Great Wall crumbles beneath mainland’s rising wealth

Tamora Vidaillet , BEIJING, Reuters

Mainland China’s burgeoning tourism and construction sectors pose a growing threat to the Great Wall, disfiguring swathes of its ancient facade and wrecking its landscapes, experts said on Tuesday.

Graffiti and rubbish are only some of the eyesores visible along parts of the mammoth structure, which stretches intermittently across thousands of kilometers and can be seen from space.

Peddlers have put up unauthorized ticket booths and ladders and collect money from Chinese and foreign tourists venturing to its wilder sections.

Hotels and homes are springing up along what state media have dubbed the symbol of mainland China’s national spirit, begun more than 2,000 years ago to keep out warlike nomads, as property developers milk the evolving tastes of city weary locals.

“Many pressures have conspired to damage what we call wild wall,” founder of International Friends of the Great Wall William Lindesay told a news conference.

He blamed the rise in income, increasing car ownership, more leisure time and property developers for blighting views of the Wall north of Beijing.

“Unless there’s big progress in the next few years, the loss of cultural landscapes of the Great Wall in the Beijing region will become Beijing’s third great lament,” said the man who trekked nearly 2,500 km (1,500 miles) of the wall in 1987.

Beijing destroyed most of its ancient city wall to make way for a subway some two decades ago. Now it is swiftly demolishing most of its ancient alleys, or “Hutongs,” in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic games, he said. The U.S.-based World Monuments Fund added the Great Wall to its list of the world’s 100 most endangered sites.

The wall, built by hundreds of thousands of workers and prisoners, snakes it way for more than 6,400 km (4,000 miles) across jagged mountains from the east coast though the Gobi desert in the west.

Officials are striving to strike a balance between preventing parts of the wall collapsing and preserving its authenticity, said Zhang Jian Xin of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

In a move that should deter more damage, Beijing is expected to issue its first regulation to protect 630 km (390 miles) of Wall around the city, said Kong Fangzhi, deputy director of the municipal cultural heritage administration.

The regulation, already in draft form, would include the formation of special protection zones along the Wall, Kong said.

But conflicting interests within China’s ministries would make it difficult to overcome chronic problems, Lindesay said.

The Construction Ministry, rather than the State Bureau for Cultural Relics managed all world heritage sites in China, underscoring the severity of the problem, he said.