The wall that encloses Datong’s old city is almost impressive – encircling an area of 3.3 square kilometres it is perfectly polished and sharp-edged. As the most distinctive feature of ancient cities, this particular one is in fact spanking new and unfinished: a gap in its western stretch ranging hundreds of metres is waiting to be sealed up. Lying at the heart of contemporary Datong, the old city was almost unrecognisable until a few years ago, except for a handful of surviving monuments buried within shabby multi-storey buildings. But as China’s capital for three separate dynasties, Datong was once home to royal palaces, gardens and temples. The spectacular Yungang Grottoes, a Unesco heritage site of ancient Buddhist art and carving, act as a reminder of its past. Today’s Datong in Shanxi province is a third-tier city of 3.3 million people (Beijing and Shanghai are first-tier cities out of a five-tier ranking), with a vastly expanded urban area of almost 50 square kilometres. In recent decades, mass and indiscriminate rebuilding, alongside a booming coal mining industry that gained Datong the label “China’s capital of coal”, also made it one of the country’s grittiest cities. Six years ago, Datong’s newly appointed mayor,… Read full this story
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