The Great Wall Explained
"The Great Wall is more than an object, it is a subject."
After William Geil’s historic traverse of the Ming Great Wall (1908) and his authoring of the first dedicated book on the subject (1909), it would be another 70 years before any more Great Wall related books followed. Most were in Chinese, while just a handful appeared in English. The latter were mainly historical acoounts, written by researchers with little field experience of the extensive ruins. While this approach was the only possible method of subject-treatment during the period of China’s ‘abnormal relations’ with the outside world (c. 1950-1976), this 'remote' style of writing continued into the new period of China’s normalisation of its relations with the rest of the world as Deng Xiaoping opened the country to increasing number of foreigners from the early 1980s.
I was among those numbers of 'first footers'. Having accrued extensive experience of the Great Walls’ ruins, I realised that I was well-qualified to write a new-style account of the Great Wall, not by merely looking back at historical accounts as 'remote authors had done, but by incorporating first-hand descriptions and explanations of the Walls’ architecture and construction methods, the geographical reasons for the Wall’s raison d’être and modern conservation issues.
This multi-disciplinary approach, the first of its kind, and the increased amount of field work looking ‘outside’ the Wall, in the ancients’ nomadic lands, generated a storehouse of material and knowledge that I have used to compile a milestone work: The Great Wall Explained. The book has become what is tantamount to an essential text for journalists, filmmakers, students and those planning excursions along it for more than just a day or so.
Conscious that it's easy to write a complex book that readers cannot understand, I strove to embed my knowledge within a personal narrative, and prioritise accessibility, specifically in order to interest students — in China and around the world — for they are the key to creating a better future for the Great Walls of China. I don’t think the Great Wall’s future will be in safe hands until a generation of university students have studied its diversity as a subject for a semester-length period.
WildWall Weekends helped me design my project to explain the Great Wall. One of our WildWall Weekend guests, Prof. Robin Fawcett, wrote the following comment in our Visitor’s Book: “A wonderful weekend of learning. Thank you for delivering so much scholarly information in such a digestible way, and sharing your experiences, knowledge, anecdotes and insights at such a magical place.”
Now with a Second Edition in press, the expanded book aims to deliver even more scholarly information in a digestible way by sharing my experiences, knowledge, anecdotes and insights of not one, but hundreds of magical places that collectively are simply known as ‘The Great Wall’.