The Great Wall of China Essay

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Topic: Essay on Why Was the Great Wall of China Built?

The construction of the Great Wall of China was apparently one of the major achievements of Chinese civilization, but till the present moment the reasons for the construction of the Wall are still unclear. There exist different versions concerning the creation of the Great Wall of China and its reasons but none of them is absolutely reliable and the arguments concerning this problem persist. Among specialists that were the most successful in the research of the major reasons of the construction of the Great Wall of China may be named Arthur Waldron and Thomas Barfield. Both scientists researched this problem in-depth but they view the major reasons of the construction of the Wall in quite a different way, though the position of both scientists in the understanding of this problem is of paramount importance. The analysis of works by Arthur Waldron and Thomas Barfield shows that while Waldron follows the policy debates under the Ming in detail, his account of these debates and their influence on the building of the Great Wall is insufficient without taking into account the broader issue of Ming fear of the Mongols. Only by emphasizing this fear, as Thomas Barfield does, can we really understand Ming policy.

The building of the Great Wall of China was a very complicated process that needed huge resources and efforts of the entire Chinese people, but as both Arthur Waldron and Thomas Barfield believe, the building of the Wall had contingent causes. Consequently, the building of the Wall was not determined by some inevitable factors but was rather determined by some more mercantile and pragmatic considerations than just an ordinary attempt of Ming dynasty to protect China from the Mongols. In contrast, the construction of the Wall was not the only solution of this problem and it was needed to be supported by other improvements such as the enforcing Chinese military forces to protect from the Mongols, while the Wall, even after its creation, could not totally prevent China from attacks from the North.

On analyzing the major factors that contributed to the building of the Great Wall of China, Arthur Waldron lays emphasis on the fact that the view on the earlier wall-building in China was extremely exaggerated (132). He argues that the dynasties prior to Ming dynasty did not pay so much attention to the building of the Wall and they did not really rely on the Wall as an unsurpassable barrier for Mongols armies. Instead, the Wall was just several attempts to create some fortification used for informing Chinese armies about the approaching enemy and the earlier Wall could be viewed as a part, though not the most important one, of the military infrastructure of China.

During Ming dynasty, the interest to the building of the Great Wall increased dramatically and Arthur Waldron attempts to explain this interest by the current situation in China and its relations with the Mongols. According to Arthur Waldron, Ming dynasty did not have any effective policy which could overcome the confrontation with the Mongols or which could improve the position of China consistently (77). The situation in the domestic policy was also quite disturbing since Ming dynasty needed to increase its authority and popularity among people of China. This is why Waldron suggests that the Wall was built to demonstrate the power of Ming dynasty to Chinese people and make them feel that they belong to one and the same country under the rule of the only dynasty, Ming dynasty (81).

The arguments of Waldron are quite convincing since he shows that the situation at Ming court was favorable for the construction of the Wall because the idea of the creation of such a monumental fortification could prove the ability of Ming dynasty to unite the nation and build an unparalleled fortification indicating to the technological and, therefore, intellectual, military and financial superiority of China compared to the Mongols. To a significant extent, the decision of building the Great Wall was determined by ideological factors based on the opposition of civilized China and barbaric Mongols. This ideology was dominant in the period of the rule of Ming dynasty.

However, all these factors cannot fully explain the reasons of the building of the Great Wall because, in spite of ideology, domestic policy, and complicated relations with Mongols of Ming dynasty, the decision to spent so much efforts and financial resources to build the Wall is a bit illogical because these resources could be used more effectively to solve domestic problems of China and enhance its military power that could oppose to the Mongols and prevent them from attacks. In such a situation, it is only the position of Thomas Barfield that makes the arguments of Waldron really convincing on the condition that the arguments of Barfield are taken into account. Thomas Barfield agrees with Arthur Waldron that the building of the Wall was determined by contingent factors and it was not really necessary to build the Wall (129), especially if one takes into consideration the low effectiveness of the Wall as a serious obstacle to Mongolian armies.

Thomas Barfield insists that the real motives of Ming dynasty were quite subjective and determined by the historical experience of Chinese people and past dynasties that ruled China (143). China had serious problems in relations with the Mongols because the country repeatedly suffered from regular attacks of the Mongols who attacked the territory of the country from the North. This is why the wall-building was started in the North of China even before Ming dynasty came into power. Consequently, Ming dynasty simply continued the historical tradition of previous dynasties and built the Great Wall, which was consistently better fortified than any other Wall built by predecessors of Ming.

The researcher also underlines that the decision of Ming to build the Wall was also determined by the fear of China in face of Mongolian threat (Barfield, 138). Ming dynasty needed this fortification in order to feel secure from the attacks of the Mongols and this could make all Chinese people feel more secure too because they believed that they had built a great fortification, unsurpassable for any enemy, including the Mongols, which were the major threat to China throughout centuries.

Thus, it is possible to understand the basic reasons of the building of the Great Wall of China only when the positions of both Arthur Waldron and Thomas Barfield are taken into consideration. The building of the Great Wall was not determined by some inevitable factors since it was not the only mean to protect China from Mongolian attacks and achieve the major goals of Ming dynasty in the domestic policy.

It was rather the result of the combination of all the factors defined by the researchers, Arthur Waldron and Thomas Barfield. Ming dynasty really needed to improve its position in China and unite Chinese people in terms of one country and one nation. The building of the Wall also perfectly met the dominant ideology of China since it demonstrated the technological superiority of China compared with the Mongols, but, what was probably the most important, the fear of Ming dynasty as well as all Chinese people of attacks of Mongolian armies was one of the most important factors that determined the decision of Ming dynasty to build the Great Wall of China.

As a result, the Great Wall of China became the symbol of the power of Ming dynasty, unity of Chinese people, its technological advancement, and it was viewed as a serious or even unsurpassable barrier on the way of the Mongols which represented the major threat to China.

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