Lonely Planet Writer

Great Wall of China being pilfered brick by brick by locals and tourists

Almost a third of the Great Wall of China has disappeared due in part to natural reasons, but also caused by local people stealing bricks from it to build houses and tourists pocketing bits of it as souvenirs.

Tourists explore and exploit the Great Wall of China.
Tourists explore and exploit the Great Wall of China. Image by Colin Capelle / CC BY 2.0

The great wonder, which contrary to popular myth is not visible from space, is an Unesco heritage site, has large missing sections along its 21,000 kilometres length, the Chinese government has disclosed.

The Great Wall of China. Image by Robin Zebrowski / CC BY 2.0
The Great Wall of China. Image by Robin Zebrowski / CC BY 2.0 Image by Robin Zebrowski / CC BY 2.0

The Guardian reports that the Ming-Era edifice stretches from Shanhaiguan on the east to Jiayuguan on the west side on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The Beijing Times claims in an article that nearly 2,000km has vanished over the centuries. Weather is responsible for some of this problem with plants growing out of the wall expediting the decay, according to a survey by the Great Wall of China Society carried out in 2014.

The society says that a number of towers are now shaky and warn that they could collapse if hit by a rain storm during summer.

However, tourists and local residents were also responsible for causing damage to the wall – which is the longest human construction on earth. Villagers in Lulong county in the province of Hebei had knocked the thick bricks out of the wall to use for their own homes, while slabs with Chinese characters were taken by locals and sold on to tourists for £3 each, the Global Times reported.

Tourists had been attracted in recent years to visit the undeveloped parts of the Great Wall, but the number had led to further damage, the Times added.