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Retiree rams home the need to protect ancient earthwork

Updated: 2022-09-29 08:26 ( China Daily )
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The photo of Yuan Jianqin. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Since her retirement, come rain or shine, 57-year-old Yuan Jianqin has spent most of her time on excursions along, and making records of, the Datong section of the Great Wall.

Yuan says that her passion in protecting the Great Wall stems from her childhood. Although she was born in Datong, Shanxi province, her family moved to Nankou town in Beijing, which lies close to the Juyong Pass of the Great Wall.

"My school used to organize excursions every Friday. I remember we would climb the Badaling section while chanting the famous line 'one who fails to reach the Great Wall is not a hero'," she recalls.

That early life experience planted a seed in her mind, which continued to sprout as she grew up, returned to Datong and began to work at a local TV station.

"I have always loved outdoor activities, often going hiking. When I visited the Datong section of the Great Wall, I was attracted by its rammed earth structure. Later on, the more I learned about its history, the more I loved it," Yuan says.

"I was also pained to see people's misunderstanding of it, and the damage it sustained. I felt a sense of duty to protect and promote this section, so that more people will know about it."

According to Yuan, the Datong section is the best example among parts of the Great Wall that employ a rammed earth structure. Unlike the more commonly known masonry structure of the epic monument, this section was built using compacted loess, its color merging with the mountains.

The construction of this section started during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and continued until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).With a length of 493 kilometers, it covers different types of terrain, including mountains and flatlands.

Because Datong used to be an important town in the Ming Dynasty's military defense, the section features a comprehensive system of fortification structures, including beacon towers, passes and fortresses.

Yuan first started organizing outdoor activities with the TV station's camera crew, acting as a tour guide while they trekked along the ancient structure, explaining its history and significance, taking photos and videos, as well as constantly searching for a new angle from which to report it.

For nearly a decade, in her spare time, she hosted events promoting the protection of the Great Wall, which, after retiring in 2020, became her full-time vocation. In the same year, under the encouragement of Dong Yaohui, vice-chairman of the China Great Wall Association, she founded the Datong Great Wall Cultural and Tourism Association.

"After the Great Wall entered my sight, it never disappeared. Its preservation is an important issue. Most parts of the Great Wall in Datong were built by rammed earth, and the year-round wind erosion has caused it to fall into partial ruin. Without enhanced protection and promotion, the Great Wall will gradually disappear," Yuan says.

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