By Heather Gray
January 28, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Walls? There have been infamous ones to control the people and/or simultaneously to advance elite interests. And Trump wants to build another of these infamous walls? I’ve been to two that I want to mention – the “Great Wall of China” and the “Berlin Wall”. Both had something to do with historical development, politics, economics, benefits for the wealthy elite, both were devastating for the people and plus did not work!
The “Great Wall of China”
In 1995, I was fortunate to attend the “United Nations NGO Forum on Women” in Beijing. I stayed in China for a while to see more of the country that, of course, meant a visit to the “Great Wall of China” close to Beijing. What I witnessed was impressive to be sure. I also learned that hundreds of thousands of workers died while building the wall over its long history (estimates of some 300,000 to 1 million workers) and that many of them were buried under the wall. I kept thinking about that fact while walking down the portions of the wall and the huge exploitation.
The “Great Wall of China” has a number of portions that were built by numerous Chinese kingdoms until there was a unification of China that, then, resulted in the various walls being combined into what became known as the “Great Wall.”
The wall construction began in 7th century BC although, as mentioned, these were small portions at first. What was the most famous portion was the wall built in 220-206 BC by the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang and then by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) which is what largely exists today.
The intensification of the wall construction was around the time that China’s agriculture system was expanding exponentially due to the use of cast iron tools and of animals in plowing fields (Wikipedia). The intensification of agriculture and use of fields for this purpose conflicted with the neighboring nomads that existed largely on livestock and who were always seeking new grazing territory. Here’s more information about this development:
The engineer Sunshu Ao of the 6th century BC and Ximen Bao of the 5th century BC are two of the oldest hydraulic engineers from China, and their works were focused upon improving irrigation systems. These developments were widely spread during the ensuing Warring States period (403-221 BC), culminating in the enormous Du Jiang Yan Irrigation System engineered by Li Bing by 256 BC for the State of Qin in ancient Sichuan (Wikipedia).
In summary, for the Confucian Chinese, who considered themselves the cultural center of the universe, trading with these livestock “barbarians” was not an option for them as they considered these so-called barbarians beneath them culturally and economically. (Does this sound familiar regarding Trump, his wall and attitudes toward Mexicans? I think so!.)
In any case, for the Chinese leaders, war was also considered too expensive, so they built a wall.
Regarding the Chinese and agriculture, it is important to note that agriculture is thought to have begun some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago in the fertile crescent in Iraq or, as least, this is where we witness the first sizable storage of grains. There are some who have studied the advent of agriculture, who note that this was the beginning of hierarchical societies and when workers were forced to work in the fields for the benefit of feeding the developing elite and others in the society. Thanks to agriculture itself, the new elite now had resources – such as food – readily available for them. They were not going to lose this resource. Along this line of thought, some have also inferred that the Great Wall of China was built not to keep the potential invaders “out” but to keep the workers “in”. There is likely some relevance to this argument. In other words, the wall assisted in controlling the masses of the Chinese people’s freedom and flexibility.
It is also inferred that a wall is only as strong as the individuals that defend it, so in some ways the wall is but peripheral and in most cases violence toward the other is immoral and unacceptable. In the Chinese scenario, ultimately the so-called “barbarians,” or in this case, the Manchu Qing, ultimately figured out a way around the “wall” in 1644. They then over-turned the existing Ming rulers who were “the most ardent of the wall-building dynasties” (Wikipedia). This was known as a “peasant” revolt and various versions of it, albeit changed as ultimately these so-called peasants became elite rulers themselves, stayed in power until 1912.
The Berlin Wall
In 1961, the Berlin Wall was created during the Cold War. It prevented both East and West Berliners from visiting each others’ portion of the city. Many had family members in both East and West Berlin. It is said that for many East Berliners the economy was anything by vibrant and they sought other opportunities. The fact is, with the wall, flexibility and opportunities for both East and West Berliners were curtailed. Everyone, it seems, felt constrained. The wall was maintained until 1989.
While hitchhiking through Europe with my Canadian cousin in the early 1960’s, I was fortunate to visit West and East Berlin. Going into East Germany, however, was the one part of Europe where we could not hitchhike. We needed to take a train through East Germany into West Berlin with very cautious train security who constantly checked our ID. The feeling of oppression, suspicion and fear was rather overwhelming during that brief trip. Finally, we reached West Berlin and while there we decided to walk through the American controlled “Check Point Charlie” into East Berlin, where we stayed for much of one afternoon.
As we walked through the Check Point, for the first time, I witnessed border guards with mirrors that swept under the cars. The point being that it appeared everything, both inside and outside of the cars, were aggressively ‘checked’ before going back and forth from East to West Berlin and vice versa.
It so happened that during this particular day in East Berlin, the Russians were holding a military parade. We witnessed huge tanks and other military apparatus, but we also talked as much as possible with East Berliners, such as small shop owners, whenever we could get beyond our language barriers. The trip was too brief. I would like to have stayed longer and talk with more people.
My lesson from it all is that the separation of people is never productive. Perhaps no one can say this betetr through actual experience than the present Mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller. Here are his recent comments about walls, while encouraging Trump not to build a wall because it causes pain and suffering.
Berlin mayor to Donald Trump: ‘Don’t build this wall’
January 27, 2017
Michael Mueller says the long-divided city ‘cannot look on without comment when a country plans to build a wall’
The US president, holding true to his campaign promise, this week ordered US officials to begin to design and construct a wall along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometre) US-Mexico border.
While the White House has also threatened to tax Mexican imports to cover its cost, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned Washington protest.
Berlin’s mayor said his city – which was split by the Berlin Wall during the cold war from 1961-89 – “cannot look on without comment when a country plans to build a new wall”.
“We Berliners know best how much suffering was caused by the division of an entire continent with barbed wire and concrete,” he said in a statement, referring to Europe’s “Iron Curtain” division.
In the early 21st century, he said, “We can’t just accept it if our historical experience is disregarded by those to whom we largely owe our freedom, the Americans.”
Pointing to the continuing division of the Korean peninsula and the island of Cyprus, the Social Democrat urged Trump “not to go down this wrong path of isolation and exclusion”.
Who would benefit from the wall? Certainly not the Mexican and American people. The American elite (the 1%), however, would benefit with monies, as always, going into their pockets from the US taxpayers, for one, to build the blasted thing. Read what Bill Sandbrook, CEO of U.S. Concrete, had to say about this in Fortune Magazine.
Overall, however, the wall will lead to more divisiveness and suspicion between Americans and their neighbors south of the border. This is the last thing we need. The lessons learned from the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall are that walls don’t work. They lead to more pain and suffering.We are far stronger if we are generous, reach out and try to negotiate “fair” deals and have the people on both sides of the border working together and learning more about each other. I have found in my research, both in the United States and Australia, that migrants in both these countries helped to advance opportunities economically and socially. In other words, migration is good for the economy altogether. (The article on this is entitled “The Inspiring Face of Immigration.”)
And, as has been speculated, with the Great Wall of China as well as with the Berlin Wall, with this Trump wall is there an attempt here to better control workers on both sides of the Mexican/US border? This could be the case. The NAFTA agreement did not protect worker and union rights but, as per usual with trade agreements, provided huge opportunities for large corporations to exploit workers in both Mexico and the United States through, for one, competition on wages making the workers less secure and vastly increasing CEO wealth in both countries.And the Chinese connection with the Great Wall and agriculture? Similar connections are here as well with NAFTA. Mexican farmers have been devastated after being accosted by huge US subsidized corporate agribusiness that dumped their products on the Mexican market that then destroyed thousands of small farmers in Mexico. It was not fair any way you look at it.
To repeat, as stated at the beginning of this article, walls have something to do with historical development, politics, economics, benefits for the corporate elite, are devastating for the masses of the people, and plus, do not work!
The US should NOT build this wall but instead should honor and work with its neighbors rather than alienate them!!!