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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The good isn't always the enemy of the great.

Permanently secure in the annals of common trivia, the often-posited myth that The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space isn't the only falsehood surrounding the architectural feat. Ironically, the very legend itself cunningly reinforces a greater lie about The Wall: that the wall is in fact a wall.

It isn't. What it is is rather a series of (admittedly in some cases extremely lengthy) walls, though often with quite significant gaps in between.

From a cursory look at historical accounts, it seems that where hillocks and crests prevailed various dynasties largely (and lazily) got away with leaving chunks out, giving the impression (from a distance at least) of wall where in fact there was none – a technique that has lead to more than one long-term Beijing expat friend trying to put me off visiting the (tourist part of the) site, contending that it's a bit of a cheat, not that exciting and therefore ultimately only actually worthy of being called 'The Good Wall'.

Good here is though really truly great, with this illusion of defence deserving of going down in history as one of the most effective pieces of tactical communication ever – bar perhaps the Greeks' Trojan Horse. For a smaller than apparently necessary investment, the Chinese have done well. Even if The Great Wall hasn't always been entirely successful at keeping the Mongols out, the structure has kept enough tourists and Trivial Pursuits gamers in awe over the last century or so to be worthy of the title.

Thanks to heavyweight, Think Tank-winning blogger Tantramar for jogging my memory.

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