China’s cultural authorities are vowing to crack down on criminal damage along the sprawling Great Wall amid fears that the Unesco site is disappearing, brick by brick.
Officials at the state administration of cultural heritage (SACH) announced that regular inspections and random checks would be carried out along the estimated 13,000 miles (21,000km) of wall to ensure local municipalities are following national protection measures introduced a decade ago.
Until now, the laws have done little to preserve one of the world’s manmade wonders. While adverse environmental conditions such as wind and rain are blamed for eroding nearly a third of the Ming-era wall, officials have pointed to reckless human behaviour for destroying sections of it.
Villagers who live near the wall routinely steal bricks from it to use as building materials or to sell, according to China’s Great Wall Society. The group released a survey in 2014 that warned that many towers were also increasingly shaky.
“It doesn’t have large-scale damage, but if you accumulate the different damaged parts, it is very serious,” said the society’s vice-chairman, Dong Yaohui. “The problem is we spend a lot of money on repairing the Great Wall instead of preserving the Great Wall.”
Parts of the Great Wall date back to the 3rd century BC, though much of it – about 4,000 miles – was built during the Ming dynasty of 1368 to 1644. According to SACH figures, less than 10% of it is considered well preserved.
Dong said the degradation had grown worse over the years because of a lack of resources and oversight in municipalities across the 15 provinces that the wall traverses.
The Ming-era sections north of Beijing are the most popular with tourists, drawing millions of visitors every year and leaving parts of the massive heritage site defaced with graffiti. State media also reported that villagers took bricks or slabs with historic engraving to sell to tourists for 30 yuan (£3).
A surge of interest in “wild Great Wall” tourism, where hikes follow crumbling sections, also poses a threat to decaying stretches in remote regions, according to reports.