Posts Tagged ‘Great Wall of China’

Datong, China: Diamond in the Coal

Suggest a weekend of travelling to Datong and almost every Chinese man will screw up his face. Ye Dirty Olde Coal Town is officially China’s 4th most polluted city and is just down the road from the world’s most polluted, Linfen 7VFQXJHKFEKP. But with a history spanning 22 centuries, including two as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, there is much more to Shanxi Province’s City of Coal than soot-swathed buildings. There’s a 1,500 year-old temple that hangs from a cliff face, China’s oldest and tallest wooden structure and caves chock-full of tens of thousands of ancient Buddha statues – some rivalling even those on the banks of the River Nile for scale and awe.

 

Datong sprawls across a coal-rich basin surrounded on three sides by golden-coloured mountains. The settlement was founded around 200BC and grew as a thriving pit stop for camel caravans transporting their wares north to Mongolia. At its peak as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty from 366-494, Datong saw many labourers construct some of China’s most magnificent sites.

 

Xuan Kong Si Hanging Temple, Datong, Shanxi Province, China

The gravity-defying Xuan Kong Si Temple 'hanging' from a cliff 17-stories up

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The Modern Great Wall Of China

The Great Wall of China rightfully earns a place on every Top-20 must-see lists of world sites. Its scale is simply jaw-dropping, straddling jagged mountain ridges and deserts 6,259.6 kilometres (3889.5 miles) across China. What strikes me is the stark contrast of its humble design versus flashy modern Chinese bling architecture.

 

The simplicity of the Great Wall, like much of China’s ancient and medieveal architecture, is representative of the endearing humbleness of Chinese culture.  Similar periods of architecture from other parts of world are much more ornate and grandiose.  But as China rediscovers itself, it’s creating the most showy, shiny and shameless buildings on the planet.  Some are simply beautiful examples of how far engineering has come such as the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Opera House and modern-day cryptic Arche de Triomphe CCTV buildings in Beijing, the Shanghai Financial Centre and under-construction Shanghai Tower, but there are also many shiny, pillared, faux gold monstrosities and countless constructions straight from a Jetsons cartoon.  It makes for interesting cityscapes.

 

The fascinating metamorphosis of Chinese architecture had me wondering just how the Great Wall of China might look if it was constructed in 2011.

 

How the Great Wall of China could look if it was built today

How the Great Wall of China could look today if it had been constructed in 2011 incorporating modern Chinese architecture

 

The first sections of China’s Great Wall date back to the fifth century BC, with various dynasties adding to and maintaining it until the 16th century.  Over that time, tens of millons of workers moved 240 million cubic metres (8.5 billion cubic feet) of compacted rocks and soil, then bricks and stone slabs, mostly by the Chinese-invented wheel barrow.  Much of The Wall was held together by mortar made from rice flour, and some say, the bones of some of the million workers estimated to have died building it.

 

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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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