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Photo of faulty repair raises public concerns

Reporter: Han Peng 丨 CCTV.com

10-02-2016 09:27 BJT

The Great Wall of China is popular among tourists, especially on holidays like National Day. But a photograph of an unprofessional restoration job went viral last week. The protection of one of the world's greatest cultural and historical heritage sites is in the spotlight again.

The work was completed in 2014, at a section located between northern Liaoning and Hebei Provinces. The Great Wall stretches for thousands of kilometers in sections from China's east coast to the edge of the Gobi Desert, spanning 15 provinces and municipalities. CCTV's Han Peng met one of the wall's protectors in Beijing and has this story.

The Great Wall protected China for centuries. But today, it's in urgent need of its own protection.

"Less than 10 percent of the Great Wall remains in good condition. Around 20 percent is badly damaged, and 30 percent has already disappeared," said Dong Yaohui, vice president of China Great Wall Society.

Bai Chunxiang grew up under an unrestored section of the Great Wall, near the northern border of Beijing.

It's the so-called "Wild Great Wall", or a section that's neither preserved or developed into a tourist attraction. Most of the Great Wall comprises of sections like this.

One local says he decided to defend the disappearing UNESCO cultural heritage site on his doorstep ten year ago.

"Back then, I found many of my neighbors were digging herbs or catching scorpions on the Great Wall. Some were even herding here. That caused a lot of damage to the already-broken structure. So I stopped them whenever I saw them. I even dropped into their homes with some fruits and vegetables, trying to convince them to stop. That made me quite unpopular with some neighbors," said Bai Chunxiang, wild Great Wall protector.

Bai says that hostility lasted until 2010, before local authorities actually hired him as a Great Wall protector.

Although the salary is a modest one thousand US dollars a year, Bai says he is glad to have an official position now.

Over the past ten years, he's patrolled his section of the wall at least once a week, and regularly submits to local authorities a report of any new damage.

But our most impressive findings were the relics he had salvaged.

"Look at this hole. The ancient Chinese army would put gunpowder in it, and use this stone as the oldest form of grenade. There were once plenty of them on or near the Great Wall. But because of a lack of awareness, some villagers use these stones, or even the bricks from the Great Wall, to build their houses. Others sell them as souvenirs in the black market," Bai said.

Bai says his single-minded protection somehow raised the awareness of nearby villagers.

But the biggest damage is caused by nature.

"This is one of the very few existing waterways of the Great Wall. In 2012, a torrential flood eroded most of its foundation. It became very urgent. So I brought in some cement, and risked my life under the collapsing cave to fortify the foundation," Bai said.

Bai's work prevented the collapse, but it was controversial online. Some criticized him for damaging the original structure, saying his remedy is worse than the disease.

Others say it is unwise to leave the protection of such an important architecture to unqualified people.

Bai says the ordeal made him sad. But he has learned from it.

"That tower was built by the army of Chinese hero Qi Jiguang in 1567. Last year, it was about to collapse. I pitched the wall with some wood, and waited for the experts to deal with it," Bai said.

China formulated a Great Wall Protection Regulation in 2006, and invested 60 million US dollars to prevent a 50-kilometer section near Beijing from collapsing. The Great Wall is 20-thousand kilometers long.

And Bai is only responsible for the one-kilometre section near his home.

Today we are still losing the Great Wall, brick by brick, because of both human activities and natural conditions. How to prevent one of the greatest world wonders from disappearing with an effective method remains a tough question.

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