BEIJING: Meandering on mountain ridges across north China, the Great Wall, one of the world’s great wonders, has for thousands of years protected residents from invasion.
Gone are the beacons and soldiers on the mountaintops. But another group of rangers has appeared, protecting the ancient landmark from a new kind of invasion.
In Yanqing district on the northern outskirts of Beijing, home to a 179km-long section of the Great Wall, a team of more than 60 government-employed rangers and some 200 volunteers has ensured that there is no further man-made destruction of the wall.
Mei Jingtian, 73, is the oldest of them. He lives in Shixia village near Badaling, where the oldest sections of the Great Wall have been dated back to the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-557).
“I grew up at the foot of the Great Wall and it was an important part of my childhood,” he said.
Mei remembers the imposing wall of his youth, before it went through massive destruction during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was considered a remnant of feudal history to be pulled down.
During that time, some locals even took bricks from the ancient wall to build their houses.
The Great Wall, a symbol of China, is actually not just one wall, but many interconnected walls built between the third century BC and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1987, but its preservation faces long-term challenges.
According to the Yanqing cultural relics authority, only 10% of the Great Wall in the district has been protected, 15% has completely disappeared and the rest is in ruins.
Mei became a voluntary ranger in 1983. Carrying a bottle of water and a sickle, he leaves home at dawn, humming an old song while picking up the garbage and weeding around the foot of the Great Wall.
He walks around 20km daily. Over the decades, he has worn through more than 200 pairs of shoes.
“I feel reassured standing on the mountain,” he said.
“The Great Wall is unique. If we don’t do anything, I think one day it might disappear completely.”
Human activity once posed the greatest threat to the Great Wall and was hard to stop. Mei was often told: “Don’t meddle in others’ business.”
Once he approached a group of men inscribing characters on the bricks with a knife, who then surrounded and tried to intimidate him.
“I told them the importance of protecting Great Wall and was able to make them leave,” he recalled.
In 2007, Mei founded a 40-member-strong association for Great Wall protection.
“Now the number has doubled,” he said, adding that they run activities all year round, mobilising Communist Party members and even primary school students to take part in mountain patrols, pick up garbage and check geological risks along the wall.
His story has inspired many others to follow suit. Liu Huijun, 43, from Hubei Province, who was stationed in Shixia village as a soldier in 1993, became a ranger in 2007.
“Public awareness of Great Wall protection has been increased,” said Liu, now a police officer.
“The Great Wall is a treasure left by our ancestors. We can seek different development paths, but if the Great Wall landscape is ruined, the damage will last forever.” — China Daily/Asia News Network
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