Monday, September 19, 2011

Old Datong, New Datong

Datong is the second largest city in Shanxi Province, a place (as we've talked about before) that has historically been dominated by coal and is relatively impoverished when compared to coastal Chinese hubs of development. Recently, the city has been trying to diversify and reinvent itself as a domestic Chinese tourist destination. As part of the area known as the cradle of Chinese civilization (the Yellow River basin traces its human history back thousands of years), Datong comes well-equipped with legitimate ancient sites, as made clear by the grottoes and hanging monastery that we have been talking about.

But Datong needs more to attract the sustained attention domestic tourism industry. It needs a place where trinkets can be bought and sold. It needs a place that looks old, but is actually newly built. This, of course, is a formula that has worked well in many other places around China. (See, as prime examples, Beijing's Qianmen and Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai.)

And so Datong is in the midst of rebuilding its city wall. You see, centuries ago, in the Ming Dynasty, Datong was encircled by a 30-foot-high wall with guard towers, not unlike Beijing, Xi'an, and other ancient cities. Go back to Datong in two years, as a cab driver informed us, and the new city wall will be complete and open for business. And inside will be pedestrian streets, new temple complexes, you name it.

Yes, welcome back to 1611!

~Steve

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