I’m studying in a city that’s famous for its walls. People who visit my city are amazed at the imposing sight of its walls, especially when silhouetted against the setting sun with gold, shining streaks. The old, cracked bricks are covered with lichens and the walls are weather-beaten guards standing still for centuries.

  Our ancestors liked to build walls. They built walls in Beijing, Xi’an, Nanjing and many other cities, and they built the Great Wall, which snakes across half our country. They built walls to protect against enemies and evil spirits. This tradition has survived to this day: we still have many parks and schools walled off from the public.

  For a long time, walls were one of the most natural things in the world to me.

  My perceptions, however, changed after I made a hiking trip to the eastern suburbs of my city. My classmates and I were walking with some foreign students. As we walked out of the city, we found ourselves flanked by tall trees, which formed a wide canopy above our heads. Suddenly one foreign student asked me, “Where is the entrance to the eastern suburbs?”

  “We’re already in the eastern suburbs,” I replied. He seemed taken aback, “I thought you Chinese had walls for everything.” His remark set off a heated debate. At one point, he likened our walled cities to “jails”, while I insisted that the eastern suburbs were one of the many places in China that had no walls.

  That debate had no winners, but I did learn a lot from this student. For instance, he told me that some major universities like Oxford and Cambridge were not surrounded by walls. I have to admit that we do have many walls in China, and as we develop our country, we must look carefully at them and decide whether they are physical or intangible. We will keep some walls but tear down those that impede our development.



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