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New York-Based Organization Supports Efforts to Protect China's Great Wall - 2004-01-21

The Great Wall of China snakes across 6,000 kilometers of mountains, deserts and valleys. Now it is crumbling.

The New York-based World Monuments Fund, a private, non-profit group working to preserve endangered cultural sites and monuments around the globe, has twice placed the Great Wall on its watch list of 100 most endangered sites. It is a list that has brought international attention to a grassroots push to have the Great Wall protected as a cultural relic.

John Stubbs, vice president of programs for the World Monument Fund, says one man brought the plight of the Great Wall to the forefront.

"The listing of the Great Wall of China on the World Monument Fund's Watch List of 100 most endangered sites indeed made William Lindesay's call for attention to the Great Wall an international issue," he said. "We listed it in the company of great sites from around the world such as Pompeii, the Taj Majal, Ayasofya in Istanbul, and of course, the Great Wall. Listing the site proved not only to be useful on a local basis, it proved to be one of the more remarkable accomplishments of the World Monument's Watch program."

Briton William Lindesay has lived in Beijing for 15 years. For the past six years, he has been leading a conservation and legal campaign to safeguard the Great Wall. He has dubbed it the largest cultural-relics-protection challenge in the world. Mr. Lindesay should know, he has trekked along nearly 2,500 kilometers of the wall, and has seen its declining condition first-hand.

"Local farmers, assuming that the wall passing through their farmland belongs to them, build their own shacks there so they can make sure they can take 25 cents off everyone going through their tower," he said. "Nature and farming are also damaging the wall. Farmers graze their goats on it, it's all because of poverty, from one end of China to the other, on the Ming Wall, and on the 300 B.C. Jhou State Wall."

During a recent visit to New York to speak with the World Monuments Fund, Mr. Lindesay explained how he began his legal campaign through a series of clean-up efforts.

"A young lady from the Beijing Youth Daily recently said to me, Mr. Lindesay, is it an offense to drop garbage on the Great Wall of China? I said, well, I would imagine it is, you know the Great Wall of China is so important to China, it's rather like a cathedral or a church in Europe or the United States, it's sacred ground, I would imagine it's protected by law," he said.

Mr. Lindesay came to learn, that in fact, there was no such law. Press clippings from his most recent cleanup in hand, he got an appointment with a high-ranking Beijing official in charge of legislative affairs to discuss the matter. He says he was told it was low priority. That's when he founded International Friends of the Great Wall, a fund-raising and awareness concern based in Hong Kong.

World Monument Fund's John Stubbs says William Lindesay's successes on legal and political fronts have been amazing. Laws were passed this past August that dealt with preserving the Great Wall in the Beijing province.

"William Lindesay's efforts to draw attention to the Wall is the most brilliant example I know of the epithet, 'Where there's a will, there's a way.' And in walking some 2,000 kilometers of the wall, he had unique knowledge of the problems in conserving the wall," said Mr. Stubbs. "With that expert knowledge, he presented that to the authorities in Beijing at the Cultural Relics Bureau. Then he went on to prove the case, and he did so in a very rational way, with images and tours and organized trash cleanup campaigns."

But William Lindesay says his work is far from complete. His next challenge is to have laws that protect the Wall in Beijing duplicated throughout China.

The World Monument Fund's John Stubbs says that is critical because the Great Wall is a universal symbol around the world.

"The Great Wall of China is the ultimate human achievement from the standpoint of construction. It involved more manpower, more material, more time than any other physical achievement in all of human history," he said. "To be working on the largest of all human achievements as a preservationist is really an honor, and very humbling as well. It's a symbol of mankind in some respects."

If a new law protecting the entire Great Wall is passed, a 500-meter buffer zone on either side would be established, prohibiting construction, mining and quarrying activities next to the Great Wall.