The Great Ditch of China and the Song-Liao Border
In his 1990 book, The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth, Arthur Waldron described how the inability of the central government of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) to make a strategic policy choice, combined with the ad hoc measures taken by local border commanders desperate to contain Mongol raids, brought about the creation of what we now call “The Great Wall of China.”1 The Great Wall has now become an iconic symbol of China in a positive sense, there is a “Great Wall” visa card and a “Great Wall” wine, as well as a negative symbol of conservatism, and defensive-mindedness, which, like the Maginot Line, ultimately proved unable to prevent the incursions of dynamic foreign adversaries. In this latter sense, the Great Wall has become a symbol of a particular mind-set among the Chinese leadership, a large-scale fortification indicative of a paralyzed leadership. By itself, however, such a connection between a defensive military policy and an ossified imperial court is not necessarily valid. This chapter aims to describe a case in which the construction of a large-scale fortification led to a change of mentality at court, and also to a peace that lasted for over a century. In short, it describes the brief history of a fortification that led to a successful military and political policy.
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