What the project aims to achieve is the recognition of the Great Wall as a living ecosystem, showing a different picture of the Wall, namely not the architectural nor historical sight, instead the human and natural ecosystem, exploring human activities in the area and understanding how they interact with the natural environment and the Wall and how these three elements are or can become mutually beneficial. During the fieldwork there will be a comprehensive observation and collection of information about the cultural peculiarities and natural uniqueness of the ecosystem. The project aims at correctly produce an innovative interpretation of the issue itself.


While travelling along the provinces, another purpose will be that of exploring Sino-European cultural relations through a bottom-up approach, showing that cooperation between two passionate foreigners and local long-established communities can be mutually beneficial, especially if the common aim is the conservation of an ecosystem, which is also a world heritage. Increase awareness on the importance of conservation, sustainable development, tourism sustainability, value and respect of local cultures, and on the close ties between nature and cultural heritage is another main goal. This goes well along with the aim of fostering Great Wall ecosystem environmental preservation through sharing positive practices and new solutions abiding from mutual dialogue and common experiences. Collecting and sharing views, tools, experience and examples of various local communities on development opportunities while respecting and conserving the environment, in order to conduct sustainable activities. 


All of this will be made stressing the splendor and variety of rural local cultures in China, less famous than touristic sights, nonetheless characterized by an equally relevant cultural heritage, fostering their conservation. Understanding whether habits, food, typical products, myths and beliefs of various communities living along different spots of the Wall share similarities due to this common characteristic; in other terms, the goal consists of understanding whether the Ming Dynasty Wall has been a “Great Road” connecting and influencing distant communities living along it. We intend to encourage this new study approach integration to existing ones.


At the end of the day, inspiring explorers and dreamers of all ages, showing that even small steps may have a positive impact on a wider community, is the final reason why this initiative came to life. The aim is to show that the Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is not just a common saying, instead it can become true with the right balance between passion, reason and preparation.

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The idea behind the project

For centuries the Great Wall has been a symbol of human-nature interaction, which created a complex ecosystem of a vital importance for local human, animal and botanical populations. To date, there is no comprehensive work on the existing human and natural interactions in this area. Thus, this project aims to gather information and to bear witness to the actual state of conservation of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, for the first time considering it as a whole ecosystem, in order to promote both its human and natural environment conservation and preservation and to increase awareness among local populations and the general public.

About the project

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The main part of the project consists of fieldwork, namely the hike along the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. We chose the Ming section, since its architecture is the most intact and the only one which is almost entirely walkable and climbable, and it is the one crossing the highest number of provinces (Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Beijing, Tianjing, Hebei, and Liaoning), thus having a variety of natural environments and cultural expressions to explore. The starting point of the hike will be Jiayuguan (Gansu), and the arrival point will be Lao Long Tou (Liaoning). The Ming Great Wall has a length of 5,500 miles (8,851 km), of which an estimated 3,900 miles (6,276 km) are still at least partially intact. The estimated time of the project fieldwork is 8 months, considering a schedule of 5 days hike along the Wall and 2 days rest in local villages close to the Wall, and car and public transport transfers for the non-walkable parts, numerically 1,600 miles (2,575 km).  


The two team members will hike and camp, respecting sustainable practices and taking care not to harmfully interfere with the natural environment, along this length, documenting this human journey through audio-visual material, communicating with local communities, interviewing them about their cultural heritage and the state of conservation of the natural environment, and sharing the best conservation and preservation practices encountered during the journey. All the audio-visual material collected will be directly transferred to a the social media team, working remotely in order to edit photos and videos to post on both Chinese and international social media pages and channels on a daily basis, creating instant contents to address the general public online.  


The second method is the collection of available academic and scientific data, working closely with experts and professors, cooperating with universities and foundations, in order to gather as much data as possible concerning the Great Wall ecosystem in terms of human-nature interactions and cultural heritage. The collected data will be used to create: 1) a video documentary (a Chinese and an English versions to begin with) to highlight the need of the Great Wall ecosystem conservation, to be broadcasted on national and international social media and TV channels; 2) a book including both the hikers’ personal experience and in-depth academic research data, to be published in 5 languages (Chinese, English, Italian, French and Spanish, to begin with) sold online and available for worldwide shipping; 3) a series of conferences, in China and abroad, to talk about the journey, to explain its significance in terms of conservation, and to engage in debates with experts and stakeholders on means and tools to make the project’s conservation efforts effective and to produce tangible outputs.

Nature for China

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Nature has not been benevolent towards China. No perfection nor equilibrium is present in Chinese conception of Nature itself. The country has always been a victim of dangerous and grievous climate conditions. Floods and cold winds being just a pallid example. During centuries of fights and challenges against the Nature in order to survive, the Chinese developed a culture of mutual respect and fear towards the natural world. It was, indeed following Chinese conception, not created for humans. The Chinese man, combating against it, has understood that in order to survive he has to work unite with other human beings, for years and centuries. The concept of taking advantage from the indomitable forces governing the world has been a fil rouge for Chinese culture along the time. Kung Fu, for example, is a perfect example to study how human beings should learn how to control natural forces such as the solidity of the ground, the strongness of the wind and the lightness of the air. Water, then, has been an important concept to address in order to be fluid enough and confront daily challenges and personal fights. 

 

The Great Wall in this regard is an historical symbol of the Chinese intention of understanding Nature moves and shapes in order to survive. The Ming idea of protecting their empire during the XVI and XVII centuries brought to the creation of this majestic man-made work. A creation that ignored the morphological structure of the terrain, building an incredible defensive unit for thousands of miles. A wall made with millions of terracotta bricks resembling an immense dam intended to stop one of the most important floods that will change China’s history for a long time. The barbarians.

The Great Wall
Ecosystem

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The Great Wall of China is one of the wonders of the ancient world, symbolizing the greatness of Chinese tenacity and industriousness. Its construction might be determined as one of the greatest human imposition on natural limits and constraints as it is said before. During the XVII century this might have been true but for the future Nature had other plans in mind. Broadly defined as the physical world collectively (including plants, animals, the landscape and other features and products of the earths opposed to human creation) the Nature, during the centuries, has begun reclaiming what it had lost. Surrounded by forests, plain lands and grasslands, the Great Wall has contributed to the formation of a new ecosystem that encompasses all living species, from the vegetal world to the animal one. Bushes, trees, briers, rabbits, moles, wolves and the human being are just some of the creatures that nowadays, notwithstanding the centuries passed, are continuing giving life to this wonderful man-made work. Legends, myths and stories regarding the Wall represent the wind caressing the face of a greater entity that encircle a whole range of activities and complex relations taking place over 6000km and more. ​

The Value of an Ancient Heritage

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Originally built during the Spring and Autumn period (771-476 BC) as a disordered amount of fortifications, the Great Wall started to be connected in the times of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China (221-2016 BC). More than one million of workers, mostly farmers, slaves and criminals, lost their lives in order to complete this never-tented human effort. Notwithstanding the strive of Chinese people and emperors in fortifying the northern border of China to resist nomads (barbarians) incursions from inner Asia, as we said before, it proved to be not enough to spare the inner lands of the country. Although a useful deterrent against raids, at several points throughout its history the Great Wall failed to stop enemies, including in 1644 when the Manchu Qing (the last China’s Dynasty) marched through the gates of Shanhai Pass and replaced the Ming as rulers of China. The Ming wall is the one that has reached us for the largest part recognizable in its shape and sinuosity. The Great Wall also protected traders from the invaders and promoted the import and export trade along the Silk Road. This brought Chinese goods and civilization to Central Asia, West Asia, Central Europe, and Southern Europe and brought back western goods and civilization along the Great Wall, promoting cultural, political, and economic communication and cooperation.  This wonderful monument is continuing to have a strong relevance even in the modern times. In 1937 when china was experiencing war against Japan, The Great Wall suffered its grandest failure as a fortification. The Great Wall gave Japan an easy route through the Chinese mountains. 30 years later after this event China condemned the wall in a powerful revolution against its repressive history of servants and powerful emperors. In 1978 UNESCO announced The Great Wall as a World Heritage. After 2000 years, for today’s China the Great Wall is a symbol of unity (since Qin built the first wall from the Gansu province to the Liaoning one) and unification, being it a daily remembrance and an ancient heritage of its potentiality as a nation of people. ​

The Goals: a conservation Hike

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What the project aims to achieve is the recognition of the Great Wall as a living ecosystem, showing a different picture of the Wall, namely not the architectural nor historical sight, instead the human and natural ecosystem, exploring human activities in the area and understanding how they interact with the natural environment and the Wall and how these three elements are or can become mutually beneficial. During the fieldwork there will be a comprehensive observation and collection of information about the cultural peculiarities and natural uniqueness of the ecosystem. The project aims at correctly produce an innovative interpretation of the issue itself.

 

While travelling along the provinces, another purpose will be that of exploring Sino-European cultural relations through a bottom-up approach, showing that cooperation between two passionate foreigners and local long-established communities can be mutually beneficial, especially if the common aim is the conservation of an ecosystem, which is also a world heritage. Increase awareness on the importance of conservation, sustainable development, tourism sustainability, value and respect of local cultures, and on the close ties between nature and cultural heritage is another main goal. This goes well along with the aim of fostering Great Wall ecosystem environmental preservation through sharing positive practices and new solutions abiding from mutual dialogue and common experiences. Collecting and sharing views, tools, experience and examples of various local communities on development opportunities while respecting and conserving the environment, in order to conduct sustainable activities. 

 

All of this will be made stressing the splendor and variety of rural local cultures in China, less famous than touristic sights, nonetheless characterized by an equally relevant cultural heritage, fostering their conservation. Understanding whether habits, food, typical products, myths and beliefs of various communities living along different spots of the Wall share similarities due to this common characteristic; in other terms, the goal consists of understanding whether the Ming Dynasty Wall has been a “Great Road” connecting and influencing distant communities living along it. We intend to encourage this new study approach integration to existing ones.

 

At the end of the day, inspiring explorers and dreamers of all ages, showing that even small steps may have a positive impact on a wider community, is the final reason why this initiative came to life. The aim is to show that the Chinese proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is not just a common saying, instead it can become true with the right balance between passion, reason and preparation.

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