The Way to Glory

Hilary Mantel

‘The Great Wall is the symbol of our nation,’ says one of the speakers in this extraordinary book. ‘It’s falling to pieces, ruined by people and by the elements like a dragon hacked apart.’ China is accessible now, in one sense: you can go on a tour. No doubt the Chinese will develop new layers of opacity, and a souvenir culture to keep the West happy; there would be plenty of precedents. The vast incomprehension between the Chinese and ourselves makes us inclined to study them through their artefacts, as though they were a vanished people. It is a way of dealing with them, now that the Great Wall is crumbling. A current tour brochure offers ‘a kaleidoscope of temples, tombs, bronzes, jades, pagodas, old city-walls, lacquer-work, terracotta figurines, frescoes, painting on silk, ceramics, porcelain, calligraphy and monumental sculpture.’ Yes, but who are they? What do they think?

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