Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The anonymous speaker of this quasi-historical report on the Great Wall of China speculates not only about the peculiar method of the wall’s construction but also about the motives behind the project and the authorities on whose decision it was undertaken. The speaker’s focus gradually expands to consider the larger matters of relationship between the emperor and his people, between the empire and the barbarians beyond it, and, ultimately, between the real and the imagined meanings of all these various shapers of the speaker’s world.
At the outset, the speaker points out a conspicuous peculiarity in the construction of the wall: Rather than being built continuously from one end to the other, the wall was assembled piecemeal in sections of about a thousand yards each. Isolated from other workers and usually not even in sight of another section of the wall, two crews, beginning at opposite ends of the thousand-yard stretch, would spend as many as five years laboring to make their respective sections meet; after appropriate ceremonies, they would then be dismissed to their homes. After such a lengthy absence, their return would be celebrated in their villages, which were very often many miles from the borders on which their section of the wall had been constructed. After a period of rest and rejuvenation, the workers would be dispatched again to join others with whom they had not worked before and to begin a new section of the wall in some other remote...
(The entire section is 1020 words.)
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