For five years, He Liping, 52, has been working as a Great Wall watchman in Yumen, a city in northwest China’s Gansu Province.
Every two weeks, he rides his motorcycle around what remains of the wall, more than 20 kilometers from his home in Yumen’s Huahai Town.
His job is to take pictures to record damage caused by nature and humans and report it to local cultural relics preservation department.
“The road from my home to the wall is bumpy and it often takes hours to go and come back. It is quite a hard job,” said He. “But I am proud that I can do a little to protect our Great Wall.”
The Great Wall in Yumen, stretching 110 kilometers, is a section of the Great Wall from the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) which was built to prevent raids and invasions by nomadic groups.
Yumen is at the west of the Hexi Corridor, a major part of the ancient Silk Road. The Great Wall in the city also helped protect trade caravans and goods transported along the ancient trade route.
The wall is made of stone, brick, packed earth, wood and other materials and is vulnerable to natural and human damage.
“The wall had no fences several years ago. Many local people and visitors did not know it is a historical site and caused a lot of damage,” said Wang Pu, curator of the Yumen Museum.
After the wall was listed under national protection, Yumen launched an investigation to obtain information on damage to the wall and allocated about 1.3 million yuan (US$195,000) for repairs.
In 2012, Yumen’s cultural relics preservation department hired 68 villagers to join in preservation efforts.
“The Great Wall relics are scattered in remote towns and deserts in Yumen. It is necessary to mobilize local villagers to join in the protection,” said Zhang Jianjun, director of the Yumen Cultural Relics Preservation Administration.
Yumen pays the villagers just 500 yuan each a year due to a lack of government funds. “The salary cannot even cover their transport costs. The villagers do this job just because of their love and responsibility for preservation,” said Zhang.
“Most of them, who are in their 40s, will quit if their children who work in big cities ask them to leave their hometowns to help take care of grandchildren,” said Zhang. “They might stay to do this job if we give them a higher salary.”
Yumen built some fences for the historical site, but most of the relics remain exposed to nature and humans.
Protection of the Great Wall has a long way to go.
The Great Wall, which is listed as a World Heritage Site, measures more than 21,000 kilometers in its entirety, stretching across 15 provincial regions in China.
“There are still many factors and difficulties restricting protection, and protection efforts remain unsatisfactory,” according to a report on the protection on the Great Wall released by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage last year.