Forbidden China

Closed a long time for Westerners, it is under the influence of the new quartermaster Deng Xiaoping that China opens its borders in 1979. However, this opening is quite relative and many areas remain, still to this day, prohibited for foreigners and Chinese tourists.

Strategic because of their geographical position, the majority of these areas correspond to border regions the government considers as sensitive.

Others are closed for domestic policy reasons, when, for example, some independence movements remain active here an there, as it is the case in certain parts of Tibet and Inner Mongolia.

Forbidden to Westerners, sometimes even to Chinese, these areas remain surrounded by mystery but are, paradoxically, for a small number of them, visible to the very eyes of all… It is the case of a small valley located between the provinces of Gansu and Xinjiang, close to the Mongolian border. Entirely deserted, the latter is crossed by the train connecting the far-eastern town of Urumqi to Beijing.

 

Following the Great Wall's layout, this trip of several days traverses China from East to West. During this long journey, the passengers can contemplate the beauty of the landscapes: deserts of Inner Mongolia and mountains bordering Mongolia. Suddenly, it is a very different scenery which is offered to their eyes. During a few kilometers, the crammed train crosses a mysterious valley, abandoned, and prohibited to whoever would wish to venture there…

It is through the embankments skirting the rails that the passengers can see the first abandoned hamlets. Wherever one may look, not a man in sight at the horizon…

The train approaches and a few buildings appear here and there. They seem to have been built in the middle of the century but, nowadays, those villages aren't anymore then devastated and abandoned villages.

Further, the ruins of a wiped out village, as if a bomb blast destroyed everything. A scene hardly dissimulated behind high enclosing walls.

 

Apart from the military barracks and the few factory chimneys, nothing remains today of these hamlets. What formerly seemed to be dwellings, perhaps not so long ago, is nothing anymore but a cluster of rubble hastily left in the abandonment…

 

These ruins sheltered soldiers, workers and families. Stripped, they now are part of a deserted landscape. Relics of the past…

Disconcerted by what goes under our eyes, we question Chinese passengers. If some of them already made this trip several times, a few already thought about the question!

Why is this valley devastated? Who lived there? When and why did they leave this deserted areas? So many questions without true answer…

 
 

Some evoke the Cultural revolution, others speak about old prison camps. Lastly, the assumption of military or nuclear tests is even timidly whispered.

If the true causes of this desertion will obviously remain unknown : our sole certainty is that it all was sudden and violent…

More rarely, the train goes through old abandoned stations, pale memory of a dilapidated past which the authorities undoubtedly prefer to occult before forgetting it. Formerly neat like all the stations in the country, they were used for military and scientific routing, but also for the workers sent to this area. Today, these old stations are nothing more than ghostly ruins.
Tanguy&Violette © 2006-2007