The writ­ing on the GreatWall is grief

Ar­chi­tec­ture and aes­thet­ics aside, the dam­age to the Great Wall is also a crime against his­tory.

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS - The author is a se­nior writer with China Daily huangx­i­angyang@ chi­

Iread it as an April Fools’ Day joke in Septem­ber, but it turned out to be true. A stretch of the GreatWall in Liaon­ing prov­ince, built dur­ing theMingDy­nasty (1368-1644), has in­deed been turned into a smooth, white trail of ce­ment in the name of restora­tion. To say the ir­re­versible dam­age caused to the UNESCOWorldHer­itage Site, the pride of the na­tion, is ou­tra­geous would be an un­der­state­ment.

The GreatWall with a ce­mented trail is like the Ta­jMa­hal adorned with glitzy mod­ern tiles or the statue of Venus deMilo with re­stored arms.

Ar­chi­tec­ture and aes­thet­ics aside, the dam­age to the Great Wall is also a crime against his­tory. What makes it more de­plorable is that, in­stead of feel­ing re­morse, of­fi­cials of Suizhong county’s cul­tural relics bureau, who were in charge of the project, in­sisted they had done noth­ing wrong, claim­ing the re­pair work that started in 2013 and ended in 2014 fol­lowed the reg­u­la­tions and laws on the pro­tec­tion of the GreatWall. One of­fi­cial even said ne­ti­zens who have raised a storm over the “de­struc­tive na­ture of the re­pair work” do not fully un­der­stand how the na­tional trea­sure is pro­tected.

The depth of folly, as well as the ig­no­rance of law dis­played by the of­fi­cials are shock­ing. Any sane per­son can tell that by pour­ing ce­ment over the ru­ins of the wall, they have ba­si­cally erased what­ever fea­tures were still left of this man-made won­der.

The 8,800-kilo­me­ter-long Great Wall is in a per­ilous state, with more than 30 per­cent of it hav­ing al­ready dis­ap­peared, ei­ther due to nat­u­ral ero­sion or unchecked hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Yet preser­va­tion work lags be­hind, with only 10 per­cent of the GreatWall un­der some sort of State pro­tec­tion. China is yet to work out a uni­fied set of stan­dards for re­pair and restora­tion work on the wall. But ex­perts agree that “min­i­mum in­ter­ven­tion” should serve as a guide­line for preser­va­tion, a prin­ci­ple that has been vi­o­lated by Liaon­ing of­fi­cials.

The GreatWall is pro­tected un­der Chi­nese laws, and even theft of its bricks is a crim­i­nal of­fense. Since an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by pro­vin­cial cul­tural heritage authorities is still go­ing on, we can­not say for cer­tain who or what is to blame for ru­in­ing the wall. But those peo­ple who are re­spon­si­ble for dis­fig­ur­ing the wall, ei­ther be­cause of lax su­per­vi­sion, dere­lic­tion of duty or cor­rup­tion, must be brought to book.

To me, the so-called re­stored stretch of the GreatWall in Suizhong is no dif­fer­ent from the theme park in Bei­jing’s south­ern sub­urbs where you can see all the won­ders of the world in minia­tures. Around the world in a day.

The GreatWall has al­ways been on top of the list of must-see sights for vis­i­tors to Bei­jing. As the say­ing goes, “he who has not climbed the GreatWall is not a true hero”. But nor­mally I don’t ac­com­pany friends or rel­a­tives to the Badal­ing sec­tion of the wall, a hot tourist site, un­less they in­sist. The re­stored sec­tion of the wall in Badal­ing, inmy view, has lost its his­tor­i­cal glow.

If at all I ac­com­pany friends or rel­a­tives to the GreatWall, I pre­fer The author is a pro­fes­sor at the Pop­u­la­tion Re­search In­sti­tute of Pek­ing Univer­sity. tak­ing them to the “wild” sec­tions, the real wall, at Jin­shan­ling or Si­matai, where its orig­i­nal beauty sur­vives. Those sec­tions give you a sense of his­tory, re­mind you of the tran­sient na­ture of time and tell you how hu­man en­deavor even­tu­ally suc­cumbs to nat­u­ral forces.

“The wall has life.” I still remember a tour guide told me dur­ing a trip to the GreatWall as she pointed to the bricks, each carved with the name of its maker hundreds of years ago, a track­ing method used in the days of yore to en­sure qual­ity.

It is the sa­cred duty of us all and of the gen­er­a­tions to come to keep the GreatWall alive, in­stead of sti­fling it to death by pour­ing ce­ment mix­ture on it.


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