For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and meet the war.
The Hun is at the gate!
——– Rudyard Kipling 1914 Aug
When you visit the Great Wall of China, your guide probably will tell you about the tears and blood buried under each stone, and probably also a story about a sad widow looking for the remains of her husband who died for laboring this Wall. However there was a reason for the Great Wall, which was neither to symbolize the nation, nor to be identified from the space, but to defend against the Huns.
Of course I am not here referring the Huns to the German, but the nomad raiders appeared at Chinese border since around 700 B.C. When the first emperor of China finally conquered the vast land of China at about 221 B.C., he decided to build a continuous fortification system (later known as Great Wall) to keep off the annoying nomad raiders. The construction work was based on the fragmentary walls and strong holds built by the former north war lords under the same reason.
However, the first dynasty Qin of China had experienced the same fate as the Macedonia of Alexander, the empire fallen apart shortly after the death of the emperor. And the next rising empire – like the Roma – the Han dynasty was much more sophisticated.
After submitting and paying tribute to the nomad hordes for quite a few years (around 209 B.C. -128 B.C.), the Han dynasty finally managed to defeat them through a series military successes. Most of these military activities were launched from the strong holds and infrastructures based on the refined Great Wall.
The nomad hordes were thus forced to maneuver west. The French orientalist and sinologist Joseph de Guignes suggests that after about three hundred years they arrived at the east European and be known as the Huns – who terrorized, pillaged, and destroyed much of Asia and Europe.
During 3rd-5th century, the Huns has defeated Ostrogoths(Germans), the Slavs(Russians) the Franks(French), and the Roman Empire, they forced the glorious eastern Roma Empire (Byzantium Empire) to pay huge tributes of gold. And the whole Christian world was shaking, stirring, and falling apart. The Christian leaders had to claim that the Huns were derived from the rage of the God, and their task was to purge the impure Human world – they were the scourge of the God.
Roman villa in Gaul sacked by the hordes of Attila the Hun. Illustration from a book:Georges Rochegrosse, sa vie, son oeuvre [par J. Valmy-Baysse] Nombreuses reproductions ()
Unlike the Europeans and the Asians, the nomadic people such as the Huns usually took no male slaves. Whenever they conquered a place, all males were simply put to death – unless significant amounts of tribute were expectable. Mercy only occasionally happened to small nations (or groups) who submit themselves without any sign of resistance, those nations either serves as slave or expendable mercenary.
Now we know the significance of the Great Wall was way more than the sadness of a widow – it was an issue about dead or alive. It turns out the Emperor of Qin & Han dynasty did not sweat and bleed their people for nothing — if you would imagine—just roughly—how many lives, as well as the vicinity of the ladies have been saved.
Just for the record, the Great Wall opened for visit today was reconstructed around 15th century after the great Mongolian Empire lost their control over China to Ming dynasty, which is another charming story to tell.
Visit the following address to learn more about the Great Wall: