1.         The Great Wall (China) (C 438)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1987

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/438/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/438/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

N/A

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/438/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2017

On 19 May 2015, the World Heritage Centre requested comments from the State Party after receiving third-party information indicating that the construction of a high-speed railway between Beijing and Zhangjiakou may pose a threat to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property. The main issue appeared to be the construction of an underground railway section below the Great Wall, along with an underground station and ground-level station building at Guntiangou, which may affect the property’s integrity and authenticity.

On 26 September 2016, the World Heritage Centre sent another letter to the State Party, asking for comments on the restoration work undertaken at a five-mile section of the Great Wall located in Suizhong County, Liaoning Province, as third-party reports indicated that the materials used were not consistent with the original ones, which may have a negative impact on the OUV of the property. The World Heritage Centre also reminded the State Party about the May 2015 letter, but received no response at that time.

On 6 December 2016, the World Heritage Centre requested China to submit a report on the state of conservation of the property for consideration by the World Heritage Committee. The report provided by the State Party on 13 March 2017 is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/438/documents. In an annex to the report is a letter dated March 2016 regarding the proposed Beijing to Zhangjiakou high-speed railway, which the World Heritage Centre had unfortunately not received. The report and its annexes address a number of conservation issues, and notably the following:

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

As an exceptionally large human-built feature, the Great Wall constitutes an outstanding example of how architecture can integrate into the landscape on an extremely vast scale, and it is therefore essential to protected and conserve it to the highest standards. The State Party should be commended for its considerable efforts to protect and conserve this large-scale complex property.

The legal framework for the protection of the Great Wall has been revised and updated several times since the inscription of the property and its implementation appears to be largely successful, notably thanks to  the Regulation on the Protection of the Great Wall adopted in 2006. It is therefore recommended that the Committee also commend the State Party for its efforts in this regard and encourage it to continue finalising and implementing all provincial programmes for the protection of the Great Wall.

However, as pointed out in the Statement of OUV, “the authenticity of the setting of the Great Wall is vulnerable to construction of inappropriate tourism facilities” and “the visual integrity of the Wall at Badaling has been impacted negatively by [the] construction of tourist facilities and a cable car.” In this regard, new projects that continue to threaten the main perspectives towards and from the property remain a source of concern, especially if they lead to increasing visitor numbers without implementing appropriate measures to mitigate the impacts of mass tourism.

The construction of a high-speed railway line linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou is a prime example of such potentially damaging projects, as the line would pass underneath the property and its buffer zone through a tunnel and involves the construction of an underground station and a ground building at Guntiangou, near the Badaling section of the wall. While the State Party has advised that the visual impact of this project will be limited and that the explosives used to create the tunnel will have no structural impact on the property, the cumulative impacts of this project, along with the impacts already mentioned in the Statement of OUV, cannot be neglected. Furthermore, the State Party does not indicate how the station may influence the already high number of visitors, or what preventive measures have been introduced to address this issue. Furthermore, an HIA is required for projects of this magnitude, in line with the 2011 ICOMOS Guidelines on HIAs for Cultural World Heritage Properties, so that the effects of the proposed development on the OUV of the property can be properly considered and appropriate mitigation measures implemented. It is therefore recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to carry out an HIA and to also take all necessary measures to mitigate the impacts of mass tourism on the property and look for ways to minimize the cumulative impacts of projects on the OUV of the property, and especially the main sight lines to and from the Great Wall.

Finally, the State Party’s report indicates that some of the works at the Damao Mountain Section of the Great Wall in Suizhong County, Liaoning Province, were carried out using unsuitable restoration methods, which lead to results incompatible with the fabric and appearance of the rest of the Great Wall. While the Committee could express appreciation for China’s proactive approach to the conservation of some structurally unsound sections of the Great Wall, it is also recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to ensure that all works are carried out in accordance with international conservation standards, and that no irreversible damage is done to the fabric of the property.

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7B.86

The World Heritage Committee,
  1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Commends the State Party for its efforts towards the protection and conservation of this vast cultural property, especially with regard to the systematic cataloguing of all elements of the Great Wall and the introduction, revision and/or implementation of national and provincial legal frameworks, and encourages the State Party to proceed with the adoption of all provincial programmes for the protection of the Great Wall as soon as possible;
  3. Takes note of the information provided on the proposed high-speed railway line linking Beijing and Zhangjiakou, which is to pass underneath the property via an underground tunnel and foresees the construction of an underground station and a ground building at Guntiangou, within the boundaries of the property, and urges the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA), to be prepared in line with the 2011 ICOMOS Guidelines on HIAs for Cultural World Heritage Properties, for review by the Advisory Bodies; and to ensure that the HIA includes consideration of all potential impacts on the integrity and authenticity of the property, along with appropriate mitigation strategies, including:
    1. Physical impacts from tunnelling and construction activity,
    2. Visual impacts on sightlines and views, and
    3. Alternative options which can reduce such impacts;
  4. Notes with concern that the State Party has not indicated how the proposed new station may influence the already high number of visitors, or what preventive measures have been introduced to address this issue and also urges the State Party to:
    1. Ensure that the potential impacts arising from increased visitation are also addressed in the HIA,
    2. Take all necessary measures to mitigate the impacts of mass tourism on the property, and
    3. Take all necessary measures to minimize the cumulative impacts of tourism infrastructure on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, especially with regard to sight lines to and from the Great Wall;
  5. Requests that the State Party ensure that the construction of the aforementioned high-speed railway line and the proposed station at Guntiangou does not proceed to a point where it is no longer possible to implement changes recommended through the HIA process;
  6. Also takes note of the information provided on the works carried out at the Damao Mountain Section of the Great Wall in Suizhong County, Liaoning Province, and also encourages the State Party to continue its regular conservation and protection efforts to ensure the structural stability of all extant sections of the Great Wall;
  7. Also notes with concern that some of the works were carried out using unsuitable methods, leading to results which are incompatible with the fabric and appearance of the adjoining sections of the Great Wall;
  8. Also requests the State Party to ensure that all works are carried out in accordance with international conservation standards, and that no irreversible damage is done to the fabric of the property and reminds the State Party to inform the World Heritage Centre about any major development project that may negatively impact the OUV of the property, before any irreversible decision is made, in line with Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines;
  9. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2018, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019.