This past week has been overwhelming, to say the least. This was President Trump's first week in office, and he has said and done a lot that has pissed people off. One of the biggest bombshells to blow up in our faces is Trump's declaration that yes, he is going to build that wall, and make Mexico pay for it — somehow. Most people agree that the wall is a stupid idea, but Trump insists that his wall is going to work, and that we are "taking back our borders." But can a giant wall actually defend a country's borders from unwanted forces?
History has an answer for President Trump, and it's called the Great Wall of China.
Most everyone here in America knows about the Greek and Roman Empires. High school history classes mostly consisted of the history of the Greek and Roman Empires for the first half of the year, and then the rest of Western History the second half of the year. We are taught that those two empires were the greatest empires to ever exist.
But no talks about the actual greatest empire that ever existed — the Chinese Empire. While modern times have been hard on China, China had been pretty much ahead of the game beforehand. They had a lot of land, great agriculture and palaces that made Rome look like a shantytown. They were ahead technologically, economically and culturally. They had it all.
One of China's biggest problems, however, was their neighbors to the north. Asian geography is relatively unknown here in the West (since most of geography class in elementary school consisted of "Where is America?") but China's surrounding lands is either mountains or desert. It's a harsh landscape, but somehow nomadic tribes to the north made it work. They were tough enough to survive off the land and terrorize the advanced Chinese civilization below them, taking their possessions, their wives and their dignity. Most nomads were small groups, but tribes, such as the mighty Mongols, were well-organized and formidable armies. They presented a real threat to the Chinese empire, and the empire had to figure out how they were going to defend themselves against these invaders.
The solution, they believed, lied in their fortresses. Since the 400s BCE, smaller walls were built around across several parts of China's borders. But it wasn't enough to keep invaders completely out, so the Chinese built a longer wall, which included new walls that connected to the older walls. They also served as trading posts for when there was peace between the neighbors. The walls, however, were no match for the mighty Mongols, who easily got past the walls when they wanted to plunder China during the 11th century CE. The Mongols would eventually get over the wall and take over China for over a century, until they were driven back up north in 1368 CE.
The Mongol rule left a bad taste in China's mouth. The ruling dynasty at the time, the Ming dynasty, didn't want another group of invaders to take over China again. They decided, in the end, to reinforce their walls and make the wall even bigger than before. The result was the modern-day Great Wall of China (or at least most of what we see today), a brand-new, indestructible wall, which took 100 years to complete. But it did squat when the Manchus invaded from the north and took over China in 1644.
The Ming dynasty was falling apart at the seams, leaving the country open for a new force to barge their way in and crush the dynasty. The story goes that when the Manchus got to one of the gates of the wall, the general in charge realized that he and his men had no chance against the enemy in their weakened state. He let the Manchus in through the gate and even joined them in conquering Beijing, starting a new dynasty: the Qing Dynasty. Needless to say, the wall was great for defending physical forces, but not so much the forces of rebellion.
So this is the lesson that President Trump should take from the Great Wall of China: big walls are great for demonstrating the glory of your country, but there's no guarantee that your wall is going to actually keep illegal immigrants out. If anything, it'll just show how inept our defenses are, and how much we still have to learn from the great empires of the past about keeping it together and not burning to the ground.