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"The Great Wall"

Author Solivagant
#1 | Posted: 6 May 2010 04:02 | Edited by: Solivagant 
The recent Forum issue of whether the Qi Wall was included within the Taishan inscription ( ) has focussed my interest on the scope of "The Great Wall" inscription itself. In this I was further stimulated by a recent discussion about the Wall on "In Our Time" ( ) and my acquisition of a (remaindered!!) coffee table book which follows "it" from the Yalu river to Jiyayuguan ( )

So, in UNESCO World Heritage terms, what is defined as "The Great Wall" and what parts of it are inscribed? The UNESCO Web site seemed a good place to start but it lacks a Nomination File, any maps or even a list of inscribed locations. It does provide a single grid reference which Google Maps shows to be near to Badaling but not actually on the Wall itself! So what exactly was originally nominated and inscribed? It was certainly an issue which the Evaluation felt needed to be addressed since, in April 1987, the Bureau of the WHC meeting received a report from ICOMOS which expressed concerns about what exactly it was which China was trying to get inscribed -
"It is obviously not possible to guarantee the integral protection of the 50,000 kms of ancient walls preserved in China (this figure includes the fortifications of the inner kingdoms), nor even the some 6,000 kms of great walls erected in the north, approximately half of which subsist materially.
It is, however, indispensable for the World Heritage Committee to ascertain whether the government of the People's Republic of China envisages, as it would seem, making a global classification of the Great Wall or, on the contrary, delimiting specific representative sections, according to principal periods of construction or principal regions crossed (desert plateaux, mountains, valleys, etc.), or the different types of associated fortifications (fortresses, garrisons, fortified gates, bastions, terraces, watch towers, etc.). In the absence of these specifications, the present proposal may, in fact, be taken in various ways. This will inevitably bring about conflicts in the short term as to the definition of the property and in the medium term as to the role the international community might play in cooperation with the People's Republic of China concerning the study and conservation of the Great Wall."
(ICOMOS evaluation submitted to the Bureau April 1987)

The issue must then have been followed up since, by the time the full WHC met 6 months later and inscribed the site, it had been "clarified" as follows -
"It is obviously not possible to guarantee the integral protection of the 50,000kms of ancient walls preserved in China (this figure includes the fortifications of the inner Kingdoms), nor even the 6,000kms of the great walls erected in the north, approximately half of which subsist materially.
By letter of 20 May 1987, the government of the People's Republic of China expressed its will to enhance in priority some representative sections of the Ming Wall. However the Great Wall "has to be considered and protected as a whole". These specifications seemed to satisfy the Bureau of the Committee which recommended the inscription".
(ICOMOS evaluation for the WHC Oct 1987)

What on Earth does that mean? Was it left deliberately unclear or was China in effect agreeing to limit the inscription only to "some representative sections of the Ming Wall" and, if so, which? Of course there is no reason why an inscription of "The Great Wall" should require ALL of it to be included - but perhaps that wasn't fully appreciated by either China back in 1987. When Spain nominated its Santiago Route in 1993 the implication was that the entire route was being nominated (Spain had legally protected not only specific towns/villages/buildings but also a "30 mtre strip on either side" of the entire route!!) ICOMOS queried whether the guidelines allowed such an inscription since the route wasn't a coherent entity unlike the Great Wall which, it said (completely incorrectly!!) was a "continuous military structure with a clear identity". But, rather than proposing a representative approach, it recommended a Working Party to review the Operational Guidelines to allow it! However, by 1998, when France nominated its own Santiago Route, the proposal was clearly limited to a (long!) list of separate representative sites rather than an entire route. So perhaps time and experience has moved on and partial inscriptions of enormous entities do not have to be regarded as failures to preserve the un-inscribed parts.

However, if inscription only applies to certain representative sections, it is rather surprising that, as of 2010, the UNESCO Web site still implies that the inscribed site of "The Great Wall" is situated in the 17 provinces of "Liaoning, Jilin, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Shandong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Qinghai". This enormous list of provinces is only possible if the inscribed site does indeed extend way beyond the Ming wall itself, let alone selected representative sections of it! Anyone interested in understanding where all the various walls which could be encompassed within the term "Great Wall" are situated and when, over a period stretching from around 680BC to 1644AD, they were constructed, should look at these 2 links and

The UNESCO Short Description talks about "when the Great Wall became the world's largest military structure." But the term "The Great Wall" (singular) is a misnomer. There are numerous different walls, never constituting a single "military structure", scattered across Northern/Western China which were relevant at very different historical times and geopolitical circumstances, albeit that many of them had a common theme of dividing "inside" an Empire from "outside". Though even this is not universal, since some predated "China" as now understood and were built by "inner kingdoms" situated well within the China which has existed since Qin times (E.g The Wall of the Qi Kingdom in present day Shandong). The term is probably most applicable to the Ming Wall but wasn't even originally an epithet used by the Chinese. No doubt China is correct in claiming "walls" in every one of the 17 provinces (though, despite a lot of searching, I have been unable to identify any in Hubei or Jilin!) but, in many cases, as ICOMOS identified even for the most recent Ming Wall, there is nothing substantial left how much more so must it be the case for walls going back to 600BC. If a Great Wall nomination was being proposed today there seems little doubt that a far more "minimal" approach would be taken and there would be far greater emphasis on identifying elements which were being properly managed and preserved.

In fact, despite the residual "17 Provinces" claim on the UNESCO Web site the reality of inscription as of 2010 seems to be far more limited and surprisingly so! The following quote taken from e=001 sets out what appears to be the current situation in comparison to China's more public claims -
"The elusive nature of the Great Wall is no better demonstrated than by the fact that while the Chinese media often state that the Great Wall is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, UNESCO in 1987 in fact listed several sites separately Badaling (the section of the wall in Beijing best known to tourists, see Fig. 1), Shanhaiguan (the eastern "end" of the Ming wall near Qinhuangdao adjoining the coast in Hebei province, see Fig. 2) and Jiayuguan (the complex at the western end of the Ming wall in remote Gansu province, see Fig. 3). In November 2002 a section of the Ming Great Wall at Jiumenkou built on a riverbed in north-eastern China's Liaoning province was also listed by UNESCO. The 1,704-meter Jiumenkou wall section located in Xintaizi village, Suizhong county, crosses a 100-meter wide river, where the wall takes on the characteristics of a stone bridge comprising a battery of eight piers and nine sluice gates. Built in 1381, the Jiumenkou section has undergone several major repairs and renovations. The Great Wall section at Jiumenkou became the 27th site in China to be listed by UNESCO."

The following UNESCO reports from 2002 would seem to confirm that only 3 Ming Wall sites were then regarded as being inscribed and

(continued in next post)

Author Solivagant
#2 | Posted: 6 May 2010 04:07 | Edited by: Solivagant 
(continued from previous post)

But what of the extension to a 4th site at Jiumenkou in Liaoning which is said to have taken place in Nov 2002?? This is a rather strange date since the 2002 WHC which could have authorised any extension took place in Budapest in June 2002!!! And indeed the UNESCO Web site has absolutely no reference whatsoever to "Jiumenkou" at any time or on any occasion! Nevertheless the "People's Daily" of Nov 20 2002 also seems to believe that this addition was made then ( ) as does German Wiki -"Im November 2002 wurde er neben Badaling, Shanhiaguan und Jiayugaun als Einzelelement in die Liste des Weltkulturerbes der UNESCO aufgenommen". This web site also confirms its inscription in Nov 2002 and locates it as being only 15kms from Shanhaiguan right on the border of Hebei/Liaoning - (Indeed a plus point for it might have been that it "brought in" an extra province). The Operational Guidelines would not seem to allow a significant extension to an inscribed site without this being properly evaluated and "passed" by the WHC so, unless China is being allowed to extend sites, outwith the Guidelines albeit within an existing overall "Great Wall" inscription (unlikely??), this "event" remains a mystery!

Another "arising issue", if the inscribed Great Wall is indeed limited to the above 3 or 4 locations, is the position of the other main tourist sites at Mutianyu/Simatai (near Beijing) and Huangyaguan (near Tianjin). It would appear that none of them is actually inscribed, despite the huge numbers of tourists who go there thinking that they are!! It is also perhaps instructive that China might have chosen a rather obscure section in Liaoning as its 4th site rather than adding these highly popular and well known destinations. To add any of them would shine a, probably unwelcome, light on the way in which they are being managed and presented. China is already facing criticism for the way Badaling has been allowed to develop ("Auxiliary major facilities constructed: cable-way, cinema, bear paradise, museum, 45m high transmission tower, Wildlife World, reconstruction of Badaling pass City, slides, wastewater treatment."!!! In fact China was told to demolish the transmission tower.)
The only UNESCO mention of Mutianyu I can find dates back to a 1994 "State of Preservation Report" discussed at the Bureau meeting in Paris -
"The mission monitored the Ming-dynasty Wall (of mediaeval and sub-mediaeval era) at Badaling and Mutianyu, both to the north of Beijing. At Mutianyu, 300m. of Wall (including three towers) was restored in 1990-92 with US$146,000 provided by the World Heritage Fund. These funds were donated, in 1988, to WHF by "The International Committee for the Safeguard of Venice and the Great Wall? At Badaling, 3,720m. of the restored Wall are open to the public and at Mutianyu, 5,700m. Visitors number in millions, so tourist pressure on the monument is considerable. At Badaling tourist facilities have been allowed to encroach on the Wall and a cable car has been installed against the advice of the joint 1988 UNESCO/ICOMOS/ICCROM mission and of the State Bureau of Cultural Relics." It could be that China decided it didn't want any more of this and that its best bet would be to present places such as Mutianyu as "Great Wall" tourist destinations without going to the bother of fully inscribing them and maintaining them to "UNESCO standards" most visitors wouldn't know anyway!!

Any other information or views/suggestions would be gratefully received.

Author winterkjm
#3 | Posted: 8 May 2010 13:12 | Edited by: winterkjm 
Fascinating, I went to a couple sections of the wall, Badaling was the first, and though it was still breathtaking the tourism factor is a major negative. Another interesting aspect, I specifically remember seeing a Unesco plaque at Badaling (can anyone confirm there is a plaque, I was sure I saw one). I was not interested in the "Bear Paradise", which was really only a couple of bears which were indeed very fat caused by the hordes of tourists feeding them (no deterant on this at all). The utility buildings and towers around the area are eyesores, and though the slide can be useful to escape the mob of tourists and get a little breeze, it also is a blot on the landscape. (Looks almost like a section of a small waterpark added next to the Wall!) I would recommend the Huanghuacheng section of the wall, this section is sometimes reffered to as one of the "wild wall" sections. It is incredibly steep in sections, and is reduced to near rubble in other parts. The trees eventually begin overtaking sections after a couple hours walking. There is no Modern day reconstruction. Its very remote, even with its relatively short distance from Beijing, my entire time I was at this section I saw 2 people. (Compared to the literaly thousands of tourists at Badaling) Do you think China will ever do an extention and actually have most the wall actually represented? This is suprising to say the least!

Author Solivagant
#4 | Posted: 9 May 2010 09:51 | Edited by: Solivagant 
The only potential "plus point" that I can see for China to inscribe any other parts of the "Great Wall" would be to involve some of the other Provinces through which it passes. But UNESCO has, over the years, become far stricter about the proper management of all locations within inscribed sites. Much of the Wall is clearly not so managed and many parts are beyond recovery (not necessarily because of any failure over recent years but rather from the attrition of centuries). No doubt there are a number of further locations which could be brought to an acceptable level in this respect and, if China were really allowed to add them outwith the normal procedures as appears might have happened with Jiumenku, I guess it might be prepared to add some of them. But it has 55 other sites on its current Tentative List with rather higher priority for its efforts and annual nomination "slots" so I don't see it happening! It can already claim that "The Great Wall" is inscribed and, to most people, that means the entire Wall why bother further?

For those interested in further information about the Great Wall this link ( ) is to a forum maintained by a number of "Great Wall enthusiasts" who seem as "driven" (if not more so!) on that subject as we are about World Heritage sites!! It leads to a downloadable map of the Ming Wall and its locations across N China for which you need to Register on the forum and have downloaded Google Earth.

I have listed below some links to Web pages which provide quick access to Great Wall locations across the 17 Provinces as listed on the UNESCO Web site.

Nothing found as yet. It does just seem too far NE of all published routes of Qin, Han and Ming walls
Inner Mongolia
"The (Qi) wall stretches from the areas under the administration of the present-day city of Jinan to the present-day city of Qingdao across the present-day cities of Tai'an, Zibo, Laiwu, Weifeng, Linyi and Rizhao Its total length has been estimated at about 600 kilometers" 46a58945
Nothing found as yet. It does seem a very long way South reaching well into the Yangtse Valley but in the north lies Xianyang (current Xiangfan) so the comments as under Sichuan would seem to apply here too.
The "Southern Great Wall" ("Built during the Wanli period (1563-1620) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644") ern-great-wall.html
This wall is also said to be present in Guizhou Province which was not of course mentioned by UNESCO/The Chinese Government!!!
Wiki mentions that "The Southern Song Dynasty established coordinated defenses against the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty in Sichuan and Xianyang. The line of defense was finally broken through after the first use of firearms in history during the six-year siege of Xiangyang, which ended in 1273." It is possible that these defences are the ones referred to but I have been unable to find any specific locations/remains. Xianyang is in Hubei. This map ( ) shows that the Southern song "frontiers" went NW of them and crossed present day Hebei as far as Linxia (Lintao) near the border (but not actually into!) Sichuan. A southern branch of the Silk route certainly went this way.
This site ( ) states "most MGW in Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai are sand and fence structure and built on the surface of the plain. " (MGW = Ming Great Wall"). This Map suggests that the wall extended around Xining (the Capital city of Qinghai). l-China-Locations-Coordinates.html
That doesn't seem unreasonable since Xining was an important location on the Hexi corridor ("an area where mountain and desert limited caravan traffic to a narrow trackway, where relatively small fortifications could control passing traffic" - Wiki) but I have been unable to discover anything more specific under Xining.

Author Solivagant
#5 | Posted: 11 May 2010 06:22 | Edited by: Solivagant 
A member of the "Great Wall Forum" has posted a photo of a commemoration stone at the Great Wall site of Jiumenkou, showing the UNESCO and World Heritage Logos, which states

Ming Dynasty Great Wall
October 10 2002

( at-wall.html )

So the Web site which stated that this site had been added in November 2002 to the 3 other inscribed wall sites of Badaling, Shanhaiguan and Jiayuguan was only a few days out.

How a site could be added on Oct 10 2002 remains a mystery. The WHC that year had met in Budapest and hadn't inscribed any Chinese sites - nor, as per the minutes, was the matter discussed in any way. The Periodic Review which had taken place earlier that year hadn't given any indication either and was written on the basis that there were only 3 inscribed locations - so the possibility that the date refers to the date of a ceremony and that the actual inscription occurred earlier seems unlikely!!
Any ideas as to how the inscription of this additional location might have come about given the Operational Guidelines that extensions, other than very minor adjustments, are supposed to go through a proper evaluation process!

It might also be of note that the stone describes the site as "Ming Dynasty Great Wall" - this is historically correct in the case of Jiumenkou but didn't have to be stated. Could it be that the introduction of the word "Ming" implies that the Chinese regard the entire inscribed site of "The Great Wall" as only relating to the Ming elements (as the other 3 locations are Ming also) as is implied by the words in the post-Bureau AB evaluation?

Author Khuft
#6 | Posted: 27 May 2010 07:11 
I was at Mutianyu last week, and have a picture of a stone with a big WHC Logo on it...

Author Solivagant
#7 | Posted: 31 Jul 2010 11:45 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Hi bojboj!!!

Can you shed any more light on the above issue about how much/what parts of the Great Wall are actually inscribed?
a. "All" - in which case what constitutes "all"? Just the Ming wall or all of the many other walls within China as constituted today going back to the periods before the unification of the country. The list of provinces as described on the UNESCO Web site would seem to point at this - but China might actually have withdrawn a bit from this rather expansive nomination made in the earlier days of World Heritage before the full implications of having a site/location included within an inscribed area were fully clear!!
b. Specific section/locations - if so "which"
c. "Open ended" for China to add aspects as and when it wishes without actually having to go back to the WHC as long as t management regimes etc are ok?
d. Some other "selection"??

Author bojboj
#8 | Posted: 20 Aug 2010 14:05 
Hi, Solivagant!

Seems that this topic is unclear, even for local Chinese. I opened a forum asking this question in a Chinese site and initially, most would believe that the inscribed parts should be "All" of the Great Wall; but a significant number of these people actually backed out when the "outer" and non-Ming sections were mentioned. They agree that not the whole Great Wall could enjoy WHS protection - especially when a great number of sections close to the desert areas are almost completely gone.

Hence, there were attempts to specify places - and interestingly, some would believe that if entrance to a particular wall section would need fees, then it should be part of the "inscribed" ones. Naturally, the more touristic and popular sections would include the WHS logo on ticket stubs - indicating a sort of "official" sign that the place is, indeed, inscribed. But again, there wasn't a 100% agreement to this as some of the most remote sections also charge very cheap entrance fees - even though it's obvious they aren't receiving any sort of "protection or preservation" compared their touristic counterparts.

I think it is time we ask this directly to the UNESCO Natcom in Beijing.

Author Solivagant
#9 | Posted: 20 Aug 2010 15:10 | Edited by: Solivagant 
So how do things work in China then bojboj - can you just e-mail the Natcom and expect a meaningful reply?
I see it has a Website
and an e-mail address

Or perhaps it is a "state secret" exactly which parts of the Great Wall are inscribed (I think of the recent Rio Tinto case which seemed to define "state secrets" in China rather widely)! I would certainly expect that China would prefer to leave the matter "vague". In so doing it maintains the "full wall" concept in public across the World without having to undergo all the extra hassle of preserving/managing vast numbers of locations/sites!

On an associated matter. You may have read above that I have been unable to find any reference to any defensive walls of any era which could be said to be part of the "Great Wall" however defined in the provinces of Jilin and Hubei. The former seems too far NE and the latter too far S. Can you cast any light on exactly which walls the Chinese government might have had in mind when it list those provinces in the Inscription

Author meltwaterfalls
#10 | Posted: 29 Sep 2011 07:39 
I was just reading up on the Great Wall to make sure I visit a bit that is actually inscribed. So thanks for picking it apart for me.

I also treated myself to this guide book from Bradt, who always seem good at covering the less explored niches. It has a section on Myths about the Great Wall, and said that even ICOMOS, when writing its Advisory Body report for UNESCO had fallen for the 'it can be seen from the moon' myth. I thought that was unlikely but had a look and yep it is there in Criteria i
Advisory Body Evaluation:
The only work built by human hands on this planet that can be seen from the moon
So it seems that the Great Wall is partially inscribed on the basis of a myth!

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