser den Kotau machen. Wenn die Gesandten aus militärischer überlegenen Nationen kamen, gingen sie dann mit großen Mengen, sehr prachtvollen Geschenken zurück nach Hause (d.h. Tribut der Chinesen). So bewährte sich die Chinesen Ihr Gesicht und der Illusion Ihrer Überlegenheit.

Ob sich inzwischen etwas geändert hat??
Profile Image for Diego Palomino.
180 reviews2 followers
January 21, 2019
Well written and researched, it opened my eyes to Chinese and Mongol culture. The author explains the dichotomy of two walls a physical and psychological one. She also documents its evolution through thousands of years. At times it read like a novel specially when relating to conflicts or wars. well worth the read.
Profile Image for Allison Piehl.
19 reviews
February 1, 2021
I'm finding it difficult to write a comprehensive review for a book that covers so much ground. I'll share a couple observations.

I approached this book with significant knowledge of the Qing dynasty and a basic understanding of the revolutions and political realities of modern China. Those sections of the book were easy for me to follow and enjoyable to read, probably because I already knew the cast of characters. Earlier periods of ongoing power struggle and shifting control were tricky. This has nothing to do with the writing, which is excellent, but just serves as a warning that this may not be the perfect entrepôt to China's imperial history. Watch a few documentaries first. There is a helpful appendix with short biographies of the central figures if you get lost.

My favorite thing about this book is the way Lovell uses the poetry of Chinese administrators and statesmen to show how they felt about the wall and wall building at various times in history. Government service exams in China long focused on classical Chinese learning, leading to a state of affairs where many of the men sent to govern the frontier were also accomplished poets. The poems capture homesickness, the futility of the wall, love of country, and a variety of other themes present throughout the history of the wall. I'll leave you with my favorite, written by homesick minor frontier official Cen Shen:

I gaze eastward toward my homeland, along the endlessly stretching road,
My two sleeves drenched with never-drying tears.
Encountering you here on horseback I have no paper or brush;
I trust you to take back word, that all is well.
Profile Image for Julia.
35 reviews6 followers
January 3, 2021
O livro é um bom apanhado da história chinesa do ponto de vista da Grande Muralha, ainda que bastante cheio de datas que muitas vezes vão e voltam e nomes de pessoas que escapam após um tempo. Mesmo assim, é compreensível mesmo para quem não domina História Antiga. Ela faz uma boa reconstrução de como a Muralha é constantemente resgatada como um símbolo nacionalista nos últimos séculos (e intensa atração turística nas últimas décadas) e como foi um sistema de defesa pífio.

A Lovell traz boas anedotas e pontos de reflexão, mas o livro tem muitas vezes um tom sarcástico ou condescendente com a história e os líderes chineses ao longo de toda a sua história. Me pergunto se ela usaria o mesmo tom para falar de líderes europeus ou estadunidenses (ela critica brevemente a Thatcher).

A conclusão é questionável: Lovell argumenta que da Grande Muralha à Great Firewall, a China é uma nação que sempre foi e sempre será isolacionista de alguma forma. Geograficamente nos tempos antigos e para os valores do "mundo de fora", segundo Lovell. A Muralha vira uma metáfora para a China não ser liberal. É uma linha de raciocínio que vale ser discutida, ainda que a metáfora seja um pouco brega.

Particularmente, acho determinista e também questionável o argumento. Com uma "abertura para o livre comércio" no século XIX que se deu de forma traumática na base do canhão durante a Guerra do Ópio, o argumento poderia ter um pouco mais de nuance em alguns pontos.
Profile Image for Kevin.
43 reviews2 followers
July 12, 2019
A very interesting look at the Great Wall as an ideology and symbol over the centuries rather than a physical object (which wasn't built as most of us picture it until relatively late in China's history). The book dates itself in places, having been released at the tail end of the age of globalization, but if anything has only become more relevant in the age of Trump and escalating climate change. I would've rated it higher if the narrative hadn't been poisoned at points by the author's obvious and strident anticommunism, not that it was surprising; anticommunism is so deeply ingrained in academia that it's seen as obviously and objectively true, and you can just assert (as the author does) that Mao was the most destructive ruler in China's history without feeling the need to back it up. This especially becomes clear in the conclusion, in which the author passes on just about every conventional wisdom trope of evil totalitarian China (somehow distinct from Amerikkkan "democracy") one can think of.
Profile Image for Pieter.
387 reviews54 followers
November 5, 2017
De Chinese Muur staat toch China zoals de Eiffeltoren tot Frankrijk. Het is onlosmakelijk deel van haar cultureel patrimonium en symbool van het land. Uiteraard is het een mythe dat het werk zichtbaar is vanuit de ruimte, maar het blijft een enorme inspanning om deze te bouwen. Arbeid die zich over meerdere eeuwen heeft gespreid. Daarbij beschouwt de auteur de Chinese Muur veeleer als een isolement, eerder dan een beschermende rol. Het taalgebruik doet vermoeden dat Lovell zowel de Chinese traditie als de Europese bezoekers zoals de jezuïeten een eng denken verwijt. Dat lijkt me op zijn minst bijzonder kort door de bocht. Bovendien leest het boek te anekdotisch zonder een gedegen kennis van de Chinese geschiedenis.
Profile Image for Daniel.
51 reviews
June 7, 2021
Lovell offers much insight into ancient China (and Mongolia by necessity) and provides some very interesting ideas about what we call The Great Wall. In actuality, there is not one specific wall but a variety of them constructed by different dynasties over a long period of time—all of which, according to Lovell, never truly protected China from invasion. There are some interesting ideas about why each part of the wall was constructed, and Lovell offers details into different aspects of construction, but for me the most interesting things to learn were the different cultures represented over time. China as we know it by no means developed in a linear fashion, and Lovell does a very nice job revealing multiple aspects of Chinese history via the central topic.
Profile Image for Kim Wingerei.
Author 4 books2 followers
July 5, 2021
The Great Wall as the metaphor of history

The Chinese walls of many names, shrouded in myths and legend, the Great Wall is a fascinating read of the broad sweeps of history of China. As the western world grapples with China reclaiming its past and yet again becoming a world leader, this is an important book to help understand just how differently it sees itself and the world.
Profile Image for Spen Cer.
160 reviews2 followers
October 22, 2021
A straightforward and interesting trip through Chinese history with a focus on the wall. I don’t agree with others that there is anything wrong with the tone of this book. It’s pretty clear from the facts that the wall was, and remains a problem. I learned a lot about the wall and I’m happy to say it’s no longer on my bucket list.
26 reviews
June 14, 2018
Põhjalik ülevaade hiinlaste maailmavaate kujunemisest legendaarse Suure Müüri (või siis Suurte Müüride) kaudu. Kui Hiinast absoluutselt mitte midagi ei tea, siis on see raamat kindlasti väga hea koht, kust alustada.
Profile Image for Brian Bigelow.
Author 35 books61 followers
June 18, 2017
I thought the book was well researched. One concept that surprised me a bit was that the wall was used for consolidating territory. There are a few other surprises in store too.
Profile Image for Kelley.
21 reviews
May 4, 2015
I was rather disappointed with this book. While I really enjoyed the concept and following the history of China using the Great Wall as a constant, I found this book extremely difficult to read. It's like the author wrote one section at a time and then tried to mash them together to make a chapter. Often they could be very repetitive, which makes me wonder if they edited the book properly. It was weird to have something said at the beginning chapter that was again explained later on. Now, I read many history non-fictions (I was planning on getting my Masters degree in History) but I it would take me 15-20 minutes to read each page because I would have to re-read sentences. They were just too long - often an entire paragraph was made up of one whole sentence with multiple commas, dashes and semi-colons breaking up several separate ideas. My favorite chapter was definitely the last as I thought it has the most insight. I did learn a lot about Chinese history which I did not know before, but it was still quite a painful read.
Profile Image for CountZeroOr.
297 reviews19 followers
July 22, 2012
Very well done book, covering how historical China's border-wall building was fueled by (and recursively lead to), their imperialist ambitions and isolationist attitudes, and how that would effect the country in the future. That said, some of the other elements that effect these attitudes (the unpredictability of the Yangtze river requiring any centralized government to focus it's attention inward on *that* in order to make sure everyone gets fed, is only given brief mention, which is kind of unfortunate.

Still, it's a good book, and you should check it out.
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,964 reviews205 followers
November 23, 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. China is a fascinating country with 3000 years of history and a myriad of inventions, rich in traditions and culture. It is also a country that has experienced enormous upheaval and change. This book is a good starting point for someone seeking to know more about China.
Profile Image for Aurelin.
51 reviews4 followers
March 16, 2008
It helped me to gain a somewhat clearer picture of Chinese history (1 book is not enough, my score now is 2 and that only means I have some vague understanding of who came after whom), but the emphasis being on the wall, it kind of felt as though some other aspects were left out of the book.
Profile Image for Wan Peter.
500 reviews
December 31, 2012
Eye opener for the histronical and scenic view. Quite a disapponting book, did not captivate (Julia) me, her narrative were blend and I closed this book at chapter 9. Most of her view were just cut and paste to me. What a way to end this book.
Profile Image for Natalie.
118 reviews
September 5, 2013
Un libro interesante sobre la historia de China, vista desde la famosa Gran Muralla. Rompe con algunos de los mitos que rodean la Gran Muralla y explican el significado fisico y psicologico que las murallas han tenido para China a lo largo de su historia.
4 reviews
May 12, 2009
In depth, comprehensive, western view of China's history. Need a similar book by an eastern author to compare.
Profile Image for Foggygirl.
1,685 reviews27 followers
April 18, 2011
A fascinating and extremely well researched book about this most iconic of Chinese landmarks.
871 reviews4 followers
January 27, 2011
Interesting...but this book is as long as the great wall itself. It is not a page turner but you will learn something.
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