The Great Wall of China stretches 8,851 kilometres from head to tail. It is comprised of sections built at different epochs in Chinese history. Some of its ramparts are well-walked and others lie deep in the mountains away from human habitation.
No wonder, then, that a botched restoration job in a remote part of Liaoning province has only just caught the attention of China at large.
In 2014, at the behest of the Cultural Relics Bureau of Suizhong county, eight dilapidated kilometres of the Great Wall – reportedly referred to as “the most beautiful and wild” section – underwent emergency restoration work to prevent it from collapsing. But a two kilometre stretch of the salvage work has irked the Chinese media and the general public after pictures began circulating showing that the wall had been cemented over.
“This looks like the work of a group of people who didn’t even graduate from elementary school,” one weibo user lambasted. “If this is the result, you might as well have just blown it up.”
Others were eager to blame officials for creating what Beijing News dubbed “a small road that is too horrible to look at”. One netizen asked, “How is it that people with low levels of cultural awareness can take on leadership positions?”
Ding Hui, Deputy Director of Liaoning province’s Department of Culture, told Beijing News that they were just as befuddled as everyone else because the procedure was the only remedy recommended by the specialists invited to survey the wall in 2012. “It really isn’t very attractive,” he confirmed.
The Cultural Relics Bureau has been somewhat more defiant, refuting reports that the Ming Dynasty masonry had been topped with concrete. Instead it claimed a mixture of sand and lime had been used to create a layer that would protect the wall from heavy rainfall. It added that the eroded brick surface had exposed the piled earth below, so a substantial downpour could have caused a mudslide, decimating the entire structure.
Thankfully for the department, a subsequent investigation led by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage concluded that the work had been “essential”. A close call for those involved: the BBC reports that damaging cultural relics can result in a 10-year prison sentence.
But this won’t save the county from its online critics. “Why don’t we just raze the Forbidden City too?” asked one. “This generation are the sinners of history,” was the melodramatic condemnation from another.
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