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Oldest fortification damaged due to lack of adequate protection

2011-06-17 00:00:00 / chinadaily.com.cn

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China's oldest fortification, a 30-km-long earthen wall, was partially destroyed by a construction company's bulldozers, which has caused archeologists to warn that ancient structures remain at risk due to the lack of strong measures to ensure their protection and preservation.The remains of the wall can be found in the hills of Pingdingshan, Nanyang, Zhumadian and Xinyang cities of Henan Province.

Qin Wensheng, head of the Cultural Relics Division of the Henan Provincial Cultural Heritage Department, says that an emergency excavation will be launched to collect data and rescue cultural relics buried along the ancient wall in Yexian County of central Henan Province that was built 2,600 years ago during the jurisdiction of the King of Chu State.

The excavation plan, however, is yet to be decided on, according to Qin.

Henan Zhongtou Yingke Wind Power Generation Company, the owner of the bulldozers that damaged the wall, has agreed to revise its wind power plant construction plan to avoid causing further damage to the relics and will cover all the expenses for the emergency excavation and repairs, according to Qin.

Yet nearly two months after the Matoushan Wind Power Plant project was halted by the Yexian County government on April 19, no revision plans have been submitted.

Huang Minmin, who oversees the construction, said the company will do its best to cooperate with the archeological department to fulfill the remedial work.

But Qin said that the degree of damage to the fortification is so severe that it can't be restored.

Officially announced by the Henan Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau last March as the oldest existing fortification in China, the ancient wall is recognizable only to archeologists' trained eyes.

It zigzags along Mate Mountain of Bao'an Township and, according to historical records, the Chu State built it to defend its northern border in 770-476 B.C. At one point, it stretched 137 kilometers through the mountainous areas of central China.

Yet it was never connected to the Great Wall that was built in the country's north by the order of China's first emperor Qinshihuang.

Li Shujin, chief of the Cultural Heritage Department of Yexian County, said that the wind-power company had been informed of the necessity to secure the approval of the heritage protection authority to open construction earlier last year when the company planned to build its wind power plant on Matou Mountain.

But no such applications were submitted. With the endorsement solely from the local development and reform commission, construction commenced.

With a total investment of one billion yuan, the wind power plant has a designed installed capacity of 100,000 kilowatts and was introduced by the county government as a pillar project to boost the local economy.

During a routine patrol in April, the county's heritage protection staff found the fortification's remains had been cut through a dozen times by a twisting mountain road newly built to transport building materials for the construction of the power plant on the mountain top.

The destroyed sections total 2.159 kilometers, Li said.

Huang admitted they started the work without approval from the archaeological authorities and accepted a fine of 400,000 yuan and said the company would not resume construction without approval from local archaeological authorities.

Using the Great Wall as a catch-all term for ancient earth and stone fortifications consisting of passes, watch towers and beacon towers, archeologists have called this the "Chu Great Wall."

Besides Matou Mountain, the remains of the Chu Great Wall can also be found in the hills of Pingdingshan, Nanyang, Zhumadian and Xinyang cities of Henan Province. They all sit in the wild without sufficient protection.

Dong Zhongfeng, a Great Wall Protection volunteer of Yexian County and the laureate of Outstanding Great Wall Protector, which was jointly awarded by the Ministry of Culture and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in 2007, regards the damage as no fluke.

"Both sides are responsible for the devastation," Dong said. "On one hand, businesses lack awareness of the importance of relic preservation, but the archeological department is deficient in inspection."

According to Li Shujin, the Cultural Heritage Protection Department of Yexian County has only two operational vehicles and a tiny staff, which makes it difficult to perform routine inspections to stop people from intentionally destroying parts of the remains, let alone stage a field excavation.

Dong said he and two other volunteers have been conducting patrols at their own expense.

"There are no sign posts. Villagers can unintentionally cause damage by planting trees on the remains," Dong said.

Li Yuanzhi, another volunteer, says that cultural heritage authorities should put up sign along the remains to remind people of the need to protect them, designate protection zones, and hire local residents as watchmen to raise the public's awareness.

But as the county's heritage protection department is severely under-funded and sparsely equipped, it can not afford to do that, Li said.

Both volunteers noted that the damage to the Chu Great Wall should come as a wake-up call to China, which boasts a vast repository of cultural relics either in museums or in the wild.

Many scattered ruins, unlike those grouped relics or famous tourist spots, receive hardly any protection and are easy victims of theft, they noted.

In the northern suburb of the city of Luoyang, Henan Province, 24 Chinese emperors lie buried without any organization taking guard of their mausoleums.

Their resting places in Mangshan Group Mausoleums, with 972 large tombs spread in an area of 756 square kilometers, are China's largest congregation of ancient tombs.

"Protecting the mausoleums is difficult, as they are mostly lie under the cultivated lands of local farmers, and no excavation or protection can be made without prior agreement of farmers, and without protection, they are prone to theft," said Shi Jiazhen, a researcher of an archaeological team in Luoyang.

In May, the Ministry of Public Securities and State Administration of Cultural Heritage co-launched a nationwide campaign targeting the theft of the "wild relics."

Dong regards construction crews and local residents as the biggest threats to cultural heritages in the wild and believes the key isn't to punish after damage has occurred but to prevent it in a more effective way.

(Written by Xinhua)

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