COLL-E 103 The Great Wall of China (Atwood) (A&H) (3 cr.)

Why was the Great Wall of China built? What made the two people of China and Mongolia so hostile that a vast wall had to be built to separate them? Is this wall a symbol of China’s might and glory, or a symbol of tyranny like the Berlin Wall? Did the wall actually keep out the “barbarians”? Can it really be seen from the moon? For almost 2,000 years how to handle the nomads of Mongolia was the most important foreign policy question for China’s rulers. At several different times and several different places from the third century BC to the twentieth century AD, they used walls to defend themselves from the nomads. The wall thus came to symbolize the social, economic, military, political, and cultural clash between China and Mongolia. Nevertheless, powerful Chinese emperors sometimes forced the nomads to submit, while at other times, as under Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, the Mongols broke through all barriers and founded dynasties to rule China.

To understand this conflict, students will explore fundamental issues of international relations: is conflict between different societies and cultures inevitable? Does greed always cause war or can economic interests be harnessed to make peace profitable? How much does domestic politics and ideology tie the hands of policy- makers confronting foreign threats? Can smaller powers make peace with larger neighbors without losing their independence and identity?

In the final section of the class, we will look at the new “great wall” of barbed wire that with contemporary Chinese colonization is fencing off the Inner Mongolian steppe. Is this new great wall a scientifically-based attempt to stop the invasion of sand and desertification from encroaching on China? Or is it an imposition of a centuries-old obsession in Chinese government with walling-off and fixing the land? In examining this little-known but very serious environmental issue, we will look at how the legacy of past conflicts along the Great Wall is shaping contemporary issues of environmental protection, minority rights, and land use.

Assignments and Grading:

Class assignments include quizzes and essays. The five quizzes include one map quiz which will allow students to demonstrate knowledge of the geography of China, Mongolia, and the neighboring border lands. The next four quizzes will familiarize the students with the names, dates, and key events in the four major periods of conflict around the Great Wall. Students will write four essays analyzing the four original sources from the ancient and medieval history of China and Mongolia. A take-home final will give students an opportunity to apply this historical insight to current problems of Chinese-Inner Mongolian relations.

Readings and Films: