Carlos Rojas presents a sweeping survey of the historical and political significance of one of the world’s most recognizable monuments. Although the splendor of the Great Wall has become virtually synonymous with its vast size, the structure’s conceptual coherence is actually grounded on the tenuous and ephemeral stories we tell about it. These stories give life to the Wall and help secure its hold on our collective imagination, while at the same time permitting it to constantly reinvent itself in accordance with the needs of each new era.
Through an examination of allusions to the Wall in an eclectic array of texts—ranging from official dynastic histories, elite poetry, and popular folktales, to contemporary tourist testimonials, children’s songs, and avant-garde performance art—this study maps out a provocative new framework for understanding the structure’s function and significance.
This volume approaches the Wall through the stories we tell and contends that it is precisely in this cultural history that we may find the Wall’s true meaning, together with the secret of its greatness.
[Rojas] covers much ground, from the Qin Dynasty (c. 200 BC) to postmodern art, and demonstrates just how powerful the idea of the Wall has become in modern China.
Carlos Rojas’s deceptively compact cultural study suggests convincingly that the search for meaning in the Wall lies neither with the iconic imagery nor the literal structure itself, but somewhere in the gaps between, where imagination can run rampant—and frequently has. As it turns out, investigating the many and varied symbolic uses of a wall—the tensions between the need to protect and imprison, to guard against and to tear down, to blazon forth and to shut out—provides a very simple and natural key to opening up the Chinese culture as a whole.
Rojas is among a vanguard of scholars applying perspectives of the emerging field of cultural studies to China. The book is a history of what people have thought about the Great Wall. Rojas argues that inherited beliefs helped shape the wall’s subsequent history. He traces the rise and fall of Chinese perceptions of long defensive walls from a symbol of Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) oppression to Ming dynasty (1368–1644) insularity and defensive failure. Rojas contends that in the 20th century, Westerners influenced Chinese nationalists to adopt the Ming Great Wall as a symbol of national unity and power…Rojas’s clear, lively prose makes his work an excellent choice for undergraduate cultural studies.
- 232 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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