The Great Wall

© Sino Images/Getty Images  Great wall of China

By Ann Stalcup and Peg Lopata, Cricket Media

Dating from the 4th century B .C ., the Great Wall of China was initially a series of watchtowers. Its massive size and length leave you breathless. Measuring 12 feet wide and 25 feet high, the Great Wall zigzags across 1,500 miles of deserts, grasslands, and mountains.

Soldiers, prisoners, and local people were involved in building various sections of the wall. Stone, rocks, and packed earth were used in its construction. The wall first served as independent fortifications for three states, but during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 B .C .), China was unified and the walls were connected. Later, during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries, the wall was repaired to protect the Chinese from Mongol invasions from the north. The repairs took 200 years to complete. It once stretched 4,163 miles from east to west — resembling to many a gigantic dragon.

Today, visitors can experience the wall’s enormity by climbing its many stone steps and walking along the top. Although some sections are in ruins or have disappeared, as you look at the wall stretching far off into the distance, it is easy to imagine armies camped on the top, horsemen racing along its surface, and bonfires being lit to signal the approach of invaders.

Originally built to protect China from invaders, it is now in need of its own protection from destruction, theft, vandalism, and erosion — and even wild parties. According to the China Great Wall Society, only 20 percent of the wall is in reasonable shape, 30 percent is in ruins, and the rest has disappeared. The Society says tourism is to blame for most of the damage.

In remote locations, sections of the wall have been damaged by building projects, as China’s economy booms and the nation moves fast to modernize. In one town, about a hundred miles from Beijing, the wall was taken apart stone by stone to pave a section of a highway.

China now recognizes that something must be done to conserve the wall, and the country is trying various approaches to ensure it lasts another 20 centuries. For example, the Chinese are using sensing devices, satellites, and planes to determine the condition of the wall. Authorities are hoping more people will take pride in their famous wall and work to protect it now that they know it is in jeopardy. In the fall of 2006, laws were passed to protect the Great Wall. It is now illegal to put graffiti on, carve into, or take bricks or soil from the wall or to build structures on it. Raves, stunts, driving on, and unofficial exploration of the wall are also banned. These efforts are made not only to retain this amazing structure for historical and cultural purposes, but also to ensure it remains a favorite destination for tourists. Some 10 million people visit the wall each year, and the money they spend in China is important to the country’s economy.

China is not alone in its efforts to protect the Great Wall. William Lindesay, a native of England, has lived in China since 1987. He founded the International Friends of the Great Wall (IFGW), a society dedicated to conserving this famous landmark.

Perhaps armed with the latest communication and monitoring devices, the vigilance of local guards, and the rule of law, China will be able to preserve its most unique and valued treasure for generations to come.

See more at Cricket Media

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