Concrete Heritage

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Mid August 2013, Lake Karakul, Xinjiang Province, China. Dark clouds, fresh snow and cold wind on the Karakoram Highway. The lake, which is otherwise as blue as the characters on the China Mobile tower in the background, is pale and silver. The horsemen, which usually advertise photo opportunities to the tourists passing by, drink tea and rest. Sheep graze and a group of people push a cart loaded with bricks back to their yurts.

The yurts, however, are not made of felt but of concrete. The material has miserably failed the test of time. Only a few of the yurts are inhabited; most seem deserted.

What is the history of these yurts? Are they an expression of the Chinese approach to cultural preservation – replacing old things with new ones in the same style but preferably made with concrete? Or are they simply the remains of an earlier push for modernity, foreshadowing the fate of the numerous houses currently under construction to create a new socialist countryside?

Let me know if you know anything about them.


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