Measuring up to Gansu's Great Wall
Updated: 2007-12-15 08:11
With 3,717 kms on the clock we entered Gansu, the eighth and final province of our jeep safari along the Wall.
Since leaving Beijing three weeks earlier, we had played a guessing game on the eventual distance we would cover. That figure would be revealed in the next 10 days or so, but according to Liu Yehai, a survey leader from the Gansu Administration of Cutural Heritage, the Wall's actual length would remain unknown for much longer.
I met Liu and his team in a village beside the Wall in Yongchang county, as they ended another day's work, measuring the Wall. Carrying GPS handsets, they were walking its remains as part of the national survey launched under the auspices of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping.
"All the 14 provinces containing sections of the Great Wall are doing their own surveys," Liu said, peeling off his Bedouin-like scarf to block out the sun. "In Gansu, we have four teams, and we expect to be working until August 2008."
Liu told me that his team of nine started their work in April 2007, and, as well as mapping the position of the Wall's remains and ascertaining its length, they were also taking photographs to assemble a visual record of its current condition. Stories from local elders, telling of changes seen with their own eyes, were also being collected.
Getting a figure for the length of "the Great Wall", actually an umbrella term for a complex series of border-defence systems constructed by many dynasties between the 3rd century BC and 1644 AD, will provide more than an authoritative and long-sought-after answer to a fascinating question.
Mapping the Wall's many fragmented and scattered components is of equally paramount importance, whether they be tall and magnificent or derelict and unremarkable. Both parameters are prerequisites of a scientific management and protection planwithin which a pressing task is to physically stake out what needs protecting, as well as place signage to announce to locals and visitors alike that: "This is the Great Wall of China under State and UNESCO protection".
Liu might not quite have a job for life,but it sounds as if he's going to keep himself busy for more than a few years. After surveying the Ming Wall, which dates from 1368-1644, the teams in Gansu will then set about surveying the Han Wall, which is 1,800 years older and therefore, much harder to find.
I told Liu Yehai I would have loved to have joined his survey for a few days. Instead, I presented the team with a copy of my book containing then-and-now Great Wall photos, asked Liu to sign my own portable visitor's book and wished him and his team well before we set off West again.
(China Daily 12/15/2007 page9)