Chinese officials are under fire after a local government tried to repair a section of the Great Wall by apparently just paving it over. Now, a centuries-old stretch of the wall looks more like a gray sidewalk than a global treasure.
"The five-mile stretch of wall in northeast Liaoning province is known as a particularly scenic part of the 'wild wall,' " NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing. "Its towers and parapets are partially crumbled by seven centuries of wind and rain."
Anthony says that "local authorities say they had to do something to protect the wall from further erosion, although they admit, it didn't come out looking very nice."
Cultural preservation officials involved in the repair efforts defended the job to The New York Times, saying that "the section was in danger of falling down, that the higher authorities approved their plans and that, like emergency dental work, beauty was not their priority."
Wang Jianhua of China's bureau of cultural heritage protection says "maintenance of the section, from the design, approval, repair and completion, had followed reasonable and lawful standards," according to China News Service.
Chinese media say the work was done two years ago — but, as the Times reports, "came to wide attention only on Wednesday, after a local newspaper, The Huashang Morning News, described what had been done in the name of preservation."
The wall's puzzling appearance has sparked outrage on social media — as Anthony reports, "many internet users in China say the restoration job is the ugliest they've ever seen." Now, according to the People's Daily, local authorities have sent experts to the site "for further investigation."
Experts on the wall are also crying foul. "This was vandalism done in the name of preservation," Liu Fusheng, who has studied this section of the wall for 15 years, tells the Times. "It's like a head that's lost its nose and ears."
It's not clear what material was used to cover the wall. Some local media reports say it's mortar, while others say cement. According to the Times, officials denied using cement and said it was "a mix of lime and sand."
Local governments across China are having trouble maintaining the Great Wall. "Roughly a third of the wall's 12,000 miles have already crumbled to dust," Anthony says, "and local governments are often too strapped for cash to protect what's left."