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Army of stoic rangers takes on monumental task

Updated: Dec 3, 2021 Xinhua Print
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Zhang Heshan, a Great Wall protection ranger, patrols the Chengziyu section of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province, on Monday. [Photo/Xinhua] 

SHIJIAZHUANG-Wednesday coincided with the 15th anniversary of China's national regulation on the Great Wall protection.

With the regulation, the central government and local authorities in 15 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities along the Great Wall reinforced the comprehensive protection of the national treasure.

Under the regulation, a growing number of rangers have been organized to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are currently more than 6,000 of them.

The rangers, usually farmers living near the Great Wall sites, conduct safety inspections of the sections of the wall, stop and report harmful behavior and offer advice on protection work.

After the first snowfall in early November, Zhang Heshan, 66, immediately went to patrol the Great Wall in Chengziyu village in Qinhuangdao city, North China's Hebei province.

"After a snowfall, patrols should occur in a timely manner to check whether melting snow is harmful to the ancient wall," says the veteran Great Wall ranger.

Zhang is also an adept livestreamer, narrating his observations during his patrols. He has 370,000 fans on China's short-video platform Douyin, the Chinese name of TikTok.

Zhang has involved himself voluntarily in the protection of the Great Wall since 1978.

On each patrol, he had to walk over 20 kilometers of mountain roads, during which he tells shepherds to keep away from the ancient wall and persuades people who covet a souvenir to leave the bricks and stones of the relic alone.

Zhang has written notes with a total of 200,000 Chinese characters on the Great Wall protection.

Meandering along the mountain ridges of North China, the Great Wall, one of the world's great wonders, was built continuously for more than 2,000 years, from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The existing sections have a total length of over 21,000 km.

Li Chunjie and 107 other veterans have joined a volunteer group to protect the Great Wall in Qian'an city, Hebei.

"My village is at the foot of the Great Wall. I can see it whenever I look up," Li says.

The 57-year-old veteran says Xuliukou village used to be an impoverished and backward mountain village. Great Wall tourism has brought fortune to its residents. Li says many fellow villagers have set up bed-and-breakfast accommodations and other tourism-related businesses. Veteran volunteers are enthusiastic about getting involved in the protection of the Great Wall, picking up garbage, and clearing weeds.

Jin Ruiqing, director of the veteran affairs department in Qian'an, says the veteran volunteer group has contributed to not only protecting the Great Wall, but also cultural and tourism development.

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), the building of the national cultural parks, with themes including the Great Wall and the Yellow River, is included among the country's cultural projects.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has required 15 provinces and municipalities along the Great Wall to formulate specific plans to build Great Wall national cultural parks tailored to local conditions.

As a key construction area for the parks, Hebei province has made four sections of the Great Wall, including the Shanhaiguan Pass in Qinhuangdao, a top priority.

"We adhere to the principle of 'minimum intervention' while protecting the authenticity, integrity and ancient historical features of the Great Wall," says Zhang Yong, senior engineer of the Hebei provincial ancient architecture protection research institute.

The School of Architecture, Tianjin University, has been building an image and three-dimensional database of the Great Wall. Since 2018, the school has completed a digital archive of Great Wall sections that spans 5,500 km.

Zhang Peng, 34, is a new-generation Great Wall ranger who uses modern technologies, such as drones and big data, to guard the cultural heritage site. Zhang says drones can take 360-degree and 3D images of the Great Wall, and an onboard speaker enables him to warn unruly tourists against causing any damage to the monument.

"We put the information collected by the drones into a database, and the accumulated data will clearly show the changes to the Great Wall over time," he adds.

"The Great Wall belongs to both China and the rest of the world," says Li Zhe, a researcher at the School of Architecture, Tianjin University. "We should improve its protection with science and technology and spread the culture of the Great Wall to the world."

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