Trip to the industrial city of Datong

Last weekend I was traveling to Datong (大同) – this trip was one of the organized ones, so some forty-plug the local food and the main tourist sights around Datong.
The tourist spots were quite amazing: We toured the Yungang caves, saw oldest still existing wooden pagoda in the world and visited a hanging monastery some 60 km south of Datong near Hengshan, one of the five sacred mountains (五岳 wu yue).

Street market in front of the drum tower in Datong
Street market in front of the drum tower in Datong

The Yungang caves were built into the stone and feature over 50000 Buddha statues in different kind of size and appearance. While some of them were just 2 cm in height, the largest ones probably reached 15 meters. Unfortunately a renovation attempt by the Chinese government lead to some serious damage of some statues: After a some sort of compound would not stick on the surface of the statues, holes were build to put wooden sticks in there where the compound was supposed to get some better grip. But neither the compound nor the sticks lasted very long, leaving ugly holes in the statues.
The pagoda we visited was built in the 11th century, our guide proudly presented it as the oldest still existing wooden pagoda (木塔 muta) in the world, while my travel book is referring “one of the planet’s oldest wooden buildings”. When it first was built, not a single nail was used to construct the 97 m high structure, but due to renovation and security aspects there were a lot of nails on the visiting platform in the second or third floor (the pagoda features 9 stories, but we were not allowed to climb any higher).
The hanging monastery is located at the foot of Hengshan, and is attached to a steep rock face. About 60 meters of the ground tourists are now populating the monastery that supposedly had been washed away by the river in the valley and was then relocated to an elevated position. The interesting thing about the monastery is that is it not limited to one of China’s main religions, but unites Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. There is even one room that shows the “三教合一” (san jiao he yi) principle nicely: It contains statues of Confucius, Lao Tse and Buddha. Unfortunately some damage was made to the monastery during the Cultural Revolution. There were not captions about this, but it is quite clear that the red guards were responsible for smashing some of the figures’ heads and hands.

entrance gate of coal mine
Former entrance gate of the coal mine, the red star does not look that well any more…

Compared to Beijing, the 2.5 million inhabitant city Datong is very industrial. According to our tour guide, one third of China’s coal resources are located in Shanxi province, within Shanxi, Datong is most heavily relying on mining. In the city there was somehow a constant smell of burning coal and the small river that we saw just outside the city was literally colored deep black because if was running along some coal mines.
We also had the chance to visit the “Jin Hua Gong” mine, some parts of the mine were turned into a museum 300 meters below ground level. The mine is one of China’s most modern ones and serves as a showpiece today and even was visited in 2001 by China’s (then-)president Jiang Zemin. It is using up-to-date technology and has high security standards – at least in the part we could see. The mine is producing a large amount of coal and the working conditions seem quite well, at least on the first glance: When we sat in the small subsurface train riding back from the museum area to the shaft, I shared my small one square meter compartment with two guides. They told me that workers were working in eight hour shifts with two days off each week. A forty hour week sounds pretty good but if you look closer, it does not sound all that good anymore: The guides told me that the workers often are underground for more than ten hours a day because it takes a lot of time to get clothes changes and to reach their working area. Without the train they need to walk for two or more hours each day to get to their assigned working area – the walks are unpaid overtime work!
But compared to the small mines in the countryside their working conditions are still quite good. The movie Blind Shaft shows the conditions in the small mines that are lacking even basic security standards and where most of the mining workers actually die during accidents. The accidents often are not reported or not picked up by the international media, only if there has been a large scale accident, you might find a side notice in the newspaper.
While traveling in Shanxi we saw a lot of trucks carrying coal from the mines to sorting places and further on. On these sorting places pieces of coal are sorted by their size and then continue their way either to one of the numerous power plants (often operating without filter), to factories or to the cities where some people are still using coal for heating and cooking.

Coal sorting place along the road in Shanxi province.
Coal sorting place along the road in Shanxi province.

PS: Sorry for not having any photos of the scenic places. My memory card caused some trouble and I have not been able to restore the data.


2 Responses to “Trip to the industrial city of Datong”

  1. beijing07 Says:

    Update: I just found a news report by the Chinese official news agency Xinhua on a mining accident in a coal mine in Shanxi province. After an gas explosion on May 5, 20 people were killed, 10 are still missing underground: 山西蒲县煤矿事故抢险工作紧张有序进行

  2. sacramento's commercial kitchens rent by the hour Says:

    Very nice article, totally what I was looking for.

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