Great Wall of China crumbling

Nothing lasts forever.

From MSNBC comes an Associated Press report that the Great Wall of China is falling down in places, the victim of blowing sands. The blowing sands are the result of a Dust-Bowl-like overplowing spree after World War II.

Crumbling section of Great Wall of China, in Mongolia


1. Geography teachers should copy this story and follow it; soil erosion killed Babylon and several other civilizations in the Fertile Crescent (and Carthage, if we allow that the erosion was promoted by the Romans as a weapon of genocide); the Great Wall is one of those features that most people think strong an permanent. This is also a great insight into construction methods — the parts of the Wall that are crumbling appear to have been made of mud. Adobe construction, anyone (someday I have to finish that post).

2. World history teachers ought to note it for the same reasons as geography teachers. U.S. history teachers will want to keep this to compare it to the Dust BowlThere are also signs that humans may have significantly altered the local biota and, perhaps, climate, with their construction and agriculture methods.

3. China’s ascent in world position brings responsibilities it may have hoped to avoid, such as protecting the environment. Ending the encroachment of the desert in this case is a tall order — but if it can be done there, perhaps it can also be done around the Sahara, around the Namib, around the Syrian Desert, and other places where grasses once grew, but dust now blows. These sites are more common than one might think.

4. Santayana’s ghost: Didn’t China pay attention to the events of the U.S. Dust Bowl?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jonathan Turley’s new blog — Turley’s a good lawyer with very interesting cases; his views are a welcome addition. Most of his blog simply points to interesting legal issues.

4 Responses to Great Wall of China crumbling

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Update on the issue at Scribol, with a generous link to this article:


  2. Onkel Bob says:

    oops, that supposed to be the Taklamakan Desert. BTW go to:

    for some great images of that vast desert.


  3. Onkel Bob says:

    While some of the geomorphology is similar to the US case, there are also some extreme factors in play here.
    The Tarim River was dammed and diverted for centuries on centuries. There’s a wonderful scholarly argument who started the irrigation canals, qanats, Chinese or Iranians. Certainly the centuries of water diversion contributed to these problems. Lop Nor was gone by 1000 CE so this is not a recent event.
    Then there is the terrain: The Himalaya, Teng Shian, and Pamirs all surround the Tamaklan Desert. The continental climate combined with those heights means that the winds that flow down those slopes are far more intense than anything on the planet.
    I think more interesting would be a discussion of the changing population of Kashgar. The Chinese are giving bonuses to Han Chinese to move west to the far end of China and so populate that city with people perhaps a bit more “loyal” to the Beijing. With the recent difficulties of repatriating Uighur Chinese from U.S. detention, it’s fascinating to learn of the diversity of Central Asia and the problems of integrating long standing populations into modern society. Frances Wood’s Silk Road is written at a nice enough level for High School students and will introduce students to that fascinating area. Personally, I think the Turks of Central Asia are responsible for bringing us both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age and no one ever acknowledges their contributions.


  4. bernarda says:

    Perhaps another example of the effects of environmental damage is the destruction of the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus. Certainly it was sacked at various times, but the ultimate demise was the silting-up of its harbor, probably caused by centuries of denuding the forests in the surrounding hills.


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