A recent Chinese photography exhibition has exposed the vandalism the Great Wall of China endures at the hands of tourists on a daily basis.
During the last week of September, the Great Wall of China hosted the largest photography exhibition in Chinese history. Titled “Stay You”, the exhibition generated more than 10,000 submissions and urged participants to submit photographs that “showed themselves being themselves.” However, many of the winning submissions displayed a startling trend: tourists defiling large portions of the Great Wall.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is visited by approximately 10 million visitors every year, and in the more popular areas, such as Badaling, one must wander for miles before finding a brick that isn’t covered with handwritten English or French phrases. Campers who voyage to the area often spend their nights sleeping on the wall and hammer tent pegs between the bricks. Numerous reports tell of campers using the site as a public toilet, and due to the distance the wall spans—over 5,500 miles—it is nearly impossible to enforce conservation measures along the entire site.
The wall consists of a series of sections built between the 3rd century BC and the end of the Ming dynasty in 1644. In total, the wall traverses 11 different provinces and lacks a single entity responsible for its oversight or protection. This lack of unity has resulted in large sections of the wall becoming irreparably damaged or destroyed; more than one quarter of the wall has disappeared entirely, and it is estimated that only 340 miles remain in good condition. New measures have been invoked to limit the damage—for instance, new construction projects within 500 metres of the wall are strictly forbidden—but these came too late to prevent several factories from being built at the base of the wall.
Although a recent “full-moon techno rave” did not damage the wall, it did leave behind empty beer cans, whisky bottles, and takeaway food boxes. Events like this have been occurring at the wall with increasing frequency, and on China’s National Day in 1998, British geologist William Lindesay led 120 volunteers to help clean up the Great Wall of China. Several hundred pounds of garbage were removed during that one day alone, and Lindesay has devoted much of his life since then to promoting awareness and conservation efforts for the wall. His non-profit organization, the International Friends of the Great Wall, is dedicated to preserving the great cultural landscape before it becomes overrun and lost forever.