Badaling, the nearest stretch of the Great Wall to Beijing, is receiving far more visitors than its ancient bricks, walls and trees can withstand, the municipal bureau of landscape and forestry reported.
In a draft on the management and protection of a 326 square kilometer area of tourist attractions in northwestern Beijing that groups Badaling, the Ming Tombs and several other less famous sites, the bureau suggested the daily maximum number of visitors be restricted to 53,300. Annually, the figure should be kept within 16 million.
The plan, set for 2007 through 2020, was published on the bureau's website on Tuesday to solicit public comment for 10 days.
A senior engineer with the bureau, who declined to be named, said no comments had been received as of 4 p.m. on Wednesday. "We only received several phone inquiries from reporters," she told Xinhua.
The plan, even after central government approval, will only serve as a long-term objective rather than a binding document.
"I don't think Badaling or the Ming Tombs would be forced to limit the daily number of visitors anytime soon," she said. "But we do hope more tourists could be diverted to less-crowded destinations to better protect the ancient structures and ensure tourist safety."
Badaling alone received an average 62,000 visitors daily during this year's May "golden week", according to figures provided by the Badaling management office shortly after the holiday. On May 4, it received a record 72,000 visitors.
Phone calls to the Badaling promotion and publicity department on Wednesday went unanswered.
A clerk at the press and publicity office of the Ming Tombs said she was unaware of the forestry bureau's plan and dismissed the idea as "impossible". "I haven't heard of it, but I don't think it will work."
She said no figures were available regarding the number of visitors to the tombs.
Most travel services list the tombs as a stop-off on the way to Badaling. The two sites are often visited in one day.
The Great Wall stretches 6,700 kilometers from the west to northeast China. Its construction dates back to the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.) when separate sections were built in scattered strategic areas to ward off invasion by northern nomadic tribes.
Several other sections are open to tourists, including Simatai and Mutianyu in the eastern suburbs.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization listed the wall as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
(Xinhua News Agency November 22, 2007)