Great Wall Of China Disappearing: One-Third Of UNESCO World Heritage Site Stolen Or Eroded

Joanna Jaguar

The Great Wall of China -- one of the New Seven Wonders of the World -- is disappearing, local media are reporting. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, the Great Wall has already seen a disappearance of around one-third of its entire length, due, in part, to natural erosion, and in part to thieves stealing the bricks.

The Great Wall -- which was mostly constructed during the Ming Dynasty -- is, of course, a popular tourist attraction -- a fact which has also led to its deterioration.

Some of the Wall, reports the Beijing Times, has weathered away from erosion over the last few centuries, while plants growing between the bricks have added to the disintegration.

"Even though some of the walls are built of bricks and stones, they cannot withstand the perennial exposure to wind and rain," says Dong Yaohui, vice president of the Great Wall of China Society. "Many towers are becoming increasingly shaky and may collapse in a single rain storm in summer."

In poorer parts of China -- such as Lulong county -- locals used to take bricks from the parts of the wall in their village in order to build their homes. Add to that near-constant tourist traffic, as well as thieves stealing bricks engraved with Chinese characters to sell, and you've got a near 30 percent disappearance in the world's longest man-made construction.

Though there are laws against the removal of bricks from the Great Wall of China -- with fines of up to 5,000 Yuan (approximately $805 USD) -- Jia Hailin, a cultural relics protection official in Hebei province, says they're rarely enforced.

"But there is no specific organisation to enforce the rules. Damage could only be reported to higher authorities and it is hard to solve when it happened on the border of two provinces."

With the way tourists flock to it, and the inevitability of foot traffic erosion, it's no wonder that the Great Wall of China is disappearing. What steps should be taken, if any, to save the Great Wall? Should China impose stricter penalties to stave off would-be thieves from stealing bricks from the Wall?

[Photo Credit: Guang Niu / Getty Images]