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Great Wall of China too big to protect

AAP logoAAP 29/09/2016 Antonio Broto

The recent discovery of a botched restoration job with cement along a stretch of the Great Wall of China has put the spotlight on the plight of the world's largest monument, which is under threat from erosion, vandalism and theft of its bricks.

The gigantic wall, whose construction began over 2000 years ago, is over 21,000km in length - so large that it is difficult to measure and is a victim of its own size, which hampers its monitoring and conservation.

And this might explain why the controversial restoration work with concrete at a section of the wall in Suizhong (some 300km from Beijing) escaped media attention and public ire until two years after its completion and when images of the horrendous restoration work appeared online.

"The Great Wall has a great history and, of course, now it's like an old man," says Dong Yaohui, a leading expert on the monument and the first man to have walked the entire length of the Great Wall in the 1980s. The trek, which allowed him to carry out an in-depth study of the wall, took over 500 days.

To show the extent to which the historic wall is at risk, Dong took a group of journalists to the stretch in Jiankou, one of the most dangerous sections of the wall and located around 70km from Beijing.

Several tourists are killed or injured every year along this stretch that is overgrown with trees and shrubs making some of steeper sections difficult to walk on.

"We need help from other countries, the Great Wall is too big, too long and its protection is very difficult," Dong says.

Dong is the deputy director of the Great Wall Society of China, a non-profit that seeks to spread awareness about the protection of the monument.

The expert has been in the media lately for an online crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to restore the monument, especially the Jiankou stretch.

The initiative has sparked a controversy in the country with many arguing that the government should provide funds for a monument that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

However, Dong says the crowdfunding initiative may serve to complement a system that is often inefficient.

"The government stipulates that the money allocated should be spent within the year but it approves the budget in March, the project is awarded in September and then only three months remain for the restoration work," and which falls in the worst time of the year for undertaking repairs due to the cold weather, Dong explains.

The funds collected through the online campaign will not have this annual limit and so can be better used, according to Dong, who has already managed to attract 60,000 donors and raise $US300,000 ($A389,880), almost a fifth of the required amount.

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