CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 6, June 2006


No. 6, June 2006


The preservation of the various Great Wall systems was highlighted during the events surrounding China's first Cultural Heritage Day, celebrated on 10 June 2006. In this issue we examine new, and old, chapters and byways in the long history of China's much vaunted and equally abused Great Walls.

This issue is produced in anticipation of The Great Wall of China, a major exhibition initiated by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. A joint project with the National Museum of China, Beijing, and a number of other major Chinese museums, the exhibition opens in Sydney on 27 September 2006. This event will be marked by the publication a large book of essays by pre-eminent scholars in China, Australia and North America and images of the objects borrowed from the participating Chinese organizations. That volume, also called The Great Wall of China, features a series of specially commissioned oral history interviews by Sang Ye with people along the Wall, from Jade Pass (Yumenguan) in present-day Gansu to Shanhaiguan in Hebei province. The book is produced by Powerhouse Publishing and the China Heritage Project of the ANU's College of Asia and the Pacific.

To coincide with the exhibition, the Powerhouse Museum is also hosting a weblog (blog) written by Brendan Fletcher and Emma Nicholas who are walking along the Great Walls and recording their trek in both text and image. See:

China Heritage Newsletter has been appearing for over a year. Considering the style and substance of our publication, from this issue we are renaming the journal China Heritage Quarterly []

Apart from our regular items, we are introducing a Bibliography section under New Scholarship. We believe that this will enrich the focus of the issue in which it appears.

Jingshanling-Great Wall
'Jinshanling', © Lois Conner

Well Below Par:
Moves to de-Commercialise the Great Wall

Fig. 1
Fig. 1 Stretch of the Great Wall at Badaling.

On 23 May 2006, the Johnnie Walker Open tee'd-off on top of Juyongguan Pass, one of the Ming dynasty Great Wall's most important sites in Beijing. Full page ads in several Chinese papers showed the top of the ancient pass decked out with Astroturf and hoardings. The event highlighted the impact of Scotch whiskey and golf on the aspirations of China's Fortune 500 wannabes, but, in the much publicised lead-up to China's first Cultural Heritage Day—10 June, the swinging five-irons at Juyongguan Pass made a mockery of government vows to downgrade commercial activity along the Great Wall. Johnnie Walker received preferential treatment; meanwhile, an Italian light sculpture event at Juyongguan Pass that opened on 20 June was forced to remain at least 100m away from the walls themselves.

It is ironical that Johnnie Walker got the green light to organise this event, because a number of contracts for commercial activities, planned admittedly by local not foreign companies, at the Badaling Great Wall in Beijing have not been signed in recent months. (Fig. 1) Moreover, barely a week goes by without a media update on current conservation efforts related to the Great Wall within Beijing. So it is surprising that no one in the Johnnie Walker organisation point out the fact that their planned event was not particularly heritage-sensitive.

Fig. 2
Fig. 2 The Laolongtou section of the Ming dynasty Great Wall at Shanhaiguan where the wall meets the ocean. The reconstruction of this site, undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s, is quite fanciful and was conducted without reference to archaeological data.

Johnnie Walker can perhaps be excused. After all, Juyongguan Pass, the venue for the tee-off, is itself a complete travesty. The section of wall that the two-lined highway passes through is completely new, having been resurfaced in recent years to ensure traffic safety. Such total rebuilding of the Great Wall exemplifies an earlier approach to conservation enthusiastically ascribed to by developers in the People's Republic of China in the 1980s and 1990s—nothing short of the uninformed reconstruction of ancient monuments as they could or should have been. (Fig. 2)

Such fanciful reconstruction of sections of the Great Wall has been well documented by Cheng Dalin, a veteran conservator and researcher at the Cultural Relics Institute under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH). In discussions on his contribution to the Great Wall of China Exhibition Catalogue co-published by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, and the China Heritage Project of The Australian National University, Cheng told me that he regards such wilful reconstruction of the Great Wall as the most destructive human action to which the Great Wall has been subjected. In his 2005 classified report for SACH on the current state of preservation of the historical great walls, he singled out for particular condemnation work approved by local authorities in Zibo, Shandong province, which resulted in the complete elimination and destruction of the original Great Wall of the state of Qi, one of the earliest sections of wall dating back more than two and a half millennia. New walls, anachronistically echoing the Ming dynasty structures of Badaling, were erected in their place.

The State of Badaling

Fig. 3
Fig. 3 A photograph showing graffiti at the Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Fig. 4
Fig. 4 Photograph from the 1980s of the then relatively untouched Badaling section of the Great Wall.

Fig. 5
Fig. 5 Watchtower (dilou) at the Jinshanling section of the Ming dynasty Great Wall in Hebei province.

The Badaling stretch of the Ming dynasty Great Wall is the section of wall best known to tourists. These 7,600m-long ramparts have borne the brunt of vandalism, erosion and destruction. Recent media reports have highlighted problems at Badaling created by graffiti, rave parties, vehicle exhaust and litter. (Fig. 3) The construction of holiday resorts, amusement facilities and villas in the vicinity has also destroyed the pristine appearance of the surroundings. (Fig. 4) Much of this development has been the result of unchecked and unregulated tourist development in which private developers and local governments compete to generate revenue—for themselves. Cheng Dalin points out that most Great Wall tourist areas developed within Beijing Municipality are unabashed commercial undertakings, and that, despite regulations, no takings from ticket sales are used for Great Wall conservation. To date, 40% of the takings at Badaling have been simply pocketed by the Yanqing county government, but hopefully this might be changing.

On 15 April 2006, it was reported that Beijing government's Badaling Special Zone Administration had seized the right to manage Badaling from its former partners, citing new legal regulations in its support. With the new agreement, the Badaling Special Zone Administration, an accredited representative of local government, will be solely responsible for all tourism and conservation at Badaling. The new Law on Protection of Cultural Relics clearly states that all ticket income from cultural heritage sites should be used for preservation, and the Badaling Special Zone Administration has pledged to do this. It remains to be seen what changes will be effected at Badaling, China's pre-eminent tourist destination.

It will be some time, however, before local governments and private developers give up their stake in profits from Great Wall tourism. This was highlighted by recent battles between authorities in Beijing's Miyun county and those in neighbouring Hebei province's Luanping county, which resulted in violence. At the end of April, China Daily reported that at least five cases of injury have been sustained in fights between workers in the two counties tussling over the collection of tolls on the cross-border roads leading to the Jinshanling section of the Ming dynasty Great Wall. (Fig. 5) Toll money is clearly not being used for preservation work on the walls at Jinshanling.

China Launches a Great Wall Protection Project

Fig. 6
Fig. 6 Restoration work on the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall. [Beijing Youth Daily, 31 May 2006, page A9]

The central government has little part to play in economic disputes at the local level, and there is a yawning gulf between wishful legislation and the situation on the ground. However, SACH must be commended for its efforts to encourage conservation of the Great Wall, an obligation it has by virtue of the Great Wall's listing by UNESCO as a World Heritage monument. In February this year, Tong Mingkang, deputy-director of SACH, launched a ten-year project to protect the Great Wall at a meeting in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. At that meeting, which brought together 46 professional scholars concerned with Great Wall archaeology and conservation, Tong outlined SACH's ten-year project to survey and clarify the current condition of all parts of the Great Walls, map out specific protection plans, provide funds for Great Wall protection, and repair wall damage. (Fig. 6)

Surveying the Wall

In the 1950s, and again in the 1980s, limited surveys of the Great Walls of the Han and all later dynasties were conducted, with archaeologists in Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Hebei and Liaoning conducting more intensive surveys of specific sections of the walls in those provinces. But no survey of the walls that is both comprehensive and intensive has ever been undertaken. The 1984 survey of the walls within Beijing municipality showed that the Great Wall was 629km long in the Beijing section, but this survey was conducted on foot and without the aid of GPS technology.

To rectify the lack of comprehensive data regarding the Great Wall, necessary for enacting any comprehensive protective legislation, the Great Wall Protection Project has prioritised a new survey, which will take several years to complete. (Fig. 7) This comes in the wake of the classified report on destruction of Great Wall sites and the state of preservation of the walls presented to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage by Cheng Dalin and his team last year.

Fig. 7
Fig. 7 First survey using GPS technology of the Beijing section of the Great Wall underway. [Beijing Youth Daily, 15 March 2006, page A6]

Fig. 8
Fig. 8 Two members of a team surveying the Beijing section of the Ming Great Wall, using GPS technology. [Beijing Youth Daily, 5 June 2006, page A4]

The new survey got underway on 17 March this year in both Hebei province and Beijing municipality. (Fig. 8) Each GPS survey group comprises three people, including one professional armed with a computer. A steady stream of news reports has kept the public up to date on the project and the teams' discoveries. On 5 June, Xinhua News Agency reported that archaeologists surveying the Shanhaiguan section of the Ming Great Wall near Qinhuangdao in Hebei province discovered the remains of two ancient board games engraved on a stone in front of a beacon tower. Clearly soldiers manning the ancient fortifications had some time on their hands.

Ancient Barracks Discovered

On 7 June 2006, Xinhua News Agency reported that the discovery of an ancient barracks and more than 500 'cultural relics', including ancient cannon and grenades, during the present survey of the Jiuyanlou section of the Ming dynasty Great Wall in Yanqing county, Beijing. The most spectacular discovery was of an ancient barracks covering an area of 2,500 sq m and comprising at least 12 rooms. (Figs. 9 and 10) An inscribed stone tablet reveals that the barracks was constructed during the Wanli reign period of the Ming (1573-1620). Among the recovered artefacts are architectural remains and daily-use articles, in addition to the cannon and grenades. The most surprising aspect of this discovery was that this barracks was built on the body of the wall itself, rather than on level ground adjacent to or near the wall, as was usually the case.

Fig. 9
Fig. 9 Archaeologists of the Beijing Administration of Cultural Heritage survey the remains of the first ancient military barracks discovered on the Great Wall itself and believed to date from the Wanli period of the Ming dynasty. [Beijing Youth Daily, 5 June 2006, page A1]

Fig. 10
Fig. 10 Remains of the ancient military barracks discovered on the Great Wall and believed to date from the Wanli period of the Ming dynasty. [Beijing Youth Daily, 5 June 2006, page A4]

The Jiuyanlou section of the wall was built in 1543, the 22nd year of the reign of the Jiajing Emperor. Located on a hill in Fendie valley, south-east of Sihai town in Yanqing county, it has the largest watch tower and the greatest number of merlons identified on any dilou, or watchtower, to date. The tower measures 7.8 m in height and is 13 m wide. There are nine merlons on each side of the tower's upper rampart, hence the name Jiuyanlou, 'nine eye tower'.

Protection Measures

On 1 June 2006, the Beijing Youth Daily reporter Liu Jianzhao revealed that the Simatai section of the Ming Great Wall in Beijing would probably be one of the first sections to be fitted with lightning rods. The Simatai area is subject to frequent lightning storms, and a Greek tourist was killed when struck by lightning there in 2005.

Fig. 11
Fig. 11 Farmer Zhang Heshan of Funing county, Hebei, and his son measure the height of a section of local Ming Great Wall. [Beijing Youth Daily, 25 May 2006 , page A13]

The installation of lightning rods on the Great Wall is controversial. It was first proposed that lightning rods be installed on all fortified watchtowers over 18m in height, but conservationists were rightly opposed to this modification of the original structure. By way of compromise, the lightning rods are held in place by clamps that would not penetrate the masonry; the clamps are also painted the same colour as the walls themselves. SACH has allocated RMB15 million yuan for fire and lightning protective measures at ten major cultural sites in Beijing municipality, but it is not clear how much of this is earmarked for the Great Wall.

Public Involvement

SACH's current survey of the Wall has actively sought to involve members of the public. (Fig. 11) NGOs and the Chinese press have also been active in highlighting Great Wall preservation issues. Members of the Great Wall Society, founded in 1987, regularly highlight threats to the Great Wall and clamour for press attention. Dong Yaohui is one of the leading activists of this group, and elsewhere in this issue we look at his contribution to Great Wall conservation, together with that of Cheng Dalin and Luo Zhewen. (See New Scholarship: 'Dedicated to Great Wall Conservation: A Portrait of Three Chinese Scholars') Last but not least, foreign residents in China have also supported Great Wall conservation, as have foreign corporations. Siemens, for example, contributed to the restoration of the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in Beijing, prior to its later commercialisation. (Fig. 12)

Fig. 12
Fig. 12 The Mutianyu section of the Ming Great Wall in Huairou county, Beijing, prior to restoration in the 1980s.

However, most of these efforts will come to nought, unless the management changes enacted at Badaling are applied along the length of walls. The Badaling reform will require close monitoring if it is to succeed.

Greater efforts to raise public awareness of the value of conservation and all that is involved in heritage preservation are also necessary. Media publicity of the new survey will go some of the way to ensuring that the general public has a measure of involvement in this heritage undertaking, as well as highlighting the value of what will be lost if serious conservation measures are not put in place. [BGD]


See also China Heritage Newsletter, No.1 (March 2005), Features, 'The Great Wall of China: Tangible, Intangible and Destructible'. See: