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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Great Wall and maybe a not so great idea?

Another disastrous public works initiative.

by StFerdIII

 Apologists for the greatness of multi-culturalism will point to a crumbling artifact like the Great Wall[s] of China as proof that all societies and cultures are 'great' and 'equal'. The Great Wall is a curious and extraordinary relic indeed. It is a series of walls, 6200 km in length, built over 1800 years, with a clear majority of the building projects taking place during the Ming Dynasty of roughly 1300-1600 A.D. The Wall however, never kept out the Mongolian and Manchurian steppe tribes. Chinghis Khan and his descendants had little trouble with the structures, subduing China in the 13th century, and the Manchu's repeated that feat taking over China in the l7th. The Wall was a failure.

Walls are usually expressions of a failure in policy. When you visit the Wall you can't help but notice that it serves little real military purpose. The Walls in the north of China run impressively up and down the tops of the low range mountains which guard the Chinese capital and the river systems which generate a fertile area of cultivation and civilization – sure to attract dusty nomads from the desert eager to participate in the fruits created by more advanced societies. The rebuilt walls are great fun to trot up and down on like bipedal goats, with some of the walls so severely inclined that you literally slide down the other side. But beyond the luxury of good exercise the Walls serve and served no real objective.

Historically the Mongol and Manchurian horsemen would never trod their ponies up and down steep mountain ranges. They never did. This is not how mobile forces operate. The Mongols were mobile archers who operated on the plains. They did not attack or try to conquer areas unsuited to their method of military engagement. By building a wall over a mountain range you are not achieving much, except to spend vast sums of money and men in its construction, artificially inflating domestic industry but certainly ruining your finances. More than 1 million men died building the Walls and billions in today's money was spent on this public works endeavour. Surely there were cheaper and better ways to achieve policy objectives than building thousands of kilometres of wall over terrain that the enemy would never use for invasion anyways ?

But the 'experts' say, the walls stretch more than 3.000 km to the West, surely that provides a bastion of safety and obstruction against armies carried on ponies? Not really. The capital investment of creating a sprawling public works project is enormous. It is however a tithe of the total costs of public construction. Maintenance and operational costs to make the Walls effective would have drained imperial budgets and led to high taxation, confiscation, coerced levied labour, and widespread social discontent.

Once built you now have to staff the Walls and their stockades with an incredibly numerous army which demands food, armour, entertainment, women, and eventually military action. The logistics of this alone are staggering. Food and material supply and industry are diverted from the market economy to the military economy. Distortions in prices of foodstuffs must surely follow, making the peasant's life that much harder and breeding more social tension and resentment. The Wall will also demand a permanent army of occupation along its perimeter territories, sure to breed military tension, rivalries and likely a civil war.

Given the crude composition of the Walls – mostly wood, cheap mortar, rocks and stones – they also must crumble over time. This necessitates a permanent maintenance to make the Walls a coherent line of defence – a fiscal impossibility over hundreds of years. Indeed you would need a second army – the maintenance army – to keep the line in repair. Once ignored gaps will of course open up in the Walls, ones certainly wide enough for armies to pour through, as budgets, maintenance and the will power to support the Walls collapse.

The Manchus conquered China in the early 17th century by going right through the gaps in the decaying Walls and taking advantage of social strife, rebellion and peasant uprisings in Ming China. The Wall was proven useless. Beijing or Peking was conquered very quickly by the pony riding Manchus. A small force of Manchus effaced the Ming civilization of some 250 million Chinese.

The Chinese empire was conquered by about 120,000 Manchus. ....In 1644, the Manchus took advantage of the rebellion and chaos in the Chinese empire and moved south. Forming an alliance with a Ming loyalist general, they entered Beijing in June and almost immediately took power for themselves. A combination of military campaigns and diplomacy enabled them to wipe out the remains of Ming resistance, and they soon won the all-important support of the Yangzi valley gentry. By 1673 they had completed their conquest of China, though they continued to expand well into the next century, bringing Xinjiang and Taiwan into the motherland.”

The Great Wall[s] had so impaired the Ming dynasty that its internal implosion was guaranteed. It was a failed policy and one generated by a mixture of weakness, poor judgement and supremacism. The Han Chinese had always believed themselves to be superior to the Mongols and Manchus. It would have been cheaper and better policy to open up trade, commercial and cultural contacts and to staff a large, advanced and mobile army to shadow and thwart any invasion plans. It would have taken far less money and men. I wonder what the modern pious multi-culturalist has to say about these facts ?

Chinghis Khan was supposedly 'forced' to invade China because the Chinese refused to trade with the Mongols. Life on the steppes is harsh an uncompromising. Trade is necessary and the Silk Road is testimony to the far reaching power and impact commerce can have on societies. By denying Chinghis' tribes access to manufacture, money and comestible items, the Han Chinese through an arrogant supposition that they were the centre of the world, sealed their own fate. Better to have opened up the Mongol plains to Chinese civilizational and cultural imperialism, and to maintain a visible and mobile form of military engagement, than to wall off the world, and pretend that a structure of wood, bricks and stones, would forever ossify the order of things; and solidify Ming greatness.

Walls are usually pretty good indications of a failure of policy and vision. This is the great lesson of the perhaps not-so-Great Walls of Ming China.