Great Wall ren­o­va­tion an up­hill strug­gle

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

As the first ray of sun­shine reaches Dong­gou vil­lage in Bei­jing’s Miyun dis­trict, Yang Cheng­hai and his fel­low vil­lagers walk be­hind 14 mules, each laden with bricks, and make their way up a hill to a sec­tion of the Great Wall.

Wind­ing along moun­tain ridges across north­ern China, the Great Wall, one of the world’s great wonders, was built be­tween the 3rd cen­tury BC and the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644). The ex­ist­ing sec­tions mostly date from that dy­nasty, with the Ming wall more than 8,800 kilo­me­ters long.

Preser­va­tion faces longterm chal­lenges, as seen in the ren­o­va­tion of a 1 km sec­tion of the Great Wall north of Yang’s vil­lage that be­gan at the start of this year.

Since the hill­side paths are steep, an­i­mals are the only way to get bricks to the top. But a mule can only carry 12 wall bricks at a time, as each one weighs more than 10 kilo­grams.

Yang, 54, sup­ports him­self with a thick tree branch, fol­low­ing the mules on a rocky, muddy path.

To bet­ter pre­serve the wall’s his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural val­ues, the bricks are made ac­cord­ing to their orig­i­nal for­mat, ma­te­rial and crafts­man­ship.

Af­ter nearly an hour’s walk, a sec­tion of the Great Wall comes into sight, along with work­ers lay­ing bricks. Some parts are over­grown with weeds, and some have al­ready col­lapsed.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey, the re­main­ing Great Wall sec­tions in Bei­jing are 573 km long, of which 526 km are from the Ming Dy­nasty.

Zheng Baoy­ong, head of the dis­trict’s her­itage man­age­ment of­fice, said Miyun is home to one-third of Bei­jing’s Great Wall sec­tions. Due to hu­man de­struc­tion and nat­u­ral weathering, some parts of the Great Wall are dam­aged or have col­lapsed, and they are in ur­gent need of ren­o­va­tion.

The Great Wall, a sym­bol of China, is not just one wall, but many in­ter­con­nected walls. Sec­tions of ear­lier for­ti­fi­ca­tions were joined to­gether to form a united de­fense sys­tem against in­va­sions from the north. It was listed as a World Her­itage Site by UN­ESCO in 1987.

In 2006, a reg­u­la­tion on Great Wall pro­tec­tion took ef­fect. But re­pairs are dif­fi­cult to com­plete, tak­ing large amounts of man­ual la­bor and fund­ing.

The bricks used for restora­tion are usu­ally trans­ported by ve­hi­cles to the foot of a hill, with mules then tak­ing them up to the Great Wall. Work­ers have to carry the bricks by hand when a mule fails to climb a steep slope. Some­times, moor­ing ropes and slide rails are also needed.

“It is a very dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous project,” said Zhang Baoru, who is in charge of the ren­o­va­tion work near Dong­gou. “We have around 50 work­ers now. Ev­ery day, they start their work at 5:30 am and do not stop un­til dark. It is hard to hire work­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Bei­jing Cul­tural Her­itage Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the city gov­ern­ment has in­vested a to­tal of 374 mil­lion yuan ($54 mil­lion) on the ren­o­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of the Great Wall over the past 10 years.

“The Great Wall is a valu­able his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural her­itage,” said Xiu Haiqing, the Party chief of Dong­gou vil­lage. “Ren­o­va­tion is not easy, so more ef­forts should be made to bet­ter pro­tect it.”

Yang grew up at the foot of the Great Wall. He and his mules have re­peated the jour­ney to trans­port bricks more than 10 times a day for months.

“It is very hard, but I know it is a good thing to do,” he said, let­ting the mules graze for a while be­fore they go down the hill to pick up more bricks.

LUO XIAOGUANG / XIN­HUA

Work­ers an­a­lyze a sec­tion of the Great Wall at Dong­gou vil­lage in Bei­jing’s Miyun dis­trict in Au­gust.

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