A photograph of the silhouette of the Great Wall against the mountains north of Beijing.

The Great Wall of China (長城/长城, Chángchéng, literally: “long wall”) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as a structure, is widely seen as a masterpiece of human achievement. With a length of about 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) it protected China from invasions from the north and also allowed border controls and duties on imported goods. Construction started before the Common Era, but most of the wall existing today is from the Ming dynasty (明朝, Míng cháo) (1368–1644 CE).

Walls are often necessary for safety and protection. I grew up in Germany where the Berlin Wall for a long time seemed an eternal symbol of as well as a real border between two rival systems. It also served to keep people inside East Berlin and from escaping to West Berlin. But when the Eastern bloc crumbled, the Berlin Wall crumbled as well and a divided country became one again. I had hoped the unification of Germany would only be the beginning of mankind realizing that we do better working together than fighting each other.

The present, however, sees new walls being talked of or even being constructed. “Fortress Europe”. Border fences in Israel. And of course the Mexico–United States border wall. Will they really solve the problem? And what is the problem anyways? Maybe it helps to step back a little and take a larger perspective. While the route of the Great Wall of China is still preserved today, many of its individual parts are crumbling. It is now one of China’s major tourist attractions.