The suspects widened a gap in the iconic Great Wall to shorten their travel time to a worksite in Shanxi province, state media reports.

Two people have been arrested in China after they used an excavator to widen a gap in the Great Wall in the northern Shanxi province.

The Shanxi Cultural Relics Bureau, in a social media post earlier this week, said the suspects – a man and a woman – damaged the iconic structure in Youyu country beyond repair.

Police in Shanxi were alerted to the incident on August 24 and followed tracks made by machinery used to dig through a section of the wall to find the suspects, the China Daily newspaper reported on Monday.

The pair, who had been contracted to work on a construction project nearby, admitted they had used the excavator to create a shortcut in the wall in a bid to reduce travel time to their worksite, the newspaper said.

Construction of the Great Wall, which is split into sections that in total stretch for thousands of kilometres, first began in the third century BC and continued for centuries. The remains of the structure, built by China’s emperors to deter foreign invaders, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The section of the Great Wall affected, about a six-hour drive west of Beijing, dates back to China’s Ming Dynasty, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries.

State broadcaster CCTV said the suspects had caused “irreversible damage” to the Ming-era wall, which was described as a “relatively intact” section of significant research value.

Images on CCTV showed the aftermath of the scene, where a dusty road had been cut through a long, raised section of ground that appeared to be the remnants of the ancient barrier.

China Daily said the suspects have been “charged with destroying a cultural relic”.

People climb the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, north of Beijing, on the Labour Day holiday on May 1, 2023.
People climb the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, north of Beijing, on the Labour Day holiday on May 1, 2023 [File: Greg Baker/ AFP]

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