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Part of the Great Wall of China that has been damaged.        Source: Youyu Public Security Bureau

Workers Who Ripped Shortcut Through China’s Great Wall Detained

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Two construction workers arrived at an opening in the Great Wall of China, but their excavator was too big to pass through. Rather than traveling further and going around, the pair ripped apart the global icon of pre-history, to make a shortcut!

Having been conceived and founded by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, in the third century BC, The Great Wall of China was constructed for multifaceted reasons over several centuries. Not only did the wall serve as a symbol of imperial power and control, emphasizing the might of the ruling dynasties, but it also facilitated trade, aiding in the movement of goods along the Silk Road.

The wall’s primary purpose, however, was to defend China’s northern borders from invasions by nomadic tribes, like the Mongols and Xiongnu. While this ancient line of defense has endured over 2,000 years of military action, it wasn’t able to stand a recent attack by two construction workers, who cut an enormous hole in it, “as a shortcut.”

We Were Late For Dinner, Your Honor

The Great Wall essentially supports a string of battlements dotted along vast sections of northern China. Located in Youyu county, in the central Shanxi province of China, the 32nd Great Wall is a section of the Ming dynasty’s Great Wall, and as such, this particular section is protected at the provincial level.

A 38-year-old man and 55-year-old woman recently used an excavator to dig through the wall, and Chinese Police said the criminals have been arrested and detained, while detectives further investigate the damage caused. The police said it is suspected that the two workers “tried to create a shortcut”.

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, Beijing. This and many other famous sections of the Great Wall were built during the Ming dynasty. (J. Samuel Burner/ CC BY 2.0)

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, Beijing. This and many other famous sections of the Great Wall were built during the Ming dynasty. (J. Samuel Burner/ CC BY 2.0)

If You Can’t Get Around It, Just Go Through It!

The pair of workers arrived at a section of the Great Wall which already had an opening, but their excavator was unable to pass through the gap. According to a report in The Guardian, the pair created “a big gap by widening the existing cavity, so that their excavator could pass through it,” reducing the distance they would have had to travel.

The police were informed about the damage on August 24, and according to the BBC, they said the workers “caused irreversible damage to the integrity of the Ming Great Wall and to the safety of the cultural relics." Furthermore, the damage was done on a part of the wall constructed between the 14th and 17th centuries, during the Ming Dynasty, therefore it is protected by provincial laws.

When Governments Don’t Care, Why Would The People?

A cynic might argue that until recently the Chinese government didn’t give two hoots about protecting the wall, so neither do the people. After centuries of vandalism, including graffiti, chipping, and the theft of stones and bricks, reports have found that “more than 30% of the Ming Great Wall has disappeared entirely.” And until recently, seldom have Chinese authorities done anything to repair the vandalized sections.

A recently renovated section of the wall collapsed under rain in 2018. (Xinzhou News)

A recently renovated section of the wall collapsed under rain in 2018. (Xinzhou News)

While the term ‘vandal’ is generally associated with misguided youths, attention-seekers and sociopaths, in the case of the Great Wall, most of the destruction has been caused by local farmers who steal bricks and stones to build their homes, and animal pens. For this reason, China's heritage laws have faced increasing international criticism for their limitations in preserving cultural and historical treasures. In response to this, the Chinese government has recently paid more attention to preserving the Great Wall, and this is why the two construction workers are in hot water.

How Hot Is That Water?

In China, vandalism can carry various legal consequences depending on the severity of the offense. Generally, in Chinese criminal law, vandalism falls under the category of "property damage" and penalties can range from fines, community service, or imprisonment, depending on the extent of the damage. Because this story has gone viral, globally, all eyes are on the two workers, waiting to find out whether they will face imprisonment.

If so, the pair of can look forward to living in some really horrific conditions: overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, and even violence. Furthermore, Chinese inmates often endure forced labor. And so harsh are conditions in Chinese prisons that Human rights organizations have attempted to raise awareness to the medieval conditions within the prison system. However, in 2021 it was discovered that Human rights activists were themselves imprisoned for long sentences, and tortured.” 

Top image: Part of the Great Wall of China that has been damaged.        Source: Youyu Public Security Bureau

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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