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« Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer (part 3) | Main | Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer (part 1) »

Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer (part 2)

The second part to a story ("In the building of the Great Wall of China") by this Czech man of letters.  You can read the original here.

Thus the system of partial construction becomes understandable, and yet there are surely other reasons.  It is no coincidence that I consecrate so much time to this question because, however unimportant it may seem initially, this is one of the questions essential to the Wall's entire construction.  If I wanted to convey the thoughts and experiences of this time and make them comprehensible, I could not delve deeply enough into this question.

First of all it must be said that, at the time, efforts were made which did not lag far behind those exerted for the Tower of Babel – certainly in righteousness before God, at least by human reckoning – representing precisely the opposite of this construction.  I mention this because during the first years of construction a teacher wrote a book in which he drew in exact detail this very comparison.  He then sought to prove that the construction of the Tower of Babel in no way led to its end for the reasons normally adduced, or at least that these well-known reasons were not of primary significance. His evidence consisted not only of manuscripts and reports; he also claimed to have conducted onsite investigations himself and discovered that the construction was doomed to fail – and did in fact fail – owing to the weakness of the foundation.  In this respect our era was vastly superior to that past epoch.  Nearly every educated contemporary was an engineer by education and infallible when it came to foundation.  This was not the aim of the teacher, of course: he was merely insisting that for the first time in human history a solid and secure foundation would be provided for a new Tower of Babel.  That is to say, first the Wall then the Tower. 

The book was on every lap and under every arm, and yet I confess that still today I have yet to understand how he imagined the construction of such a tower.  A wall which did not even form a circle, perhaps only a kind of quarter or semicircle, was supposed to become the foundation for a tower?  That could only be meant in the intellectual sense.  But what purpose did this Wall serve, this Wall which was something real, the result of effort and the lives of hundreds of thousands?  And why then were there drawings of such a tower in the plans, albeit foggy plans, and proposals made down to the last detail as to how the workers were supposed to be assembled to build this mighty new edifice? 

There was – this book is but one example – a great deal of confusion at that time, perhaps precisely because as many people as possible sought to join forces in the pursuit of a single aim.  Man, frivolous in his reasons, would soon begin to rattle his chains and rip the Wall, his chains and himself in every direction.

It is possible that even these considerations on the part of leadership contrary to the building of the Wall were not ignored when the plan of partial construction was formulated.  We – and here truly I speak for very many – only got to know one another when we spelled out the directives of the highest leadership and found that, without such management, neither our book smartness nor our understanding of human nature would have been sufficient for the modest post we held within the large whole.  Leadership's meeting room – where that room was and who sat in on meetings – this information is and was known by no one that I asked.  One could say that in this room circulated all human thoughts and wishes, and in the opposite direction all human aims and achievements.  Through the window, however, the glistening of the divine worlds fell upon our leaders' hands as they drew up the plans.

And for that reason I will not suggest to the incorruptible observer that leadership, should it have seriously wished to do so, could even have overcome those difficulties which would typically arise in the construction of a unified Wall.  So we are left with the conclusion that leadership wholly intended to carry out the partial construction.  And yet partial construction was merely makeshift and aimless.  And so we are left with the conclusion that leadership wanted something that was aimless.  A strange conclusion indeed!  And yet there is much to justify it; today we may even speak of it without danger or forethought.  At the time it was the secret commandment of many, even many of the best: Try with all your power to understand leadership's directives, if only to a certain limit, then forsake its consideration.  A very reasonable commandment which, as it were, yielded yet another interpretation in an oft-repeated contrast:  Do not stop thinking because it can hurt you; no one knows for sure whether it can hurt you.  And really, this is not a matter of hurting or not hurting.  It will happen to you as it happens to the river in Spring.   The river will rise and become more powerful; it will approach the long shores gaining in momentum and might; it will retain its strength further out at sea and become more indigenous and welcome in that open space.  This is the degree to which you should consider the leadership's directives.  It is then, however, that the river overflows its banks, loses contour and form, slows its retreat, attempts in the face of destiny itself to assemble small inland seas, damages the farmland, and yet cannot maintain this expansion for long.  Rather, it will recoil upon itself, return to its former shores and spend half of the next, warmer season drying out.  This is the degree to which you should not consider the leadership's directives.   

Now this contrast might have been remarkably appropriate during the construction of the Wall, even if for my current report at least, it is of limited value.  My examination is solely historical; no more lightning from the long-fled storm peoples; therefore I must look for an explanation for the partial construction which goes further than what satisfied the curiosity of others back then.  The limits imposed by my intellectual capacity are, of course, narrow enough; the area that would need to be covered, however, is the endless.

Against whom is the Great Wall supposed to protect us?  Against the northern nations.  I hail from southeastern China.  No northern nation can menace us there.  We read about the northern nations in our forefathers' books, and the horrors they commit in accordance with their nature make us sigh in the shelter of our peaceful foliage.  In our artists' veridical  renderings we see these faces of perdition: their mouths gaping like an abyss, their jaws lined with teeth like spikes, their slanted eyes that already seem to be leering at your loot, all the better to crush you and rip you to shreds.   Whenever our children are naughty we show them these pictures and they immediately run and throw their arms around our necks in tears.  About these northern nations we know nothing more; we have never seen them.  And we will never see them should we remain in our village, even if they were to hunt us down and chase us on their wild horses.  Our country is far too large and would never let them approach us; instead, they will simply ride themselves lost in the empty air.    

Why then it is so, if we were to leave our homeland, our river, our bridges, our mother, our father, our sobbing wife, our children so in need of guidance and learning, and move far away to a school beyond the distant city, why then are our thoughts still squarely fixated on the Wall in the north?  Why?  A question of leadership.  It knows us.  Leadership, which overcomes enormous worries and concerns, knows about us, knows our minor industry, sees us all sitting together in our lowly hut while the father says an evening prayer amidst a circle of his family and friends.  This aspect leadership either likes or dislikes.  And if I may, I shall entertain such thoughts regarding our leadership: if in my opinion the leadership had not come about earlier, had not come together like some high-level mandarins awoken by some lovely morning dream immediately call a meeting and make some decisions then, in the evening, have the population drag themselves out of bed to carry out these decisions, it would simply be like organizing an illumination in the honor of a god who had shown himself, yesterday at least, to be favorably inclined towards the leaders; if only the next day, with all the torches extinguished, to beat them in a dark corner.  Rather, it was our leadership who emerged at that time, along with the decision to build the Wall.  Innocent northern nations that thought themselves the reason for the construction; the Kaiser, worthy of our adoration as well as innocent, who thought that he had caused it all.  We of the construction of the Wall know otherwise and keep silent.

During the construction of the Wall and afterwards until the current day, I have busied myself almost exclusively with the contrasting folk tales – there are certain questions whose essence one can really only approach in this way.  In so doing I have found that that we Chinese possess unique clarity as to certain folk and state institutions, and a distinct lack of clarity with regard to others.  Tracing the reasons, especially pertaining to the latter phenomenon, has always thrilled me, and still thrills me, and even the construction of the Wall itself is significantly impacted by these questions. 

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