Juyong Pass: 7th May 2014
They called us early today, for they wanted to show us a sector of the Great Wall of China, and wanted to get there before the majority of the crowds did.
Those parts of the wall accessible from Beijing date from the mid-14th Century, when the Ming dynasty came to power. They wanted to protect their capital from the raids of the Mongol tribes from the north, and, as a defence against these, the existing wall, some of which dated from the 7th Century BC, was strengthened, and, in some places, re-aligned.
Stone, bricks and tiles were used in the construction. Guards could survey the surrounding land, and easily communicate with each other by way of the estimated 25,000 watchtowers and signal towers along the wall’s length.
In spite of these formidable defences, the wall was unable to prevent the invasion of the Manchus in 1644. This brought the Ming dynasty to an end, and established the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China until 1912.
The section we visited was at the Juyong Pass, where the wall, zig-zagging crazily over the hills, swoops down to cross a river, then almost immediately ascends again. It really is a picturesque place, with the ornate towers at frequent intervals.
It has been maintained and, if necessary, repaired. At least one guidebook grumbled that one stretch of wall ‘ … looked like it had been pointed yesterday’. It probably had.
But, if they wanted to see crumbling and overgrown, they only needed to go a little further afield, to where erosion, weathering and local people treating it as a quarry for ready-dressed stone have taken their toll.
Mao Zedong once said: ‘You cannot be a great man until you have walked the Great Wall’. That’s easier said than done here. The problem is not so much the steepness, but the awkwardly-sized steps … presumably, to slow down the enemy if they ever got to the top of the wall? I’m six feet tall, but found the going extremely uncomfortable.
So, I wonder if the few hundred metres I did manage qualify me for ‘greatness’?