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The writing's (on the Net) on the Wall
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-28 05:41

The volunteer group's exploration combines archaeological investigation, protection efforts and educating nearby residents on how to preserve the parts from which villagers have taken the bricks for many years to construct homes.

"Shishu (Hong) is very persistent in these adventures," Zhang Baotian, a volunteer from the website, said. "We're not doing this for fun but for the truth of history."

During the past several years, he toured almost all the "wild" parts of the Wall in Beijing Municipality and neighbouring Hebei Province, paying some sections more than one visit.

He posted tens of thousands of words expressing his feelings and took more than 15,000 pictures of the mammoth structure and the lives of nearby villagers.

His writings aroused the attention of authorities, which led to repair work on some collapsed sections. Such adventures also help identify the old sections as their dates have been subject to disputes.

In a recent exploration, Hong and another volunteer from the website named Daying ventured to an undeveloped section near Shuitou village in Huailai County, North China's Hebei Province. Part of the structure there was destroyed by the invading Japanese troops during World War II.

One sunny Saturday last August, they set off with an old picture taken by a Japanese that shows swarms of the alien army penetrating the dismantled Wall.

After about two hours of driving, the group reached its destination in the county.

"When I arrive somewhere, I often ask local residents about their ancestry and tales and legends of the area," Hong said. "Enthusiastic villagers could help find the location and offer to lead the way. That helps a lot."

This time was no exception. Led by a local young man, the two trudged for roughly two and a half hours up the mountain to reach a land of briars and thorns.

But to reach the exact site where the old picture was taken, they had to make their way through the thorns, some of which were as thick as a man's arm.

"It could be very difficult to find the location," Hong said. "It may look only one kilometre away, but it could take one day of trekking along zigzagging mountain paths, and you may not recognize the old place even though you may be standing in front of it."

In Shuitou, after almost 70 years, almost no traces of the aggression remained. "It's only a part of the Wall that has been reduced to rubble."

He tried to take pictures of the damaged Wall there; it was hard to hold the camera steady while trying to maintain his balance on a steep slope.

"It was a slope of about 60 or 70 degrees, so it was very hard to stand still," Hong said.

In fact, Hong did slip as he tried to take more pictures. His foot caught some plants below, which prevented him from tumbling farther. But he injured his right elbow when it landed on a rock.

"It still hurts," he said. "Sometimes we've been surprised by snakes and by spiders of colours we'd never seen before and even larger than a pigeon's egg.

"Even bumping into wild birds, which happens frequently in the mountains, has resulted in quite a surprise when they suddenly take off from the jungle."

Other challenges have included a shortage of clean water, freezing temperatures in winter and no mobile phone service in remote areas.

Hong viewed the ordeal in Shuitou as worthwhile, though, because he was happy with the photos he took.
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