BEIJING • The Great Wall of China. A stirring symbol of national pride whose overlapping sections span thousands of kilometres. A crumbling monument to China's imperial grandeur, so imposing that it inspired the stubborn myth that it is visible from the moon.
One part of the Great Wall is even more visible now, but for the wrong reasons.
Chinese preservationists and media commentators have been incensed this week after pictures showed officials had repaired part of the wall in north-east China by slapping a white substance on top of the crumbling, weathered stones.
A once unkempt, haunting 700- year-old stretch of the wall now looks like a concrete skateboarding lane dumped in the wilderness.
The aesthetic impact is "not ideal", conceded Mr Ding Hui, head of the provincial cultural relics bureau, The Beijing News reported. "The repairs really don't look good," he said.
Online, in newspapers and in interviews, many, including experts on preserving the Great Wall, went much further in condemning the repairs to the section in Suizhong County in the province of Liaoning.
"This was vandalism done in the name of preservation," said Mr Liu Fusheng, a park officer from the county, who first raised an outcry about the work. "Even the little kids here know that this repair of the Great Wall was botched."
Repairing it like this has wiped out all the culture and history.
MR DONG YAOHUI, vice-chairman of the China Great Wall Society and an expert on preserving the wall.
The repairs to the 2km section of the wall were undertaken two years ago but came to attention only last Wednesday, after a local newspaper described what had been done.
Mr Liu said officials commissioned the repairs because of safety issues but, in their haste, they wiped out the gnarled features that people had come to treasure.
Construction of that section of the wall started in 1381, as part of the sprawling web of fortifications that Ming dynasty emperors built.
But now, city dwellers who go there to marvel at the wall leave wondering why they bothered to travel so far to see a strip of concrete.
Officials claimed they did not use cement but a mix of lime and sand, but Mr Liu said they used both.
Mr Dong Yaohui, vice-chairman of the China Great Wall Society and an expert on preserving the wall, said: "It is not important whether you used lime or cement. Repairing it like this has wiped out all the culture and history."
But villager Zhang Yuwu, who worked on the repairs two years ago, sees a silver lining. "Now the top of the Great Wall has become a smooth pavement. Except when it rains or snows, it is a lot easier to walk on than before."