China Daily: Vendors face change at Great Wall

I’ve been working on a great (pun, not intended) story about vendors along one portion of the Great Wall that China Daily published today. I’ve heard some people in the US can’t access China Daily’s website, so I’ve posted the entire text here. If you click on the China Daily screencapture, you can go to the article’s webpage. You can see more of my pictures there.


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Vendors at the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall are fearful of a tourist company’s plan to remove them, ending a way of life that has endured for years. 

MUTIANYU — Visitors determined to scale all 22 towers at the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall of China encounter hot sun,steep steps, and Wang Caihua.

Two hours and two coats of sunscreen from the first watchtower,weary visitors will find Wang and her souvenir table wedged in the steps on the final steep ascent to the last two towers.

On a hot, recent Saturday afternoon, Wang stood waving a giant Chinese flag and smiled down at the sun-soaked climbers who blink up at her through eyes stinging with sweat. Her long-sleeved blouse billowed in the wind and a blue baseball cap shaded her sun-kissed face.

“Water, beer?” the 54-year-old called out.

For most travelers, a trip to the Great Wall is a once-in-lifetime pilgrimage. But for Wang, it’s her job.

For seven years she’s sold souvenirs and refreshments on this section of the Great Wall.Wang wakes up at 5 am each day to make the two-hour trek up a muddy path near Beigou village and stations herself on the steps from 7 am until 5:30 pm. The farmer’s daughter has lived in the village her whole life.

Wang endures the grueling work so her 21-year-old son can study in Beijing to be a pharmacist. Her daughter, 31, who also went to a Beijing university, taught her mother the fewEnglish phrases she knows.

“I do this every day to support my children because I didn’t get a good education. I only went to junior high,” Wang said under the shelter of a makeshift umbrella that shields her wares from the fading powers of the sun.

No matter the motivation, Wang and other vendors may soon see their livelihood under threat.

The Mutianyu Great Wall Travel Service Company, which operates the Mutianyu section, is concerned about peddlers and their impact on tourists. The company has even considered removing them. Two days earlier, officials confiscated the vendors’ goods.

Chang Xilin, a vendor situated a few dozen steps above Wang,is angered by the company’s attempt to get rid of her. She’s spent four years working atop the landmark and insists she provides a much-needed service to visitors.

“Yes, we sell water to make money, but we also serve the people, right?” the 37-year-old said.

Wang Caihua, 54, waves a giant Chinese flag as tourists climb the steep path at Mutianyu portion ofthe Great Wall. Wang said she travels two hours each morning to get to the Great Wall and sellsouvenirs to tourists so she can put her son through college. Alison Sullivan / For chinadaily.com.cn
Wang Caihua, 54, waves a giant Chinese flag as tourists climb the steep path at Mutianyu portion ofthe Great Wall. Wang said she travels two hours each morning to get to the Great Wall and sellsouvenirs to tourists so she can put her son through college. Alison Sullivan / For chinadaily.com.cn

 

The current vendors’ presence on the Great Wall isn’t exactly illegal, said Cao Haishan, a service manager at the company, but their business isn’t regulated. Cao said his company may recruit its own vendors to set up stalls at Mutianyu.

Mutianyu opened for tourists in the late 1980s, following a government-led restoration and a surge in foreign tourists.

Chris Che, an expert guide with the Beijing-based WildChina tour company, said Mutianyu is less crowded than other locations such as Badaling, because of its distance from the capital.

Wang said growing up she didn’t see many tourists at Mutianyu but has seen an increase since the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Until recently Mutianyu attracted mostly foreign tourists, said Che, estimating it’s now a 50-50 split between Chinese and foreign visitors.

Che said regulating vendors would certainly be more orderly for tourists, however pesky vendors aren’t a big problem at Mutianyu compared to other locations.

“It’s pretty good already,” said Che, who has 13 years of experience as a tour guide.

Che said regulating vendors would be better for places like Jinshangling, where vendors follow tour groups to try and sell things throughout an entire trip. He said it varies but Badaling and most other tourist portions of the Great Wall have regulated vendors.

Cao, the Mutianyu service manager, said the company removed the vendors to try and improve the scenic area.

“The prices of the products (with regulated vendors) will be more fair and of better quality,” Cao said.

Che noted, however, bartering isn’t only at Mutianyu.

“For me, it’s part of the culture. It’s not bad,” Che said. “If clients are mature tourists they should understand it.”

Chang decided to sell items on the Great Wall four years ago when she didn’t make enough money in the village. Like Wang, she carries a backpack full of water and other goods up the dirt path with help from her husband.

“Since my stuff was taken away, I haven’t felt like eating at all,” said Chang Xilin.

The women said they make between 2,000 to 3,000 yuan ($333-500) per month. Summers bring in more tourists and more money. Chang said her hottest commodity is ice-cold water.

Cao, who’s been with the Mutianyu Great Wall Travel Service Company for 11 years,confirmed his company confiscated the vendors’ items. He said company officials are in negotiations with the Huairou district government to recruit vendors approved by the company.

The loss of their goods was a huge hit to Wang and Chang and a potential blow to their children’s education. The women, lacking other options, must return to the Great Wall for now. “How can we make a living without selling on the Wall?” Chang said.

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Chang Xilin tries to bargain with a foreign tourist at her souvenir stand stationed on the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall. She’s sold items along the Great Wall for four years to help pay for her 12-year-old son’s schooling. Alison Sullivan / For chinadaily.com.cn

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