Monday, September 04, 2006
The Other Side of the Wall
One of the less developed sections of the Great Wall, overgrown with shrubbery and off-limits to tourists.
In Safely Home, Randy Alcorn's fiction work about the church in China, two characters have a very revealing conversation about the Great Wall of China. Li Quan, a Chinese citizen educated in history at a prestigious American university, gives Ben Fielding, an American businessman, a look at the other side of the wall. While Ben sees it as a monument to human achievement, Li Quan, like many other Chinese, considers it "the longest graveyard," a place where the poor, powerless and enslaved were exploited at the hands of those in the seats of government.
Certainly, the numerous governments that built and maintained the wall had noble intentions. They wanted to keep their empire safe from marauding invaders. But it's a shame that the safety of the empire (and of the emperor's seat) had to come at the expense of so many lives. It makes you wonder about the wager made by those in seats of power. Over time, were more people killed by the wall than would have been if the Mongols or other tribes had invaded?
Walking around, feeling these sentiments reminded me of my visit earlier this year to the Panama Canal, where the museum said that over 19,000 Jamaicans died to build the glorified ditch that would expand trade between continents. There's an inherent value judgment made by those in authority who decide to undertake the vast projects that produce the wonders of the world. Basically, they're saying that the advancement of mankind, or the state's interest, or whatever other banner they use, is more important than thousands of plebeian lives. All the arguments and justification are easily made while sitting in the throneroom or in parliament sessions, but throw authority figures in the trenches and they might say that human achievement can wait a bit longer.
It's hard to find a "great wonder" of the world that hasn't been achieved on the back of slaves or lower-class citizens. The pyramids in Egypt, the hanging gardens of Babylon, all the ancient cities I visited in Jordan. Even our own country used slaves to construct the burgeoning economy that has made our nation the richest in the world. And while we reap the benefits, I wonder if there is another way, a method of achieving without exploiting, of producing marvelous acts without forced labor.
Then I think of Jesus. The greatest emperor, the supreme authority figure, he wanted to build a kingdom that would become so marvelous that the angels and spiritual authorities would stand in awe. But he did not sit in his posh throneroom and watch the laborers toil. He came down and offered himself as the foundation for the building. And now, slaves of righteousness become living stones to continue the construction, which he will complete when he returns on the last day. The attraction will be so grand that no one can possibly pay enough money to deserve to take a look. The only admission ticket will be the blood that was shed for sin by the Great Empathizer who saw us as a pile of rubble but came down to transform us into a shining temple to himself.