Between the thousands of dialects spoken, and the sheer size and cultural differences within mainland China, it’s baffling to consider that a single person somehow united all kingdoms of China some 5000 years ago. Pulling a country this size and warping it into a single entity was quite the feat.
I’m sure that a large majority of the success of China’s togetherness was due to the unification of the written language. The characters that make up Mandarin in all of it’s dialects, and even Cantonese, are the same despite how they are pronounced, which allows individuals to communicate through paper, if not face to face. I don’t care who you are: that’s pretty impressive in and of itself.
But what I find so interesting, is that a country with such diversity in culture, language, and even lifestyle, that shares only the tiniest commonality in a written code, has such an intense history of exclusion. I’m not saying that history itself isn’t brutal. China is in no way an outlier in comparison to others, but have you seen the massive wall they built?
I was pondering this idea of inclusion and exclusion, conquerers and the conquered, while being jostled around in the very back of a taxi, headed to hike the massive Great Wall itself. Which more or less means I was trying not to think about the insane driver, the lack of seat belts, or adequate seats, and whether I should include publish that fact or not. (I’m alive Mom! Breathe!) Insanity aside, the Wall itself is intimidating even from a half-hour’s drive away.
What’s even more interesting to me is the fact I was riding with a carefree Canadian traveler, 2 American friends I dragged along with me, and three girls dubbed “The Polish Crew” who all hailed from different countries but somehow shared a similar heritage and language. Between the 8 of us in the car, a grand total of 8 languages were known. (And only 2 could speak fluent Mandarin.) Isn’t it funny how diverse of a group we were, headed to a monument that separated one people from another?
The Great Wall
After quite a few communication hiccups, and some serious shmoozing from a member of the Polish crew, we were finally granted access to a section of the Great Wall. (Hey y’all: did you know there are capacity limits to access a wall? Yeah, I didn’t either. Make sure you do some research in advance. Or else you might also be batting your eyelashes to try and make your way into a group queue, too!)
I’ll say this: It’s just as impressive as it looks. 10/10, I would not attack China from one side of this wall. Then again, I’m more of a pacifist than a Mongol Warrior fighting against the Jin dynasty. Glad that’s settled. Oh, and I’m sorry to break it to you, Mr. Trump, but even this wall crumbled.
While I personally wouldn’t mess with the Chinese, I was among company that would. That carefree Canadian guy I mentioned earlier? His name is Jay. Jay, despite seeing numerous “do not camp here overnight” signs, chose to camp here overnight. The good news is, Jay is still alive. The bad news is, we haven’t heard from him since.
Nah, I’m just joking. We did leave Jay hiding in the bushes though. According to his wild tales, he stayed there until after dark, and when he thought all the tourists had left for the day, he attempted to camp out at the wall. When the sun fell behind the skyline, and the floodlights drowned the entire wall in light, however, he was in a conundrum. That, and the constant swish-swish of the guard’s uniform as they walked past. When Jordan thought they finally left for the evening, he withdrew from the bushes: right into the eyes of an astonished-looking guard.
Jay, made it out alive and not imprisoned. I wish I had a bit of that Canadian luck. Although, he accredited a lot of his good fortune to humming the same tune as the guard as they descended the wall together. I suppose, you could say, that they spoke the same language.