Docuseries ‘The Great Wall with Ash Dykes’ reveals lesser-known sides of the world wonder
Modern love story for ancient architecture
Published: Nov 19, 2023 09:26 PM
Ash Dykes Photo: Courtesy of the China Intercontinental Communication Center

Ash Dykes Photo: Courtesy of the China Intercontinental Communication Center

In the newly released internationally collaborated documentary series The Great Wall with Ash Dykes, the British adventurer and ­extreme athlete Ash Dykes revealed the lesser-known yet unparalleled intriguing sides of the world's great wonders through his extraordinary journey. The underwater Great Wall, the earliest built and the most dangerous section of the architectural wonder, along with the wildlife nearby, and the unsung heroes who have been guarding the ancient relics feature prominently in the docuseries. 

Initiated by the China Intercontinental Communication Center, the six-episode docuseries was jointly produced by China, the UK, Singapore, and the Netherlands. It was broadcast at prime time on CCTV 9, the state TV documentary channel for six consecutive days and concluded on Friday. Dykes noted on social media that he was very excited about its airing in China, adding that dates and channels for the series going global would be announced soon. 

'Real-life heroes'

The series, shot over more than 100 days, covered various regions across China. It narrated the vibrant culture and natural ecology along the Great Wall, presenting the majestic natural and enriched cultural scenery of China. In the docuseries, Dyke guides the audience through its intricate structure, origins, development, and modern rebirth, while highlighting the deep historical significance and cultural connotations behind it.

Dykes interviewed over 50 people throughout his journey. Many of the interviewees are farmers living near Great Wall sites who double as ­rangers and safety inspectors of the key wall sections, stop and report harmful behavior, and offer ­advice on the protection work.

"They are real-life heroes and they should all be known… their commitment and dedication in preserving the wall is awe-inspiring and I feel honored to have gotten a small glimpse into their lives. I love how I also got to meet young wall protectors, who gave up life in the city to be here next to the Great Wall, protecting it. It's not for everyone; you need a strong spirit and a connection that runs deep within your veins," Dykes said.

The Great Wall Photo: VCG

The Great Wall Photo: VCG

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), the building of the national cultural parks with themes including the Great Wall has been included in the country's cultural projects. And December 1 marks the 17th anniversary of China's national regulation on the Great Wall protection. Under the regulation, a growing number of rangers have been recruited to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The number surpassed 6,000 in 2021, and as of now, Beijing alone has nearly 500 rangers. 

"The Great Wall's protectors formed a guard of honor in our journey. For me personally the story went from being something with a much higher adventure angle to something with more heart, showcasing another side of Ash that many people haven't had the chance to see until now," Simon Wise, the Australian director of the series, told the Global Times.

Organizations such as the China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Conservation and the Tencent Charity Foundation also made their share of contributions toward the protection of the national treasure. 

"Besides providing funding, our team took five years to clean up the rank grass along the section of the Jiankou Great Wall. By studying each brick of the section of the Great Wall, we managed to use digital technology to restore the image of its original appearance. We have also launched a WeChat mini-program for people to take a virtual tour of the Great Wall, learn more about this cultural symbol of our country, and direct it toward a better future," said Ma Yao in the series. 

"More and more technologies have been applied to the protection of cultural relics such as the Great Wall. Modern technology such as satellite imagery and surveillance cameras are used to monitor the condition of the Great Wall, helping to identify areas that require attention and protection. Our series also hopes that through work, more people will learn about China's efforts and development in this field," Monica Huang, producer of series, told the Global Times.

'Amazing efforts'

When Dykes cycled along different sections of the Great Wall in Beijing, he met the British ecologist Terry Townshend, who had a decade of bird-watching experience in Beijing. While they tracked the wildlife near the Great Wall, Townshend shared his insights on China's efforts and achievements in ecological protection. 

"I've seen some amazing efforts being put into effect and the locals have really caught on and are doing everything they can to help protect the environment and the cultural heritage. The Great Wall is a symbol that great things can happen when a country works as one," commented Dykes.

Wise agreed with Dykes and noted, "A better understanding of what the Great Wall is, not just something made of bricks and mortar or rammed earth, but a symbol of what's possible if people can work together; you can build incredible structures like this. I hope the audiences feel in some way that we created a modern love story to the Great Wall, led by Dykes and supported the entire way by the Great Wall and the protectors that look after it."

Wise further said, "My hope is that the series can reach as wide an audience as possible, and the people of China enjoy watching it and are filled with a sense of pride. For the Western audience, I hope they are able to see parts of China maybe not featured before, but also are able to connect with the people Dykes meets along the way."