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

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  247 ratings  ·  32 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 21st 2007 by Grove Press (first published February 28th 1981)
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Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 sinocentricity. 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. T ...more
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 c ...more
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 al
Mar 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 relat ...more
Ryan Thorpe
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Delia Hannon
Sep 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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, discussin
Persephone Abbott
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 bo ...more
Harald Groven
Aug 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, china
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 identi
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??
Diego Palomino
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Allison Piehl
Jan 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
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 h
Julia Rosa
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
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 ane
Jul 12, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geschiedenis
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 tradi ...more
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Brian Bigelow
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Alexander Case
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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 un ...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
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.
Aug 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: español, história
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.
Mar 01, 2008 rated it liked it
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.
Wan Peter
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-china
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.
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Julia Lovell writes an impressive book on the history of the 'Long Wall'. It was well written and thoroughly enjoyable. I look forward to reading more of Julia's books in future. ...more
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting...but this book is as long as the great wall itself. It is not a page turner but you will learn something.
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: china
Manuel Barrios
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Magnífica descripción sobre lo que ha supuesto la "fortificación larga" en la historia china, y su papel de metáfora de la propia china. Muy recomendable ...more
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Fantastic history of the structure, history and psychology of the wall of China.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was wondeful to read and it made me think about walls of society in general.
Feb 22, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Repetitive drone .....
Paul French
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
the best all encompoassing book about the Great Wall and about the concepts of walls, real and imagined, in China and Chinese culture.
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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 arti

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