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The Great Wall Conservation Conundrum


Development dilemma

Whether or not to further develop sections of the Great Wall into scenic spots is a dilemma facing the government. Money generated from tourism could sustain its preservation. But if it is developed, these sites face human destruction. In 2003, part of the Great Wall at Hongyukou, Tangshan city in northern Hebei Province was destroyed in order to build a scenic area.

The Great Wall at Shahukou, in northern Shanxi Province was once a historical gateway in central China. It was developed as a scenic spot in 2003, with efforts from the local government. However, during construction, the original walls and mounds were replaced with modern brick walls. The sides, pass and arch were all recreated, disregarding historical accuracy.

"They disrupted the original," Luo Zhewen (1924-2012) a well-known Great Wall conservation expert, once stated to the public.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), many parts of the Great Wall were destroyed, in efforts of ridding the "four olds" (old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas).

After the movement ended, conservation efforts for the Great Wall began in the early 1980s. Enthusiasm for the field surged in the late 1980s.

"The massive destruction of the Great Wall caused by its (commercial) development started in the late 1980s," said Cheng Dalin, an expert on the protection of the Great Wall from the Chinese Academy of Cultural Relics, in an interview with Southern Weekly in May.

"Tourism aside, mining, road building and other industrial activities are destructive factors," Cheng said.

Shifting the tourism model

"The majority of the Great Wall is unprotected," said Duan Qingbo, vice president of School of Cultural Heritage in Northwest University in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province.

"Keeping them from human destruction and starting regular repair projects on sections is what we can do for now," Duan told the Global Times.

"The government is currently cautious of turning sections of the Great Wall into scenic spots," he said. "Ticket revenues may not be as high as expected, and increased tourism destroys parts," Duan explained.

Most cultural relics hardly make money once they are scenic spots, except significant sites like the Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall at Badaling.

"The fondness over turning cultural sites into money-making centers needs to change," said Duan.

"Those cultural relics are far more significant in cultural and historic research, and we can't expect the tourism revenue to sustain their preservation," he added.

Take the Great Wall as an example. It used to serve as a military defense against enemies, but it also represents Chinese civilization and cultural interactions between agricultural civilization and nomadic cultures, as well as the cultural conflicts within each of those cultures.

"The Qi Great Wall (in eastern Shandong Province) was built to separate different agricultural groups, and the Jin Great Wall (in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region) separated nomadic peoples," Duan said.

Another problem is the protection and preservation mechanism, according to Duan. "We don't have an institution specializing in the Great Wall, and there are few private organizations."

Source: Global Times

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