I wrote previously about my Mom’s Central Asian ancestry. According to 23andMe, I’m 0.1% East Asian. Maybe one day, that’ll be narrowed down, East Asia is a big place.
The first emperor of a united China, Qin Shih Huang Di, built the beginnings of the Great Wall of China for a reason. There were pieces of walls previous kingdoms built, but the Qin Emperor made it thicker and longer. Why? Because Mom’s Central Asian ancestors kept knocking at the door.
Another wall, between England and Scotland called Hadrian’s Wall, was built. Why was the wall built? Because as George MacDonald Fraser described it in the book, The Border Reivers, every child in the North of England could give the same answer. To keep the Scots out. The Romans realized, the blue skinned (Comedian Billy Connolly will tell you, because they were cold, not because they painted themselves), whisky drinking lunatics out there weren’t worth conquering. Emperor Augustus described conquering all of Britain and Germany beyond the Rhine as fishing with a golden hook. The catch wasn’t worth the bait.
I bring up Hadrian’s Wall for a reason. As with the Great Wall of China, it was a deterrent, not a complete barrier. The most determined with pluck and luck will break through. It happened many times in Chinese history. Some of them, the Mongols and Manchus created dynasties.
For the Chinese, North and West of the wall, was wilderness. There is the famous gate with the graffiti, where Chinese were sent through into exile. The steppe nomads wanted to trade for Chinese goods, but steal them when they could. There was little the Chinese wanted from the steppe barbarians. The names of the barbarian groups changed, but to the Chinese they are still, well…Barbarians.
Imagine a Chinese sentry, on an isolated stretch of the wall, looking into the vast emptiness beyond the wall.
There is nothing exciting about this. Every so often, first you catch of whiff of eau de nomad in the air. You see the picture, see anyplace for water, drinking AND bathing nearby?
Then you see them at a distance, riding in on their horses. You wait for them to approach. They may still be forty miles away from you, but as they get closer, you know it.
The wife of an official catches a whiff. “Can’t you do something about those animals? Why don’t you cowards go out and kill them?”
“Because my lady,” the sentry says with strained patience, “They come here, they are playing our game, according to the military bible of Sun Zi.”
“I just know they foul the air, oh, get it over with, sentry!”
The nomads after a few hours finally come up to the wall. Forget the bored look of the guards at the castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the guards are trying not to swoon. Who knows if the smell is the first shot at chemical warfare?
The first of many Central Asian nomadic leaders came knocking on a gate in the Great Wall. “Open up, or we’ll attack.”
The Chinese commander looked down in disgust. The official’s wife screamed at the sentries. “Well don’t just stand there, peasants, shoot those scum now!”
The captain of the guard smiled. “Confucius teaches us, men order women.” She stamped her foot and got her husband, who gave the same order.
The sentries raised their bows and arrows. Bad move, the nomads were faster. Also more nomads appeared, while the Chinese sentries weren’t looking. They broke through the gate and were in. This happened every so often.
The ultimate was Genghis Khan, who created a Chinese Dynasties. The Manchus did the same with the Ching Dynasty. Hey, why trade, when you can raid?
The modern world has changed everything. The Chinese don’t need the Great Wall. They are pushing past it into Central Asia. China is rebuilding the Silk Road, by road and rail.
OK, this is a very abbreviated, silly look at Central Asian nomads, knocking on China’s door. As you can see, they usually just break the door down.