Local government efforts to preserve a seven-century-old stretch of China’s Great Wall have been roundly pilloried after pictures of the smooth cement “restoration” job surfaced on social media.
The work on the Xiaohekou section of the Great Wall in China’s northeastern Liaoning province was carried out in 2014, local media reports, though the shocking result has only just been revealed to the world following an article in Beijing News.
“This cultural relic is now worthless,” fumed one commenter on China’s Twitter-like microblog Weibo. ”Is this restoration? No, it’s destruction!”
Suizhong county’s Cultural Relics Bureau deemed the work necessary to protect tourists from loose masonry and falling debris, say local officials. But they have neglected to explain why a more sensitive repair job wasn’t ordered for one of the world’s most famous historical landmark. And their efforts, as one might imagine, have had contrary to the desired effect on local tourism.
Ms. Yu, 60, who runs a small hotel in nearby Yong’anpu village, says that visitor numbers have plummeted following the restoration. “My clients have also complained,” she tells TIME. “Many of them are photography fans and students majoring in painting. They won’t come back again.”
Still, it’s not the first terrible idea to swirl around the Great Wall, which is in fact a jumble of separate fortifications constructed over several centuries that stretch for 13,000 miles by some calculations. In 1931, China’s Nationalist government even had (thankfully aborted) plans to turn the wall into a freeway. Although, with a dose of irony, that’s exactly what the refurbished section of the Xiaohekou wall now most resembles.
“It’s strange that they made the Great Wall into a road,” says Ms. Yu. “The crenels are all flat now. It’s slippy and feels dangerous when I walk on it.”
Also ironic is that the hullabaloo comes just days after the state-backed China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Conservation launched a crowdfunding campaign to help protect dilapidated sections of the wall, with a goal of raising 11 million renminbi ($1.6 million) by Dec. 1. It attracted $18,000 in its first week, though some of that money may now have to be diverted to remedy the catastrophe at Xiaohekou.
“I was born here, the wild Great Wall was my favorite childhood playground, but now the original shape has gone,” says Ms. Yu. “I wish the local government would return our old Great Wall. But it’s the officials’ decision. As villagers, we can do nothing about it.”
— With reporting by Yang Siqi / Beijing
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