China has a rich architectural history. But, before talking about China’s Great Wall and forts, let us delve into the Maldivian history, and start with the defensive wall and bastions built in the country’s capital, Male’, by Sultan Muhammad Imaduddin I, who was also known as Kalhuthukkalaa. One must wonder from where a man, who ruled the country from 1620 to 1648, got the idea of building such a wall – something that Maldivians were completely unfamiliar with.
The answer is Cannanore (currently known as Kannur), a city in the state of Kerala, India. Kalhuthukkalaa was among those captured and taken to Cannanore during the attack of Malabars. He had remained in Ali Raja’s captivity for about six years.
At that time, Cannanore had a defensive wall. It was the era of the city’s St. Angelo Fort. The fort and defensive walls of Cannanore were built in the year 1505 – according to history – by taking inspiration from the defensive wall around China’s Xian City. Even then, China had a tradition, of building walls, going back thousands of years.
Soon after returning home from Ali Raja’s captivity, Kalhuthukkalaa was proclaimed Sultan of Maldives. As the ruler, the first task he took up was the establishment of fortifications, the likes of those in Cannanore, around Male’. In those days Maldivians did not possess the ability or expertise required for such a task, nor did they have the Chinese technology. Nonetheless, a high wall was built with coral and limestone. It was called Male’ Bodu Faaru, literally translated as ‘Male' Great Wall’.
It was a structure Maldivians should be proud of, given the level of qualification and the state of the Maldivian people in those days. Because he built the defensive wall, Kalhuthukkalaa later came to be known as Bodu Rasgefaanu (The Great King). The wall was built to defend and protect Male’, not to initiate war.
Fast-forward to present day, there is absolutely no sign of the wall built some 400 years ago. In the 1950s, when Ibrahim Nasir was the Prime Minister, the wall was destroyed. But the fortifications of Cannanore, built 100 years prior to that, still remain, and have become India’s heritage sites, protected by the Archeological Survey of India. The fortifications of China’s Xian City, which were built about 300 years before the Male’ wall and were the inspiration of Cannanore’s defensive walls and forts, remain intact and are on the tentative list of UNECO’s World Heritage Sites.
If, even a small part of the Male’ defensive wall had remained, Maldivians too would have had something to proudly show to foreigners. And it may have been a place good enough to be made a World Heritage Site. Alas, there is no point in talking about it now. Instead, we will talk about the magnificent fortifications surrounding China’s Xian City. This is not the Great Wall of China that Maldivians are familiar with, but a different wall.
Xian is the capital of Shaanxi Province in north-western China, at the eastern end of the Silk Road, which used to be a popular network of trade routes. Because Xian was one of the ruling cities and a main gateway for trade, to prevent the city from all forms of threats, a tall defensive wall was built around it in the 14th century, by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty – established after overthrowing Mongol-dominated Yuan dynasty.
Since its establishment, Xian fortifications or the Xian City Wall has been repaired and refurbished three times, the last of which was in 1983. The wall surrounds an area spanning 36 square kilometers. Inside the wall lies the oldest part of the city, comprising ancient buildings. The 14-kilometer-long wall consists of several gates and forts. While it reaches a height of 40 feet, the wall is as wide as a large road, on which bicycles and buggies are driven.
In its prime, the wall was a model for others who built forts and defensive walls. Today, it is one of the most intact and well preserved ancient structures in China. The wall was declared a major heritage site by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in the 1980s and is on the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
China’s tradition of building defensive walls is over 2500 years old. Building walls to defend themselves is an imperial tradition of the Chinese people. Such walls are built for defense, not for attacking. Looking at the country’s ancient wall-building history or the present day policies, it is very evident that by nature, the Chinese don’t incite war, but are a peace-loving people who are always prepared for possible attacks.
China is one of the largest countries and shares it border with the most number of countries in the world. China has land borders with 14 countries. However China does not have border-disputes with any of them, except one – India. And in resolving border-dispute with India, China chooses the path of peace. On the other hand, there is a political reason for China being blamed in the South China Sea dispute. If one considers the military role being played by the US in the South China Sea, America’s intention will become very clear. Despite the situation, China chooses to remain patient and peaceful. But the country continues to take necessary defensive measures as usual.
Similar to the way the Chinese defended their country from behind strong, physical, walls in the olden days, they have now built a great technological wall against threats. All they do now is, they keep renewing the wall and making it stronger. Be it Russia, the US or any other country, penetrating the wall will not be easy.