A British warrior on the Great Wall

Oct. 17, 2015 09:45:00

William Lindesay runs along Shanhaiguan Section of the Great Wall in the summer of 1986.(Photo provided by Lindesay)

William Lindesay runs along Shanhaiguan Section of the Great Wall in the summer of 1986.(Photo provided by Lindesay)

In 1987, when William Lindesay spent 78 days walking the Great Wall across north China, the country was not entirely welcoming to foreign travelers.

Fulfilling a childhood dream of walking the Great Wall gave him a chance to meet plenty of local people and enjoy their hospitality, or otherwise. He has since devoted more than quarter of a century to tramping on, photographing, studying and protecting the structure.

In 1988 he married Wu Qi and two years later, moved to China. In 1998, accompanied by his family, he began collecting garbage on the Wall every weekend. When some visitors noticed a grey-haired foreigner collecting plastic bottles, they told him it was none of his business. Lindesay replied in Chinese, "I know it is China's Great Wall, but it is also part of my planet."

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Lindesay and his family on the Great Wall. (Photo provided by Lindesay)

Three years later, Lindesay founded the International Friends of the Great Wall, which organizes conservation activities for volunteers from around the world. In recognition of his work, he has made an honorary citizen and given a Chinese "green card".

Born in 1956 into an ordinary British family in Liverpool, his home country has also noted his contribution to the preservation of the Great Wall, and in 2006, Queen Elizabeth II presented him the Order of British Empire.

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A video grab shows the Queen Elizabeth II presented him the Order of British Empire. (Photo provided by Lindesay)

"The Queen said 'Protecting the Great Wall is a lifetime's work,' and I said, 'Yes, Your Majesty, and impossible to finish.'"

Outside the Palace, Lindesay and his family waved the flags of both China and Britain.

"Everyone saw you as a hero," Lindesay recalled with a smile.

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William Lindesay(1st L Front) poses for a photo with his family members in front of the Buckingham Palace in London, capital of Britain, on July 12, 2006.  (China Features/Xie Xiudong)

Although the Great Wall is one of the most famous structures in the world, it is still a great mystery to most people. Lindesay ambitions to bring the Great Wall to the British Museum in an exhibition of images.

"It is so special and it should be studied," said Lindsay who operates an exchange program between British and Chinese universities on the Great Wall academic study.

He also wants to use the experiences of British preservationists working on Hadrian's Wall, a 118 km defense that once divided Scotland from England, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian nearly 2,000 years ago.

"It has a nice marriage between conservation and tourism," said Lindesay. 

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