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Great Expectations for a Great Wall - Siebel Scholars China Delegation

ARTICLE BY: Brigette Wolf, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management '03

May 7th 2011

They say it’s the only man made structure on Earth you can see with the naked eye from space, but that’s a pop culture myth. In actuality, the Great Wall of China is a rich source of China’s history, one of the world’s largest outdoor museums and where the 2011 Siebel Scholars delegation to China began its journey.

We were greeted by a rare blue cloudless sky as we drove 90 minutes from Beijing to the see one of the icons of China. Given all the hype around The Great Wall was it really going to live up to expectations? Our guide William Lindsay is a passionate “wall” enthusiast and conservationist who once walked the entire 1387 miles of the Great Wall. William’s summary of the Great Wall was a bold, yet compelling one. He said, “In the future we will have incredible advances in space, medicine, technology and communications, but in terms of blood, sweat and tears, The Great Wall will never be surpassed.” There, the bar was set.

For how big the Great Wall is, my understanding of it was quite small. This could be why learning about the Great Wall was so interesting. Lesson #1 – The Wall is not just 1 wall. It is a series of at least 13 walls created by 13 different dynasties over the years since 300 BC. Lesson #2 – The Great Wall was built for protection against the nomads of the north – primarily Mongolians. Walls were not a new concept – in local farming villages they were built around granaries that stored rice. So instead of circular walls protecting rice, the Chinese after much conflict with their northern neighbors, decided to build a long, cross country wall for defense. Lesson #3, most of The Great Walls stone material was sourced very close to the wall enabling the Chinese to shape the landscape further in their favor. Only the bricks at the top of the wall were manufactured. What we saw today was all original from the Ming Wall of the Ming Dynasty.

 

Like any great man-made incredible creations, (Pyramids, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu), The Great Wall is an unbelievable human endeavor. To walk The Great Wall is like riding a rollercoaster by foot. It rolls up and down with various towers in between. Just when you think you’ve reached your destination, there is another rolling wave of wall in front of you. In some spots there are a series of short steps and then big steps and then just a smooth stone floor. Image a huge slip ‘n slide if it rained. I tried to picture the soldiers who had to keep watch along the border and live on the Wall.

Pushing on, we climbed up a series of steep steps on one of the towers and then looked around. Beautiful views everywhere. We had just completed a teeny piece of The Great Wall. Behind you and in front of you, the Great Wall continues for almost 1000KM more. That is awe-inspiring. That does wonders for jet lag.