Black sludge pours into the lake – one of many pipes lining the shore (Credit: Liam Young/Unknown Fields)
Just today I came across an article on the BBC Website—frighteningly on their “Future” page—about the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, about 500 miles north of Xi’an. There’s little that I can add; it’s a must-read and will make you think hard about your desire for another smartphone or other electronic gadget.
The name of my blog, Time Travel in China, springs from my observation that within China, a traveler often feels transported in time as well as space. Visit a remote village where homes still rely on charcoal heaters and are equipped with outhouses, and you’ve gone back to the turn of the American 20th century. Visit Shanghai with its skyscrapers and Maglev trains and you are in the most modern city in the world. Visit Xi’an or Beijing and experience air pollution that lies ahead if we’re not careful. Visit Baotou and glimpse an apocalyptic future.
My photographer cousin, Steve Penland, alerted me to a New York Times book review of images taken by a Chinese newspaper photographer during the Cultural Revolution in the city of Harbin in the northeastern part of the country. Photographer Li Zhensheng knew he was witnessing history and had the courage and foresight to stash negatives under the floorboards in his house. Here’s a link to his publisher’s website.
The Cultural Revolution, characterized by violent swings in policy and violence against those perceived to be “counterrevolutionaries,” ended several years before Gauss and I went to China in 1981, but the damage it did—physical and psychological—remained. Fear of standing out from the crowd, and thus risking criticism or punishment, crippled policymakers and ordinary citizens. History’s impact shaped the choices our friends and colleagues made and directly affected the trajectory of their lives.