A grim, uncertain future hangs over the 1.7 million residents of Datong in the heart of China’s dusty, windswept coal-mining country about 350km west of Beijing. Amid the imminent threat of massive lay-offs, the city’s coal workers are battling for back-pay and timely salaries just so they can feed their families.
In another area of the city the local government’s boom-and-bust redevelopment plans lie unfinished. A multimillion-dollar “white elephant” sports stadium is slowly being reclaimed by the dust.
Elsewhere, the ruins of the partially built replica ancient walled city are a monument to the failed plans of the city’s former mayor – nicknamed “Demolition Geng” – who dreamed of remaking an “ancient walled city” in the urban centre, but who is long gone.
The half-demolished buildings and stalled construction are reminders of the false dawn of a prosperous future.
The uncertainty in Datong is similar to that afflicting many other smaller cities grappling with the mainland’s economic slowdown, stagnant population growth and excess production capacity: all had big dreams but few came true.
Datong is home to the Datong Coal Mine Group, a state firm with a 175,000-strong workforce that is grappling with shrinking coal use, falling coal prices and diminishing reserves.
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