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The Great Wall of China

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 29 April 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Great Wall of China.

The Great Wall is not a single Wall. It is not visible from space, contrary to popular belief, as it is much too thin. But it remains a spectacular architectural and historical phenomenon.

The Great Wall's military importance, and its symbolic power, have varied widely in its long existence, as its place in Chinese life has shifted with the country's history.

It was initially constructed at the command of the first Emperor, from 221 BC, and was a combination of the various protective walls that had been built by the smaller states which he had conquered and merged to form China.

The original Wall was made of pounded earth, and in places the wind-carved remains of this two thousand year old construction are still visible.

But the Wall which is familiar to us today is the work of the Ming Dynasty, and its vast programme of reinforcement - prompted by a renewed threat from the Mongols in the north.

In the 17th century, amazed Jesuits sent back reports to Europe about the Wall, and ever since it has held a powerful place in the imagination of the West.

Some scholars argue that this in turn has shaped the modern Chinese appreciation of their astounding inheritance.

Julia Lovell
Lecturer in Chinese History at Birkbeck College, University of London

Rana Mitter
Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford

Frances Wood
Head of the Chinese Section at the British Library

PRODUCER: PHIL TINLINE.

  • FURTHER READING

    Barmé, Geremie, and Roberts, Claire (eds), ‘The Great Wall’ (Sydney, Powerhouse Publishing, 2006)

    Lovell, Julia, ‘The Great Wall: China Against the World’ (Atlantic, 2006)

    Macartney, George, ‘An Embassy to China: Being the Diary Kept by Lord Macartney During his Embassy to the Emperor Chi'ien-lung 1793-1794’, ed by J. L Cranmer-Byng, (London, Folio Society, 2004)

    Schwartz, Daniel, ‘The Great Wall’ (Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1991)

    Waldron, Arthur, ‘The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth’ (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

    Zhewen, Luo, ‘The Great Wall: In History and Legend’ (Foreign Languages Press; 1st edition, 1986)

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