Sunday, February 12, 2006

Natural Urges

The Great Wall has survived great trials to be with us today. The Mongol hordes went out of their way to bash it down, for example. Some time later it became the stage for bold experiments in private property as the masses armed themselves with chisels and got hacking. Time, weather and gravity have, of course, been ceaseless in their efforts to wipe the wall off the map. The most recent addition to this list of adversaries are the 'graffiti artists' - a curious umbrella organisation of deluded lovers, bored teenagers and bloody idiots.

As any visitor to the wall will testify, China's heritage officials have been fighting a largely losing battle against the juvenile (and sometimes not-so-juvenile) delinquents over the last 40 years. Month after month, cretins of the local and foreign variety have willfully defaced the wall - often with sentiments of scarcely believable banality (see photo...and, apologies if this was actually written by well-meaning tourist officials). It's fair to say most of these renegade engravers belong to the 'deluded lovers' sub-section. A colleague who went to the Badaling section of the wall 10 years ago told me that nearly every brick she saw had been inscribed by romantics who reckoned that by writing 'Qing 4 Ming, 1996,' they were recording their love for all of eternity. These young poets clearly didn't reckon on the government rebuilding the majority of the wall shortly thereafter.

Regardless, vandalism has continued to be a problem. Against this backdrop, the authorities in one Great Wall locale have announced they will finally be sanctioning such activity - with a rather large cash caveat. The management office of Juyongguang - a section close to Badaling - have built a 80-metre long, 7.5-metre high marble structure, dubbed the 'Love Wall'. For a modest fee of RMB 999, visitors can now etch 'Baz Luvs Shaz' or somesuch into one of the 9.999 bricks. Juyongguan says the new scheme will satisfy the desire of visiting romantics to leave their mark without damaging the real deal. Others, of course, say that exploiting the name of China's best known cultural relic in such a manner is cynical, shameful and a wee bit sad.

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