November 28, 2012

The Great Wall

Third day of our visit to China was the day I was looking forward to — to scale a tiny section of the formidable great wall. The original itinerary included the Badaling, and we did rush there beating Beijing’s chaotic morning traffic. But snowfall and traffic forced us to go see the wall near Juyong pass instead, the one that was used by Mongol invaders, time and again, to enter the middle kingdom, which eventually forced the Chinese emperor to build one there to stop recurring attacks.

The single most fascinating reason for me to revisit China, if I would ever, would be to scale the Great Wall again. With as ancient as 2,200 years old, and over 21,000km long, the kind of exhilaration I felt just being on that wall, as I jogged a section of the strategic Juyong pass early this month, is hard to adequately to express in words. In Ian Johnston’s translation, Franz Kafka’s essay on The Great Wall of China (published by Max Brod fourteen years after Kafka’s death) notes thus:

The hopelessness of such a hard task, which could not be completed even in a long human lifetime, would have caused them distress and, more than anything else, made them worthless for work. For that reason the system of building in sections was chosen. Five hundred meters could be completed in something like five years, by which time naturally the supervisors were, as a rule, too exhausted and had lost all faith in themselves, in the building, and in the world.