Protecting the Great Wall, one group at a time

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NEW YORK -- Tourism has taken a toll on China's Great Wall, but then so have a number of other factors, including animals, local farmers, construction and Mother Nature.

Beginning in the 1990s, the depredations of tourism -- graffiti, fumes from vehicles and trash on the landscape -- reflected a huge growth in domestic tourism, as more Chinese could afford to visit their national attractions and as more began driving cars to those destinations.

William Lindesay, founder of the International Friends of the Great Wall, painted that rather-dark portrait of his favorite place during a presentation at New York's Explorers Club, sponsored by the World Monuments Fund.

However, Lindesay had some good news, too: The government in the Beijing principality (about the size of New Jersey and home to 390 miles of the 4,154-mile wall) supported his campaign to get the wall on the World Monuments Fund's list of the world's 100 most-endangered sites.

It was listed beginning in 2002, and, as a result, China is better able to attract overseas funding to restore, maintain and protect this piece of its history, Lindesay said. Although a total reconstruction is not envisioned, he said it would cost about $155 billion to rebuild the entire wall.

In addition, he said, the Beijing principality implemented the first-ever laws to protect the wall last summer.

There is now a buffer of about a third-of-a-mile on either side of the wall where no "artificial construction" is allowed; construction rights are restricted up to about 1.9 miles on either side.

This is quite a turnaround, he said, from the days when Mao Tse-tung urged local farmers to "use ancient materials to serve the present."

His successor, Deng Xiao-ping, recognized the folly of that; he called on Chinese to stop destroying the wall, Lindesay said, and sought foreign aid to repair and protect parts of the wall for tourism purposes.

Lindesay, a British citizen living in Beijing, said his organization (online at www.friendsofgreatwall.org) undertakes basic projects such as donating bins so visitors have a place to discard their trash, installing signage spelling out a code of conduct and calling on visitors to observe the code to protect the wall.

You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].

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