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New disputes emerge on Great Wall in textbooks
Updated: 2004-03-19 13:15

China's first manned space trip has inspired people's pride in their motherland as well as doubts about whether the Great Wall is visible from space and the credibility of school textbooks that teach it is.

Criticism targeted a text in an elementary schoolbook of Chinese language published by the People's Education Press. Titled "A Stone of the Great Wall", the text told a fictional story through personification of the stone, which was later exhibited in the United States.

In the story, an astronaut says that from outer space he can see the sea embankment in the Netherlands and China's Great Wall with naked eyes.

The text was accused of being misleading after China's first manned space trip last October. Yang Liwei, the nation's first astronaut, told the press that "The earth looked very beautiful in space, but I did not see our Great Wall."

However, Wei Yunhua, senior editor with the People's Education Press, said people should not be so fussy about the story, which is a fairy tale and cannot be considered a scientific article.

"Through the fairy tale, we want to help the students to understand their own capabilities, to be proud of their motherland and themselves as well. Our intention is good," he said.

Adding another twist, veteran American astronaut Gene Cernan has insisted the Great Wall of China can be seen with the naked eye from outer space. Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon as commander of the Apollo 17 mission, said he has seen the Great Wall from Earth's orbit, although he could not do so while on the moon.

"In Earth's orbit at a height of 160 to 320 kilometers, the Great Wall of China is indeed visible to the naked eye," he was quoted as saying during the recent Asian Aerospace exhibit in Singapore.

It's widely accepted that in the Earth's orbit, which is normally 300km to 400km from the ground, only an object larger than 500mx500m can be seen by a person with naked eyes. The Great Wall, which is made up of sections of walls approximately 10 meters wide, is indeed invisible from outer space, scientists believe.

Tong Qingxi, senior academician of the Institute of Remote Sensing under the China's Academy of Sciences, said astronauts can see even every piece of stone on the Great Wall from outer space with nice scientific instruments but they can hardly see the figure of the architecture if only using their naked eyes.

These ideas triggered response from the political circle during the annual session of the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that was just concluded last week. CPPCC member Wang Xiang submitted a proposal asking the education authority to correct relevant content in the schoolbooks.

"Schoolbooks play an important role in the study of the elementary students, and now the textbooks have mistakes, which possibly explains why wrong ideas are so widespread," Wang said.

However, the publisher Wei Yunhua said if the story is removed people will believe that the Great Wall cannot be seen with the naked eye from outer space, which is also untrue because the problem remains at least unsettled so far.

"This is another kind of misleading," he said.

Local media said that some parents in Shanghai telephoned the education authority and expressed their worries about the text after they heard of the possible removal.

Liu Zhibin, 36, a father of a fifth-grade elementary school student, said he wanted his kid to know China has the grand Great Wall and feel proud of it. "It's not a big deal whether it is visible or not from outer space," he said.

The Shanghai education authority says the text will not appear in the new book that is to be used in 2005.

The Great Wall first came into being in the time of the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) as a way to defend invaders from the north. It was extended and rebuilt intermittently in the following thousands of years.

The majority of the existent Great Wall, a wonderful defensive construction of over 7,000 km winding west-to-east from the Jiayu Gate to the Yalu River in north China, was built and rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was included in the World Heritage List in 1987.

The Great Wall is now one of the most famous tourist spots in the world.

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