It’s a huge part of the national psyche. Rumours abound that it can be seen from space (it generally can’t). Kafka wrote a short story about it. But now the Chinese news agency Xinhua reports that parts of the wall are being destroyed – not by the Mongolian hordes it was built to deter, but by sandstorms.
The Great Wall is not a continuous structure, but was built in sections, with different dynasties favouring different building methods. The section under attack is that built during the Han dynasty, composed of bricks of packed earth.
An estimated 25 miles of wall in the dry and remote Gansu province have already been eroded. Archaelogist Zhou Shengrui commented that “Frequent storms not only eroded the mud, but also cracked the wall and caused it to collapse or break down.”
The wall is also under threat from human behaviour, with partygoers and migrant workers using sections as a toilet, and tourists hunting for souvenirs. Farmers also attack the stonework to reuse it for their own buildings.
In July this year the New Scientist reported that “parts of China are suffering meteorological misery of different kinds.” Dong Wenjie, director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre, commented that “The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are increasing. Records for worst-in-a-century rainstorms, droughts and heatwaves are being broken more often. This, in fact, is closely associated with global warming.”
Chinese scholars estimate that the sections of wall left standing are now around 1,500 miles long, down from a high of 3,900 miles during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644). Conservationists in Gansu have now formulated a plan to bury the wall to protect it, and are planting vegetation to prevent further erosion.
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