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The (Not So) Great Wall

From about 200 miles above Earth, astronauts have marveled at the sight of the Great Wall stretching across China. The wall is about 4,000 miles long. Up close, however, the Great Wall is not such a pretty sight.

Although considered by some to be one of the great wonders of the world, China's Great Wall is under attack. This time the wall is not in danger from the invaders it was built to keep out. Instead, developers are turning the wall into a tourist attraction, with chute rides, bungee jumping, and souvenir stands. People have also raided the wall for bricks to build houses.

Nature also has taken its toll. At the wall's western end, sandstorms from the Gobi desert have eaten away at the mighty structure.

“Saving the Great Wall is now the most urgent task facing our country,” said Dong Yaohui (duhng yow whee), head of the Great Wall Society of China. “Its splendor must be rebuilt.”

Built for Protection

Workers built the first part of the wall around 220 B.C.E. to protect China from Mongol invaders. Workers made the wall longer over a span of more than 1,000 years. Many enslaved people, who helped build the wall, died during its construction.

Most work on the Great Wall took place during the Ming Dynasty (C.E. 1368 to 1644). The Ming built their wall of kiln-fired brick for strength and stability. The wall dips into steep valleys and rises again, wandering halfway across northern China.

Tourist Attraction

Today, the section of the Ming wall near China's capital city of Beijing (bay jing) is most threatened by tourists and developers.

Sightseers can ride a cable car to the top of a recently restored area of the wall. Those visitors can then slide down the grassy hillside on a toboggan. Some say the area looks like a theme park instead of a historic site.

Reclaiming the Wall

The World Monuments Fund recently placed the Great Wall on its list of 100 most endangered sites. Repairing the wall is important. In July, a group called the International Friends of the Great Wall began trying to find ways to preserve what is left of the wall.

The group is paying local farmers to pick up trash and to make sure chunks of the wall aren't taken by people. The group plans to place signs near the wall reminding visitors not to smoke, litter, or otherwise disturb the environment.

Group members also hope to encourage local governments to ban development that would tarnish the wall's natural setting.

“It was built to protect China; now China must protect it,” the World Monuments Fund stated in its 2002 report.