Although the project for the Great Wall was not officially started until the Ming dynasty, sections of the wall were started under Song rule. The Great Wall is built of stone, bricks, and pounded earth. It extends from the Gulf of Bohai in the east to Gansu province in north-central China. It actually consists of two parallel walls, some 10 meters high, topped by a wide paved road. A huge monument stands at each end of the wall. The one in the east is named First Pass under Heaven, and the one in the west is Last Pass under Heaven.
Not only did the wall play a protective role but it was also a road for rapid communications. Imperial messengers traveled this route in times of peace. It had an important cultural function, too. It marked the boundary between civilized China and the barbarian land to the North
The Great Wall is spectacular to see. It is striking not only for its length, but also for the perfect way it fits into its natural surroundings. It follows the outline of mountains so perfectly that parts of the wall run almost straight up and down.
How could the Chinese tackle a building project as tremendous as the Great Wall? The answer lies in the nature and attitudes of the Chinese people. They were confident of their power, and they were aware of the vastness of their land.
The anonymous builders of the Great Wall have earned the respect of all humanity. This respect deepened when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made the first moon landing. As they looked back to Earth, they could make out a very fine, winding line in Asia. It was the Great Wall of China, the only work made by human hands that could be identified from the moon.
How would you like to spend seven days and nights taking an exam? Well, many Chinese did just this for a chance at a government job. Before the Sung dynasty, civil service exams were not given on a regular basis. Under the Sung, the exams were held every three years. Attempts were made to prevent bribery and playing favorites--in general, to keep the system fair. The students came from a broader range of social classes than ever before. Still, about half of the applicants were from Mandarin families. Thousands competed for what amounted to only two hundred government appointments a year.
The tests were very difficult. Some students went crazy or died of exhaustion. Those who succeeded sometimes waited years more for a government job. Once a scholar became a district official, however, usually he also became very rich.
To feed his family and pay the high taxes which supported court life, the Chinese farmer grew grain. The Chinese practiced market gardening rather than farming, and certainly they sowed their crops so that plants could be weeded easily and given individual attention. Several drawings from an agricultural manual of the Song period show work in the paddy fields.
The two typical agricultural tools was the harrow, used to break up the clods of earth, and the roller used for firming up the ground. Because of a continually growing population technical innovations were constantly being made in order to ensure a good crop. In South China, where the Song dynasty dominated, the practice grew of planting in seed beds and then transplanting later, while the irrigation pools for the rice fields supported water chestnuts, beans and cucumbers.
The clothing of a nation says a lot about the people. In the Chinese culture the robes worn are straight and have long sleeves and a broad band around the neck and front. They fasten to the right and are held together by the wearer's arm or with a soft belt. They most resemble an ordinary dressing gown, but are cut with much more sophistication.
There are two styles of robes, one in which the two sides of the front are straight, the other in which the right side is drawn out in a point at the hip. The Chinese went on using this basic pattern for their clothes for three thousand years.
Peasants coats halfway down the thigh and from the Han period on, were worn with a pair of wide trousers tied firmly in a knot around the waist with a soft cloth belt. Officials and others who did not have to work in the fields wore theirs almost down to the ankles. During the Song dynasty they almost reached the floor.
The position of women in Chinese life sank to a new low during Sung times. But if the poverty was bad the position of women was even worse. Confucius taught that women were inferior to men, and the Chinese had believed this for centuries. But in earlier days, at least, women workers were vital in keeping the farms going, and everybody knew it.
Women's role was not so clear-cut or important in the mass movement to the cities which occurred during this time period. Among the Sung mandarins, women became little more than playthings or signs of wealth.
The upper classes started to bind their little girls' feet, so that they grew to only half the normal length, with the toes turned under like a hoof. The fact that they could hardly walk made mandarin women seem even more like dolls. In time, the painful practice of foot binding spread throughout China. Until the twentieth century, the "lily foot" was one mark of beauty in a Chinese woman. A girl with normal feet was considered a freak.
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