Great Wall of China Situational Assessment


The whole world is well aware of the Great Wall of China. It is an iconic symbol that represents the face of China in terms of culture, history, political views, attitudes and national character in general. Mao Zedong, the father of modern China quoted that one is not man enough if they have not visited the Great Wall (Hayford, 103). Indeed, the phrase has been widely adopted by the media and by tourist promoters. The Wall itself is an iconic set of permanent structures that have withstood the harshness of the elements over thousands of years; just like the Chinese culture that largely remains intact despite the passage of time. The Great Wall of China is now, an important ingredient in the heritage of the Chinese. It is a source of pride for the nation, as other countries view it with admiration (Huang, 65-6). The wall has become synonymous with China. It defines Chinese character in modern society. What people do not know is that there is no single wall. The Great Wall is a series of walls built over time by several separate dynasties for varying intentions. The question is how the Great Wall of China has become such a significant national symbol.

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The great wall and artistic symbolism

As opposed to a static conceptualized symbol, the Great Wall of China has evolved over time and keeps doing so. According to philosopher Gu Yanwu and Sima Qian, philosophers of the Chinese History in different times, the wall was a symbol of cruel ways of the first emperor in his ambitions in the pre-modern era. Such a notion was reflected in one of the common legends (Gao, 773). By the time the 19th C was ending, the negative implications subsided, and in their place came positive nationalistic views of consolidation identity and national power. The wall featured in art forms from China in the 1930s. The wall was used by the Chinese army to rout Japanese attackers during the 1937 Sino-Japanese war. In time, the wall acquired a symbolic meaning of resistance against invasion by foreigners. It, consequently, found favor with the artists during the war.

The greatness in the way the wall is viewed is informed in part by the reality of military activity during the time and the media in the course of the war; as opposed to the earlier abstract significance. According to the father of modern China, Yat-sen, popularized the wall as a symbol of the unity and identity of the Chinese people. It signified the resistance to foreign invasion in the first part of the 20th C. (Gao, 774). It is worth noting that despite all the efforts to popularize the wall, it was during the Japanese invasion of the 1930s that the wall gained its true symbolic significance that we know today

Works making use of the Great Wall for symbolic purpose were scarce during the Mao era (194976). The Wall was portrayed against such features as industries, reservoirs and other modern developments to signify the difference between the old and the new. It was an impression of the inferiority of the past versus the present; albeit temporarily (Gao, 774). After the death of Mao, near the end of the Cultural Revolution, and after the reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping in the latter parts of the 70s, some from China such as the 85 Movement started portraying the image of the Great Wall of China to demonstrate aesthetic concerns, as opposed to the concerns of the state. The artists ushered in the post Tiananmen avant-garde art movement of the 1990s. The random representation of the Great Wall happened at the same time as the rise of the new generation of artists and their goals. The artists of the 1980s and the 90s attempted to reshape the collective historical significance of the Great Wall into a utilitarian icon that could help deal with the complex and ambiguous contemporary demands placed on their artistic in-tray.

Significance of the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China can be regarded from two perspectives. Firstly, it is important to examine the significance of the wall during the early dynasties and how it influenced the power of the emperors at the time. The second way is to view the Great Wall of China as a symbolic icon of Chinese unity, culture, identity and pride in modern day, and, finally, as an architectural wonder.

The main objective of the construction of the Great Wall of China was to defend territory against foreign marauding forces. However, the wall gained more meaning during the Dynasty of Qing, by acquiring cultural value. The Great Wall is a marvelous 50 foot high, 3000 mile long stone structure. It is clearly a great feat.

The wall transformed into a psychological reality representing the essence of the Chinese people and the world, in general. The great wall is a representation of the barrier against western ideology and influence. Modern and ancient Chinese leaders alike, converge on the feeling that the west is a threat to Chinese existence since 300 BCE.

The symbolism of the Great Wall cannot be underestimated. It is a symbol of wisdom because it has lived through the times. The wall evokes emotion by reminding people of the strife that people encountered when it was built. Lately, it is a great tourist attraction and an economic magnate. Its uniting significance cannot be underestimated either.

The Great Wall of China is a representation of ingenious engineering and ambition. It is said to be the work by humans that can be spotted right from the distant moon. It is a union of architecture and the landscape. It is a living testimony that China has old civilizations. The rammed earth segments of the wall date back to the ancient Western Han, and are conserved within the Gansu Province. The acclaimed masonry of the Ming period is also captured in the symbolism (Su and Wall, 146-56). The wall is a significant icon and masterpiece of military architecture which was used for a single purpose for 2000 years but also one that has evolved perfectly through the changing political environments and .

The Great Wall of China is viewed and widely noted today as a humongous architectural achievement in the history of man. It was designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO IN 1987. Man has made roads that break through the wall over the time in different locations. Some sections have been run down as a result of years of neglect. Badaling is the best known section of the Great Wall of China. It was put up in the latter parts of 1950s, and runs for 70 kilometers (43 miles). It is a great attraction to both foreign and local tourists.

Symbolism of the great wall

By even its name alone, the Great Wall of China is imposing. It is an architectural marvel in its own right. It is a representation of a range of aspects of the people of China and humanity. It captures the military and political power, architectural superiority and a cultural metaphor for the polity and general population of Chinese citizenry in modern day. While the building of the wall was done thousands of years ago, i.e. in 3 BC with an alteration last made in the 17th AD, the structure symbolizes inner meaning that the existence of it as an artifact may never capture. In UNESCOs assessment, the wall represents the conflict throughout history between various social and economic interests. It recaptures the conflicts that ensued between nomadic communities and the agricultural civilizations of ancient China. UNESCO sums up by pointing out that the Great Wall signals the remarkable farsighted, strategic and political thinking of the leaders of the time, the architecture by the military and the art of technology in ancient China. Although the wall might have been primarily built for defense purposes serving successive Chinese empires, it is now a symbol of Chinese Unity, culture and identity beyond time.

Although China is endowed with progressive modern and futuristic cosmopolitans, it remains a country of walls. The modern structures are placed side by side with the barricaded cities of yester year. There is deference to the past in the way of architecture and even economic activity. Business is driven by adherence to relationships and guanxi. Such a stance creates walls naturally. Guanxi represents a circle of trusting networks. It shuns outsiders from business interaction (Pearce II and Robinson Jr., 31.). The separation marks insiders and differentiates them from outsiders. Businesses in China are faced with the challenge of overcoming the culture of conducting trade, based on networks, relationships and trust. Companies from overseas are particularly challenged because they lack the much needed ingredient to take off; relationships they can count on.

The Chinese government continues to perpetuate the culture of walling against the rest of the world. In its recent deference to such past practices, it seeks to bar the insiders from partaking with the rest of the world on the World Wide Web. The technology barriers that the authorities keep propping up are now referred to as the great firewall of China. The government closely monitors and regulates the internet. There are internal and external walls between corporations and the citizens. China does not allow the flourishing of social media. In fact, globally used applications such as Facebook and Twitter are outlawed. The Chinese people have crafted their own versions of the social media apps. They use RenRen, Weibo, WeChat and Sino. According to the Global Web Index, 98% of the Chinese are on some kind of social media network (Lee and Ching-U, 125).

In a report by the World Bank, even before 2003, the authorities in China started monitoring internet traffic and peeped into the content of websites. It even blocked some websites. The Golden Shield is the most recent of the programs meant to limit the extent to which the internet spreads in China. It is a project dedicated to filter, monitor, censor and block internet content that the authorities view as harmful or sensitive. China was ranked as the third most restrictive nation globally, as far as internet is concerned. The only countries below it were Cuba and Iraq. North Korea would make the worst but the report does not even include it in the ranking. There was nothing to be compared anyway. North Korea has no internet at all. Google quit China in 2010 because of censorship and monitoring.

Political reforms meant to protect social stability are used as a reason to censor the internet. Political activity is discouraged in the real world, and any threat to the Party is eliminated. Any attacks against leadership in senior positions are removed fast. There is tolerance when criticizing the officials in mid and junior ranks, though. The populace has evolved clever ways of discussing politics and the senior leadership on the internet. They use homophones and pseudonyms. Such terms as harmonized and references to crabs of the river are commonplace references to the invasive ways of the senior leadership.

The symbolic and cultural influence of the Great Wall cuts across the mind of the Chinese citizenry. Indeed, the Chinese citizens regard the Great Wall as an important icon that defines their existence to the rest of the world, although the fine details of its implication are a controversial subject sometimes (Williams, 64). The wall has alternately stood for the glory and tyrannical ways of the heritage of Confucius. It has been a symbol of public hate under the leadership of the communist party. Such an attitude manifested more during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward amidst its representation as a focal point for patriotism.

The Great Wall represents the modern socialist future promise even as it sometimes represents the indestructible spirit of nationhood. The national anthem rallies the nationals to construct their new Great Wall with their flesh and blood (Williams, 64). In 1985, Dend Xiaoping intended to inspire the citizens to pursue economic reform while focusing on the need to love, restore and rebuild their Great Wall (Williams, 64).

Whether the Great Wall is viewed in positive light or through shadowy windows it casts a strong feeling on the Han Chinese. These Chinese still value their social and economic walls. They cherish their segmented and regimented way of life. The Chinese society still remains divided between the outsiders and the insiders to date. Although there was a declaration of an Open Door Policy, the country and society in China remains highly driven by relationships. The same old internal mindset called neibu (internal) separates them from us. The separation affects a varied number of communities including the Han from the minorities, seniors from juniors, members of the Party from nonmembers, and so on.


The Great Wall is the most recognized physical man-made feature of China. It outdoes even some of the renowned natural features across the Chinese landscape. It is filled with historical meaning and political innuendoes that keep evolving over time. It has existed and functioned as an evolving concept, as opposed to a static and rigidly perceived symbol. The huge implication of the Great Wall and its significance that we see, hear of and perceive today was shaped by a range of factors including military reality and public media that covered the war events of the 1930s. The Great Wall was not shaped by abstract concepts. The Chinese Nation is still greatly walled, even as it with post modern designs and outlook. The government is repeating the same old script as when the cities of old built walls to keep raiders at bay by strangling the internet space through building virtual firewalls. Indeed, the reference the great wall of China is a colloquial that refers to the barriers of technology created in China. The Wall has represented both glory and tyranny over the years; from the heritage of Confucius dating back hundreds of years. The Great Wall myth, whether viewed as positive or negative, has greatly influenced the imagination of the Han Chinese who view the Wall as a symbol of unity and pride. They still value their around their social and economic lives at the expense of outsiders in the rather, contemptible system of us versus them. The Great Wall of China stands tall and conspicuous from the moon for a myriad of reasons and meanings to the Chinese and the world.



Works cited

Gao, Minglu. “The Great Wall in Chinese Contemporary Art.” positions: east asia cultures critique 12.3 (2004): 773-786.

Hayford, C. W. “The Great Wall: China against the world, 1000 BC-2000 AD.” (2006): 103.

Huang, Chi. “Deconstructing the Great Wall of China: The Jesuits and British encounters.” History in the Making 1.1 (2012): 65-78.

Lee, Jyh-An, and Ching-U. Liu. “Forbidden City enclosed by the Great Firewall: The law and power of Internet filtering in China.” Minn. JL Sci. & Tech. 13 (2012): 125.

Pearce II, John A., and Richard B. Robinson Jr. “Cultivating guanxi as a foreign investor strategy.” Business Horizons 43.1 (2000): 31.

Su, Ming, and Geoffrey Wall. “Community participation in tourism at a world heritage site: Mutianyu Great Wall, Beijing, China.” International Journal of Tourism Research 16.2 (2014): 146-156.

UNESCO. The Great Wall, (n.d.). Web.

Williams, Dee Mack. Beyond great walls: environment, identity, and development on the Chinese grasslands of inner Mongolia. Stanford University Press, 2002. 64-65. Print.

Wines, Michael, Sharon LaFraniere, and Jonathan Ansfield. “Chinas censors tackle and trip over the Internet.” New York Times 8 (2010).


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