Restoring Part of China’s Great Wall

Leading a repair team, Yang Long will spend around one year to restore an 800-meter-long section of the Great Wall in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. “Ningxia had long been at the junction of nomadic civilization and farming civilization in ancient times. In order to resist the invasion of nomadic peoples from the north, regimes of the Central Plains built up the Great Wall in Ningxia many times,” said Zhou Xinghua, a Great Wall researcher and a former curator of the Ningxia Museum.

Research shows that there are 1,507 kilometers of the Great Wall in Ningxia, of which 506 kilometers remain. The remaining areas were mainly built in the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.), the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-206 B.C.), the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and the Ming Dynasty.

Builders used rammed earth to build this section of the wall, where it had been badly damaged due to the impacts of climate and human activities over the past several hundred years. “We did 65 experiments in nine months and found the best formula of building materials and construction methods,” said Yu Xia, a technician in charge of the Great Wall maintenance project.

“I really admire the wisdom of the ancient people,” Yu said, adding that people in the past tamped down the earth many times and added gravel and needlegrass to reinforce the wall. “The whole process was like communicating with the builders of the ancient Great Wall,” Yu said.

To simulate the construction process, large machinery, chemical products and additives are not allowed to be used during restoration. Yang and the workers can only use iron or wooden hammers to tamp earth, and they must fill the holes on the wall by hand.

Yang, who previously repaired ancient temples, said he felt pressure when restoring the wall as he first started. “I was utterly exhausted tamping earth day by day, again and again. We found signs of restoration on the Great Wall in different periods, and we hope our efforts could also be discovered by future generations,” Yu said.

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