The Great Wall was once China’s most fearsome defense. Construction began as early as 300 BC, and by the time the Ming Dynasty finished it, more than 1,000 years later, it had grown to span 13,000 miles. Sadly, according to the Beijing Times, the once-mighty wall that shielded the country from northern invaders is now in serious need of protection itself.
Citing a recent report from the Great Wall of China Society, the newspaper claims that more than 30% of the original structure has disappeared. The news comes after a 2012 study found that only 8.2% of the wall is in good condition.
It isn’t hard to guess that humans are big contributors to the wall’s destruction. More than 10 million excited tourists flock to the structure every year. It’s become popular to visit the less-frequented stretches, and people often camp out for the night, driving tent stakes into the delicate stones and leaving garbage behind. Some even use the wall as a setting for parties and raves.
There’s also the problem that many of the villagers living near it are poor. Their economic need drives them to loot the wall’s gray bricks to build their own houses or peddle the stones to tourists. By selling them for 30 yuan (about $4.80) a pop, people can feed their families for a few days.
Nature has also played a role. Hard winds and rains beat against the wall, and trees grow in its cracks, breaking the structure apart and making it even more vulnerable to the elements. “Many towers are becoming increasingly shaky and may collapse in a single rain storm in summer,” said Dong Yaohui, a vice president of the society, in the report.
The paper also blames the wall’s poor preservation on a general dearth of resources. Local governments tasked with caring for it lack the necessary funding to do so and often don’t have enough staff members to monitor it regularly. And though China passed the “Great Wall Protection Ordinance” in 2006, obligating citizens to help protect it, no organization exists to enforce the rule.
Nothing, not even the Great Wall, lasts forever. But hopefully the numbers will help spark a conversation that inspires a better conservation effort — so at least a few more generations can enjoy it.