2007   USA China's Great Wall
China's Great Wall Image Cover
Additional Images
Studio:National Geographic
Genre:Documentary, History
Duration:94 min
  ...  (Director)
  ...  (Writer)
Andrew Solomon  ...  Narrator
Summary: China's Great Wall is a two-part special that brings to life tales of those who lived and died building China's greatest defensive structure. Using state-of-the-art CGI animation, this special explores the original construction techniques, and features interviews from archaeologists and scientists on the latest findings about the monumental structure

Mongol Invaders

In March, 1907, Aurel Stein, a British explorer and adventurer, and his caravan make their way through the Taklimakan desert. Giant ruins grab their attention: it is the Jade Gate, the westernmost point of a more than two-thousand-year-old fortification system. The walls, once built with clay and straw, are barely identifiable in some parts, but the fortification must have had great significance in the past. Travel back in time to around 130 BC. For centuries, belligerent nomads from the north have been raiding, looting and pillaging Chinese settlements. The contrast could not be more pronounced: wild horsemen roaming the desert on the one side, on the other a population of settled farmers. Following a campaign against the "barbarians," Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty decides to build a wall against the enemies. Construction starts near the location where Aurel Stein would find the ruins of the Jade Gate two thousand years later. Thousands of forced labour convicts were sent to the northwestern part of China, and thousands paid with their lives. Although the wall of the Han Dynasty crumbled into dust, subsequent dynasties built their own walls up to form the stone wall that became a monumental structure and a global icon.

Protecting the Dragon

In September, 1792, King George III dispatches the first British trade mission to China. Under the leadership of Lord George Macartney, the delegation intends to persuade Emperor Qian-long to open his country for trade with the West. After months of Qian-long's stalling tactics, the Brits take a three day journey out from Beijing, to be greeted with a view few Europeans had seen before: the Great Wall winding its way across mountains, valleys and verdant plains. Macartney believed this was "the most stupendous work of human hands," and this perception of the "Great Wall" would endure to this day. But China was surrounded by not one, but two walls: a physical and a mental one. Since the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), China had tried to shut itself off from the outside world. Mongol and later Manchu invaders found gaps in the northern frontiers. One of the most tenacious opponents, Altan Khan (16th century), even dared lay siege to Beijing. As a result, the walls were fortified even further, fortresses and garrisons were built. Finally, the wall reached the sea, enclosing China and shutting out anything foreign for centuries to come. Eventually, this attitude was the Ming Dynasty's undoing. In 1644, a rebel Manchu took the Dragon Throne. Macartney's mission (in the late 18th century) was a colossal failure, but his assessment of the Great Wall remained deeply engrained in the minds of Westerners, a myth that shrouds the true story of the wall even today.

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