Great Wall of China: Importance and Latest Findings
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Published: Mon, 30 Apr 2018
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The Great Wall was reckoned as the world’s largest human-made structure made up of stone, bricks and earthen works whose construction started as early as the 7th century BC. Originally, it was used in many purposes but the most significant was to act as a border control that comprised of watch towers, garrison station and troop quarters etc.
It has received recognition by making the World Heritage List in 1987 of its cultural values in Chinese history. In recent decade, archaeologists put efforts in investigating the actual length of the Wall by applying field walking, remote sensing and stratigraphy to look for archaeological potential in nearby areas. It has contributed to a drastic change for the world to recognize an even larger construction project in China. Over the years, it has been attracting tourists from all around the globe to witness this majestic fortification. In spite of their endless fascination towards the most reckonable ancient wall, many were inconsiderate in littering that sparked debates in its preservation work. Furthermore, the Great Wall is praised by its profound value in Chinese history, act as a strong symbol and historical evidence for people to ascertain past events. In the following, it will discuss its historical importance, recent unearthed findings, preservation work and cultural values to analyze its relationship of past and present.
Criteria of WHL [Danny] According to the World Heritage Convention, there are ten criteria for the world heritage selection. Six of them are culture criteria and four of them are natural criteria. The committee will evaluate the heritage site based on this ten criteria. If the heritage sites list on the WHL, “sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten criteria (UNSECO, n.d.)”. The Great Wall is the culture site that list on the WHL and it meets five out of six culture criteria of selection. In addition, the Great Wall meets criteria (i), (ii),(iii), (iv) and (vi). So, the Great Wall is a heritage site that contains outstanding universal value. Therefore, the Great Wall has been listed on the WHL at 1987.
The criterion (i) is “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius (UNSECO, n.d.)”. The Great Wall is a masterpiece because it is the only human hands built construction on the earth that human can see it from the space (UNSECO, n.d.). The length of it is larger than 20,000 kilometers and all built by human hands. So, it shows the human creative genius in building this huge scale construction.
For the criterion (ii), the heritage site shows the significant interchange in the human values. The human values of Chinese spread to the northern frontier in the period of Chunqiu. The Great Wall reinforces the Sinicism by the transfer of population (UNSECO, n.d.). Some of the Chinese and foreigner from north lived near the Great Wall and the culture intergradation shows the interchange in the human values.
For the criterion (iii), the heritage site provides special or important evidences to the civilization. The Great Wall provides special or important evidences to “the rammed-earth sections of fortifications dating from the Western Han (UNSECO, n.d.)”. Some sections of the Great Wall are made of the rammed-earth which is the old constructional material.
For the criterion (iv), the heritage site is an outstanding model for buildings, architectural style or craft. Since the Great Wall is the longest and oldest military construction in the World, it is an outstanding model for military construction. In 220 B.C., Qin Shi Huang built the first military construction-the Great Wall of the Qin dynasty to protect the country (UNSECO, n.d.). In the later dynasties, they also built this kind of military construction to prevent the incursion from the north. Therefore, The Great Wall is an outstanding model for fortifications and it served as military purpose for 2,000 years.
For the criterion (vi), the heritage site is associated with the literary work of prominent worldwide significance. “The Great Wall has an incomparable symbolic significance in the history of China (UNSECO, n.d.)”. We can find the Great Wall this symbolic significance in many Chinese literary works in Tang dynasty such as the poems of Tu Fu (712-770) (UNSECO, n.d.).
As a cultural heritage site, the Great Wall does not meet the criteria (v). According to the requirement, the heritage site on the WHL only need to meet at least one criterion. The other five criteria have proof that the Great Wall is qualified and worthy to list on the WHL.
Even though the Great Wall still remains in China, archaeologists have found various means to study sites around the Great Wall in bid to seek its cultural significance. In fact, the most prominent study was the use of Google Earth and carbon dating that helped in discovering a lost segment of the Wall back in 2011 in Southern Mongolia (Owen, 2012).
Initially, the archaeologists were investigating typographic clues seen in Google Earth through satellite photographs. Via remote sensing, they were able to consult ancient historical texts to analyze these satellite imagery. Interestingly, they only discovered a remaining piece of fossil instead of skull and large thighbone. With this evidence in mind, archaeologists thought that the Wall must be in a much extended length. Similarly, radiocarbon dating had shown partly exposed wood and rope remains; the construction was then assumed to be went on for over hundreds of years or even more than a thousand years later, approximately from 1040 to 1160. As a result, they widely supposed that Western Xia dynasty constructed the Wall on the site (Owen, 2012). Excavation is therefore very essential in establishing an approximate date of the past for archaeological sites.
Up until now in 2015, archaeologists have been examining archive photos, historical documents and field walking to discover more and more parts of the Great Wall that have not been publicly visible. One team of experts in Northwestern China discovered a new section of wall which is comprised of rammed earth whereas some parts were even built on top of mountain ranges and spread along valleys; it was found mainly between Jingyuan Country and Nanchangtan village. In historical documents, they came to a consensus that Emperor Qin demanded the Great Wall had to run across Gansu province, Ningxia and Mongolia. However, some ruins were found shorter than usual that the archaeologists believed it was because of natural degradation. In this case, the Great Wall can be seen as different structures built through both Northern and Southern Mongolia from start to finish, and existed over a couple of dynasties (Chow and Chan, 2015).
All in all, from the above dating methods and analytical study of the Great Wall, many published materials have told the world how the Great Wall is actually more drawn-out; it certainly was a ground-breaking news for archaeologists and tourists as well. In particular, Google Earth was profoundly applied in the study as it proved its scientific values in doing archaeological research. Under these circumstances, archaeology can be seen as a stepping stone for the Chinese to have deeper understandings of Chinese history and even the cultural transformation in their own place. From learning about the past emperors, the Chinese can also enhance their sense of belonging with ancestors and share amongst generations.
Currently, regarding the preservation of the Great Wall, several measures are undergoing.
According to an article found on China daily, an official patrolling team is being organized to check against the damage of the mammoth structure. This patrolling team will focus on the section in Beijing, which is 630km long, including the most popular section of the Great Wall, Badaling. (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2006-02/16/content_520680.htm, 2006)
As mentioned by Yu Ping, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, members of this team will usually be rural residents who live near the Wall, and will be paid by local governments.
Apart from the patrol team, a buffer zone would also be drawn to help protect the Great Wall, as announced by the Chinese administration. This buffer zone will take up to three years to be finished. At present, only a general standard ranging from 500 metres to 2 kilometres away from the Wall is designated as a buffer zone to protect it.
Change in Law to protect the Great Wall
Back in Sep. 20 of 2006, the State Council have promulgated regulations regarding the protection of the Great Wall, which have come into effect on Dec. 1 of the same year (http://www.lawinfochina.com/display.aspx?lib=law&id=5635&CGid=, 2006).
The law will focus on protecting the Great Wall, with its attached buildings and surrounding enviornment. For example, from August 2003 onwards, hikers and tourists will not be permitted to explore unprotected sections of the Great Wall.
According to an article found on Travel China Guide,The purpose of the regulation are to help regulate visitor’s and local resident’s behaviors when visiting the Wall. For example, article 18 of the regulation forbits activites such as illegal organizations of activities and taking away items related to the Great Wall. (http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/wallprotection/law/, 2006)
Back in March of 2004, the initial phase of renovation on the section known as Huanghuacheng had begun. According to an article found on China Daily, “it includes rehabilitating 13 battlements, two gates and 3,300 metres of wall on a four-kilogreat wall from the spacemetre stretch.” (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-04/20/content_435783.htm, 2005)
Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, also mentioned that this renovation project is scheduled to be carried out in three phases and would cost at least 12 million yuan.
To add on, Luo Zhewen, an expert on ancient architecture also noted that original materials and traditional techniques should be used as much as possible, otherwise, the word “preservation” could not be fulfilled.
However, just as the preservation work is undergoing, damage to the Wall are still becoming serious. Currently, A large amount of the wall has collapsed and in some sections, only its foundation remains, accroding to a five-year survey (Rossella Lorenzi, 2012).
On the other hand, sections which are yet to be restored, known as “wild wall” and are not open to the public, also suffer from man-made damage. It could be found that local villages often put up iron ladders illegally to attract hikers.
It is often argued saturated tourism is the main cause for the damage done on the Wall, with most of the bricks in Badaling being carved with people’s names and graffiti as supporting evidence.
The Great Wall’s current preservation work could be improved from several perspectives.
Firstly, it would be important to educate the public about the importance and cultural significance of representing their cultural identity.
Extra care and financial support should be given to locals villages living near parts which are considered “wild walls. Most of the villages are “damaging the Wall” simply because they are having a tough life. It is possible that with adequate financial support, the village’s burden could be alleviated and no longer need to continue the aforementioned act.
Planting trees can also help protect the areas from erosion. However, there are still rooms for negotiation among cultural heritage organizations and Chinese government.
Last but not least, tourists like us can also participate in helping the preservation work. Just as usual practice when we visit foreign places, we should never leave trash behind nor take away anything related to the Great Wall. Such insignificant actions could contribute a lot to the preservation work to an extent far beyond our imagination.
Cultural significance of cultural site
The Great Wall is the longest and oldest military fortifications in the World, and ranks among the “Seven Wonders of the World”. It starts from Shanhaiguan Pass in the east and ends at Jiayuguan Pass in the west which is for protect the resist the invasion of nomadic tribes in different periods. The Great Wall was first built at the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and constructed at the Ming dynasties (1368-1644), and the history reflected the meaning and cultural significance behind the Great Wall.
First of all, the Great Wall is a powerful symbol in China. It represents the unification of China because it is a wall that made China was unified in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). (China Highlights, 2011) In the Spring and Autumn Period, the first part of the Great Wall was built to against the war. The Great Wall had the purpose of military defense, especially in preventing northern people on horseback from attacking people in the south. In the Qin dynasty (221 BC), King Zheng of Qin unified China by linked all the wall together and formed a dividing line in China. After Qin Shi Huang unified China, all of the Chinese worked together for the good of the country. (Chen, 2014) Besides, the Great Wall is used as a dividing line to divide the north and south nationality and keep their culture not affected by each other. Also, the Great Wall helped to defense the northern people came and attacked China. In The “March of the Volunteers” which is the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, the lyrics “Take our flesh, and build it to become a new Great Wall!” show that the Great Wall is the protection for the life and spirit of Chinese. (Chiu, n.d.)
Secondly, the legends and stories about the Great Wall show the cultural significance. As the Great Wall of China has become the symbol of the Chinese nation and its culture, there were lots of beautiful legends and stories happened during construction are abundant, such as Meng Jiangnu’s story and the legend of the Beacon Tower. (Travel China Guide, 2011) For the Meng Jiangnu’s story, it happened during the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC). Meng Jiangnu’s husband was caught by federal officials and sent to build the wall. After Meng knew her husband was dead because of build the wall, she cried and her howl caused the collapse of a part of the wall. This story shows the wall is the production of tens of thousands of Chinese commoners. Those beautiful stories and legends about the wall are helpful to keep the Chinese history and culture. (Travel China Guide, 2011)
The Great Wall built to protect the culture and agriculture of China and defend the attack from northern people. With the history and cultural significance of the Great Wall, it represents the spirit of Chinese as Chinese are tough and strong to protect themselves.
- UNSECO, (n.d.), The Criteria for Selection. Retrieved April 21, 2015, from http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/
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