Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tragedy at the Great Wall Part 3


"Human nature, essentially changeable, as unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds, and its very self." - Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) wrote a short story "Die Chinesische Mauer" (unfinished same as most of his major works) something like an exotic historical account narrated by a mason, so raised and trained from his birth somewhere in south-east China.

He remembered as a child that a group of kids erected a sort of wall out of pebbles in their teacher's yard and the teacher gathered up his coat to crash it. As the teacher scolded them for the weakness of the wall, the children ran away in all directions, howling as they went to their parents.

This young mason, passed exams and attained a supervisory position, despite his lowest ranking, as he had grown up a real wall builder, driven with a sense of himself being part of the wall.

Where day laborers are driven only by pay, this mission motivated mason lived and breathed with the growth of walls and was impatient to see the structure finally standing completed to perfection. He was the backbone of wall builders. Kafka's narrative starts as follows:

"The Great Wall of China was finished at its most northerly location. The construction work moved up from the south-east and south-west and joined at this point. This system of building in sections was also followed on a small scale within the two great armies of workers, the eastern and western armies. It was carried out in he following manner: groups of about twenty workers were formed, each of which had to take up a section of the wall, about five hundred meters long. A neighboring group then built a wall of similar length to meet them. But then afterwards, when the sections were fully joined, construction was not continued on any further at the end of this thousand-meter section. Instead the groups of workers were shipped off again to build the wall in completely different regions."

His description is sure-handed and well-conceived as if he had traveled to see China. You may be inclined to open up a map of China where the above mason was born. You will not get anywhere since no names of province or village are given. The narration is all fiction. The Wall wasn't finished in its most northerly location, but who cares about the when and where in a Kafkaesque world. What impressed me is Kafka's clairvoyance. His travelsphere was very limited and his stories mostly written in that small Gold Makers Alley by the Prague Castle in the Czech Republic.

Kafka continues:

This mission-driven mason, reinvigorated after a brief home leave and looking forward to the exhilaration and enthusiasm of laboring once again, set off for another journey of venture.

"Half the villagers accompanied them for a long way. Every countrymen was a brother for whom they were building a protective wall and who would thank him with everything he had and was all for his life. Unity! Unity! Shoulder to shoulder, a coordinated movement of people."

"Also on their journey they saw here and there finished sections of the wall rising up; they passed through the quarters of higher administrators, who gave them gifts as badges of honor, they heard the rejoicing of new armies of workers streaming past them out of the depth of the land, saw forests being laid low, wood designated as scaffolding for the wall, witnessed mountains being broken up into rocks for the wall, and heard the holy mantras of the pious praying for the construction."

What beautiful imaginary scenes of expedition! There is no negative, dark element about hard labor.

In March 1990, a China/Japan/Germany Joint Symposium "Uber Die Chinesische Mauer" (over and beyond the "Great Wall of China") was held in Beijing China.

Debated at the Symposium was the allegorical lesson Kafka tried to teach us. The Wall might be interpreted as the Wailing Wall or Western Wall in Jerusalem - a bold leap! Chinese was replaced with Hebrew. Unity is "Einheit". Eastern crew and western crew are eastern Jews and western Jews. How was Kafka involved in Zionism? Was there a reference to the Tower of Babel. Why did the Tower collapse? I am just raising the issue and wish to leave it at that.

In closing the Great Wall trilogy, I wish to re-emphasize the reported length of the Great Wall (21,000 kilometers) is close to one half the length of the global equator (40,100 kilometers). It's a really, really long standing work of wonder.

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