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Zhang Heshan starts his day before dawn, scaling the rugged terrain near his village in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province — a seemingly ordinary routine that the 69-year-old has gone to extraordinary lengths to follow for the past 46 years.

His destination is a 6-kilometer stretch of the Great Wall, where he spends hours meticulously inspecting 23 ancient watchtowers and removing any weeds or waste that could threaten the integrity of the structure.

For Zhang, this daily ritual is a labor of love and a mission for preservation. He has also gone the extra mile to collect folk tales about the Great Wall and has detailed them in two books.

He is one of the tens of thousands of rangers and volunteers dedicated to preserving this iconic monument in China, and their contributions have won recognition from President Xi Jinping, as the nation ramps up its drive for cultural preservation and development.

Last month, Xi wrote back to the residents of Shixia village in Beijing's Yanqing district, who are committed to protecting the Great Wall and carrying forward its culture, just like Zhang.

The president underscored the Great Wall's role as "a symbol of the Chinese nation and an important emblem of Chinese civilization", embodying the spirit of unyielding perseverance and patriotic unity, while encouraging its guardians to pass down "this precious heritage left by our ancestors for generations to come".

One year ago, Xi made a clarion call for action as he presided over a high-level symposium on cultural inheritance and development, expounding on the need to firm up confidence among the Chinese people in their history and culture.

He highlighted the need to use Chinese wisdom to summarize the Chinese experience and transform it into Chinese theory, in order to develop an independent cultural mindset, while underlining the importance of shouldering new cultural missions and building a modern Chinese civilization.

Zhang Zhiqiang, dean of the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Xi has elevated cultural development to an unprecedented position in China's national governance — a move that has also reinvigorated the role of traditional culture in national governance and education.

This unprecedented emphasis will entail the creative transformation and innovative development of China's outstanding traditional culture, he said on Sunday at a symposium held at the Chinese Academy of History.

Nationwide, people in general are embracing the revival of traditional culture.

China's museums recorded a historic 1.29 billion visits in 2023, with over 40,000 exhibitions and more than 380,000 educational activities held over the past year.

Archaeological endeavors have yielded remarkable discoveries, unveiling ancient treasures that shed light on China's historical depth and maritime legacy. Two shipwrecks that were found by archaeologists deep in the South China Sea in October once served as witnesses to commercial and cultural exchanges along the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

Wang Wei, a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and director of its history department, said in a recent interview that Chinese civilization is the only ancient civilization in the world that has continued uninterrupted to this day.

"Archaeological discoveries enable the public to gain a deeper understanding of the splendor of Chinese civilization and its contributions to human civilization, drawing wisdom from the past to navigate the future," Wang said.

Meanwhile, the protection of the Great Wall, which spans 15 provincial-level regions across China, received a significant boost as the central government rolled out an initiative in 2019 to develop a thematic national cultural park.

Modern technologies are now used to empower conservation efforts. In Beijing's Huairou district, researchers are using drones and data analytics to monitor and protect the structure.

Zhang, the ranger, now has over 400,000 followers on his social media platforms, where he regularly shares videos of him patrolling the Great Wall. He is also frequently invited to share his insights into Great Wall culture at official symposiums and to tell his stories on TV programs.

"For me, beyond guarding the physical structure of the Great Wall, there are countless stories to uncover and a wealth of culture to explore. This is a lifelong endeavor," he said.

Wang Ru contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at xuwei@chinadaily.com.cn

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