British hiker mobilizes volunteers to clear up litter on the Great Wall

By Li Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/5 5:03:52

William Lindesay Photo: CFP

China has been Briton William Lindesay's home for 30 years. Now 60, he is married to a Chinese woman, and they have two children.

But his love affair with China started at the Great Wall. For decades, he has dedicated himself to the protection of the ancient structure which is marred by garbage left behind by increasing numbers of visitors.

Every weekend or holiday, Lindesay goes to the Great Wall in the northern suburbs of Beijing, not for sightseeing, but to search for garbage. Some sections are not officially open to tourists, but have nonetheless attracted a growing number of hikers trying to avoid large crowds of visitors.

Lindesay and other volunteers start climbing to the Great Wall from 5 am in the morning, and collect garbage until 9 am. They then put the garbage in a special tank to be transport it off the mountain.

In 2001, he established an association of people dedicated to the protection of the Great Wall, organizing volunteer garbage collectors and compiling historical archives about the preservation of the Wall. He even established a "Great Wall School" based near the Jiankou section in suburban Huairou district to teach surrounding villagers and volunteers about the Wall.

His contribution to the protection of the Great Wall and exchanges between China and the UK have been recognized by both countries as he received awards from China's State Council as well as the Queen of England.

First arrival

Born in Liverpool, Lindesay studied geology at college and briefly worked in Egypt. He often went on hikes with his elder brother. Once, as they were completing their trek along the 120-kilometer-long Hadrian's Wall, his brother encouraged him to take on the Great Wall of China. The idea took root in Lindesay's mind.

Two years later, in 1986, he quit his job and flew to Beijing to backpack on the Great Wall. But it wasn't an easy task. From Beijing he travelled west, but halfway through the journey, he was unable to continue due to a crippling bout of diarrhea. He had to return to Britain to recover.

The next year, he came back to complete the journey. This time, Lindesay started from the Jiayu Pass, the westernmost point of the Great Wall. But even though he was better prepared this time, he ran into even bigger problems. He got caught in a snowstorm not far from his starting point, and got lost in the mountains.

There, he ran out of food, was chased by two ferocious wild dogs, and discovered the body of an American hiker. Desperation crept in, until he saw a teenage boy running to him in the snow. The boy had been sent by his father from a village more than 30 kilometers away. The family had seen Lindesay a couple of days before and were worried about what had happened to him in the mountains in such extreme weather. The boy searched for him for two days before eventually bringing him steamed buns, which had long since frozen.

Lindesay was rescued and taken in by the family, and given hot meals with poached eggs, something he says he will never forget.

Difficult access

A length of the Great Wall in Jiayuguan, Gansu Province Photo: CFP

However, it was not the bad weather or shortage of money that were the hardest things to handle during his hike on the Great Wall. In the 1980s, many sections of the Great Wall were closed to foreigners. He had to acquire certificates from the government in order to pass through.

In the hinterlands of China, at the beginning of the country's opening up period, people were curious about foreigners, but at the same time worried about their motives for traveling to the country. On nine occasions, Lindesay was detained by police after being reported by locals. In May 1987, the police in Yulin, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, ordered Lindesay to leave the country.

His hike ruined for a second time,  he refused to give up, renewing his visa in Hong Kong and immediately going back to the Wall. Starting in the autumn of 1987, he took 78 days to complete the journey of about 2,470 kilometers to Shanhai Pass, the eastern end of the Great Wall.

The hardships he suffered, as well as the amazing stories of his journey on the Great Wall, were recorded in his book Alone on the Great Wall, published in 1989, which drew a great deal of attention in the UK, the US and Germany.

After that, Lindesay met Wu Qi, from the city of Xi'an, Shaanxi. They got married and later had two sons. The family moved from Xi'an to Beijing.

That wasn't the end of story, but the beginning of another chapter of Lindesay's life in China. As tourism developed, Lindesay found that there was an increasing amount of garbage around the Great Wall. Feeling that it was not enough to just clear the garbage himself during his visits to the Wall, Lindesay mobilized more than 120 volunteers from around the world in April 1998 in a campaign to "beautify the Great Wall." In just a few sections of the Wall in Beijing, volunteers collected 15 sacks of garbage, including empty bottles and decaying food.

Now this has become a regular event, and Lindesay has gained the nickname "Great Wall cleaner," and has even recruited his entire family to the cause.

In July, Lindesay kicked off a 6,000-kilometer journey starting in Beijing with a group of volunteers, planning to travel westwards along the Wall to collect garbage and promote environmental protection awareness.

The police of Yulin, where Lindesay had been repeatedly detained during his initial journeys, contacted him again in 2007, this time with a message that he was welcome to visit the city again, now that it has opened up. There Lindesay met with "the toughest police in the world" as he called them and took pictures together. He was also given an honorary title of Yulin citizen from the local government for his perseverance in protecting the Wall and his contribution to the understanding between China and the UK.

Ren Yaoti contributed to this story.

Newspaper headline: Monumental mess

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