UNC senior lecturer Jock Lauterer is on a two-week Fulbright to China to give lectures and lead seminars at three Beijing universities. He is the author of “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” 3rd. Ed, and most recently was the project manager for Prof. Chen Kai’s groundbreaking 2012 book, “An Introduction to Community Newspapers in the U.S.”
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Describing the Great Wall of China is like trying to find words for the Taj Mahal, the Grand Tetons or the Grand Canyon — or any other of the Seven Wonders of the World; words fail, and the photographs are almost an insult, trivializing the magnificent.
Built in the 1600s of the Ming Dynasty, the “fire towers” every 1/8th mile or so, stand as square, imposing yet artful defensive battlements seemingly impenetrable by any outside force. And yet we learn how the troops of opposing warlord General Ghuang broke through at a low point and stormed the valley below. Gazing at the ruins today, one can easily imagine the sword-wielding archers at battle.
The fire towers get their name because on top of each flat-topped building, the ancient defenders could light signal fires to alert the next tower of danger, sending an emergency message from tower to tower, so on down the line. A 911 call, so to speak, in 1600s style.
Connecting the fire towers is the wall itself — rising 20 to 30 feet vertically out of the dramatically steep mountainside, rocky and tree covered and with an incline so precipitous that the first timer gapes at the challenges of primitive construction, much less the seemingly insurmountable physical challenges facing any attacker had to face.
The lives lost to its building remind me, yet again, of the Taj Mahal. The edifice lasts, but the lives of countless simple hard-working humans are lost forever, only to be wondered at.
As you gaze at the staggering sight battlements, walls, fortifications, all castle-like — snaking up and down the mountainside and valleys and lining the peaks threateningly and imposing as shark’s teeth, the Great Wall of China seems to cry out, “Come this way at your own peril, fool; we are prepared.”