Workers Detained for Digging a Hole in China’s Great Wall

Two people have been detained by local authorities in China for allegedly excavating a massive hole in a northern section of the Great Wall. At around 4:20pm on August 24, officers in Yang Qianhe Township, located in the province of Shanxi, responded to reports claiming that a “big gap” had been dug into a pre-existing cavity in the 32nd Great Wall, a section of the historic fortification that dates back to the Ming Dynasty, according to BBC and NPR reports.

Local authorities released photos of the excavation. (screenshots Maya Pontone/Hyperallergic via Weixin)

After searching the scene, police traced the excavation back to a 38-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman in a nearby county, where they were taken into custody. Authorities said the pair had caused “irreversible damage to the integrity of the Ming Great Wall and to the safety of the cultural relics,” per a press release issued on August 31 by the Youyu County Public Security Bureau via the social media platform Weixin. According to the state-owned media outlet China Daily, the two people were apparently contracted to work on a nearby construction project. The individuals expanded the gap in the wall to make room for their excavator to pass through in order to “save the distance of travel,” the press statement says. The case is reportedly still under investigation.

A UNESCO heritage site, the Great Wall of China was originally constructed to defend the country from northern invaders. Under the Qin Dynasty, construction on the wall began as early as 220 BCE and continued up to the Ming Dynasty. Spanning about 12,000 miles across northern and central China, the wall begins on the country’s eastern coast and stretches west into the deserts. It can be traced through 15 provincial regions across 404 towns.

In 2015, the Great Wall of China Society reported that more than 30% of the original wall’s structure had disappeared. In recent years, officials have undertaken various measures to curb the wall’s degradation, such as capping the number of daily visitors to both “relieve pressure and safety concerns,” according to China Daily. In 2020, officials overseeing the Badaling section of the wall, the most visited portion of the structure by tourists, reportedly began publicly shaming visitors on a blacklist periodically released to the public after the wall reopened post-pandemic.


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