Airbnb, a short-stay rental platform, has recently scrapped its controversial plan to offer people a chance to spend a night in a room it was going to build on the Great Wall in Beijing. Those who were interested in applying were asked to submit an article on overcoming cultural barriers and four winners were to be selected. By planning the “Night at the Great Wall,” Airbnb claimed that “one of the goals was to highlight how everyone can play a role in honoring and preserving this incredible piece of world history.” Since its plan would not impose fixed construction on the Great Wall, it said it did not think the event would cause any damage to the wall.
However, the plan encountered a strong backlash from the Chinese public, who are worried about the potential damage that an overnight stay may cause the ancient fortification. Yanqing District’s cultural heritage protection authorities, which manage the Badaling section of the Great Wall where the room was to be built, had reportedly never been consulted on the overnight stay or approved the event. According to a statement, the authorities did not support the project as it was not in line with cultural heritage protection principles.
The public’s criticism of Airbnb’s sleepover plan focuses on its potential damage to the wall, especially because it is not an ordinary cultural heritage site but a historical landmark of Chinese civilization. However, there is also a voice supporting the activity, which believes that Airbnb’s plan could help further spread the Great Wall’s reputation across the world.
Li Zhenzhong (www.rednet.cn): Some people are asking why shouldn’t the sleepover be held at the Great Wall since this kind of service will help tourists enjoy family-like warmth. However, basic living facilities related to homestay services at the Great Wall will cause irreversible damage to it. For example, heating devices will do harm to the Great Wall’s stones and tiles. If society is ignorant of laws and regulations surrounding cultural relic protection, such harmful behaviours may be forgiven. However, as cultural relic protection is increasingly becoming a social consensus, it’s unacceptable to see practices such as the “Night at the Great Wall" as romantic and fashionable.
In order to better protect the wall, the following measures should be taken. Firstly, relevant laws and regulations should be strengthened so that individuals or enterprises are forbidden from offering homestay services at the Great Wall. Secondly, relevant authorities should not just make oral exploration of the importance of protecting cultural relics, but they should take joint actions to stop all kinds of illegal activities that cause damage to cultural relics. Without specific measures or any plan, it is impossible to prevent illegal actions which will destroy the Great Wall.
He Yonghai (Xiaoxiang Morning Post): Airbnb’s plan to provide overnight stay services at the Great Wall has sparked controversy.
Some think it is creative. However, I’m afraid that this action may destroy this historical site. The organizers claim that nothing on the wall will be damaged during the whole activity. If so, how can they build a room for accommodations? According to reports, a beacon tower at the Great Wall was to be renovated into a house with a big bed, lamps and a toilet. The fact contradicts the claim that homestay services will be provided without installing fixed facilities or ruining the appearance of the Great Wall.
In the Regulations on the Protection of the Great Wall, the installation of facilities and equipment unrelated to the protection of the Great Wall is prohibited. These guidelines should be observed by all organizations and individuals. Remodeling a beacon tower into a house violates these regulations. If an ordinary tourist dared to do such a thing, the house would be immediately torn down.
Businesses are always driven by the pursuit of their own interests. By recruiting people to win a homestay travel, Airbnb is trying to hype its program and further its reputation. This kind of activity should not be advocated.
Airbnb responded by saying that “protecting cultural relics and heritage is the original intention of our activities,” and “we hope to show the world the architectural and cultural charm of the Great Wall and at the same time protect the cultural heritage of the Great Wall.” The way to tangibly protect cultural relics is to not bother them. The Great Wall is already well-known around the world, either for its architectural style or its culture and history. How much cultural charm can the intrusive activity of homestay services add to the Great Wall?
Xu Zhongju (www.cnhubei.com): The Great Wall is one of the cultural symbols of the Chinese nation. It is evidence of China's thousands of years of historical changes. It embodies the common memory of the nation and is a treasure to humankind. Therefore, the Great Wall, should never become a tool for any enterprise or individual to make a profit. The so-called homestay service is blasphemy against Chinese culture and will do damage to this historical heritage site.
The proposed “Night at the Great Wall” event has set a bad precedent. If this trend is not effectively curbed, more businesses are expected to follow suit and cause greater harm to ancient architecture across the country. Five thousand years of history has left a lot of valuable cultural treasures and some of them are being taken advantage of by businesses to improve their profits, reputation or both.
In recent years, as a result of mushrooming self-promotional media and short video platforms, homestay services related to or hyped by Internet celebrities are riding the tide. Homestay services like this proposed Airbnb event will not help protect China’s cultural relics but instead will bring huge damage to them. All kinds of garbage produced by the construction of such lodgings and accommodations are bound to cause considerable damage to cultural relics, which is the last thing we want to see.
There are numerous ways to protect traditional culture, explore the meaning of it and expand people’s understanding of it. Activities for making profits under the guise of protecting historical relics should be banned. The sleepover at the Great Wall is inherently a means to make exorbitant profits, rather than an attempt to protect cultural relics.
Spreading the culture
Dong Yaohui (www.huanqiu.com): When protective measures are installed, activities such as homestay services will not hurt the Great Wall, neither the structure itself nor related culture and history. Scenic spots are built or designed to be experienced by travelers. In the case of the homestay service at the Great Wall, it focuses on travelers’ experience in the evening. The Great Wall does not get damaged because visitors stand on it looking at the sun, so why do people think it will get damaged just because visitors stay there appreciating the stars in the evening? The Great Wall is seen as a symbol of Chinese civilization, but still travelers are allowed to walk on it as long as they pay to do so. We should not reject commercial programs at the Great Wall with the excuse of protecting historical and cultural heritage.
We hope that more people will get to know about the Great Wall and Chinese culture. The Great Wall was a military defense project, but nowadays, it is more of a symbol of peace. If protection is the only priority, not a single traveler should be allowed onto the Great Wall. There should be no movie shooting, no cultural or entertainment activities on the Great Wall at all.
Every year, the Great Wall receives tens of millions of visitors. As long as the precautionary work is well-prepared, activities designed to spread the Great Wall culture should be advocated.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo