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Notes on the Geography of China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi

Northeastern Yunnan projects an arm, shaped much like the head of a dog, into Sichuan. In the muzzle of that dog lie the town and county of Zhenxiong, and a few miles east of Zhenxiong town--no atlas shows the place--there's a village called Hengdi, beautiful to visitors but brutal to residents.

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China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 1

The countryside around Hengdi is rough and was settled for farming only in the last few centuries, as land hunger increased in China. Rice isn't grown here at all; instead, the crops are wheat, corn--as suggested by the leaves in the foreground--and a cash crop, tobacco.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 2

Although Hengdi is a nucleated settlement, many farmhouses are scattered across the countryside. The construction is stone, with a thatched roof through which coal smoke slowly penetrates to the sky. At 5,000 feet, heating is needed, but the coal is burned on open braziers that give more smoke than heat.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 3

The farmers dry their own tobacco in barns like these, and everything--including buses that run between Hengdi and Zhenxiong--passes over this main road.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 4

The choice is dust or mud, depending on the season.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 5

Wheat, carried on tumplines, is piled for threshing and milling into noodles that are stored in every household.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 6

Drying noodles, with tobacco-drying barn in the background.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 7

Mother and children. The Draconian limit on family size doesn't apply out here.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 8

Bedroom, with brazier and wok.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 9

The coal on which the people of Hengdi depend for heating and cooking comes down to the valley from the surrounding hills, where the villagers' own children produce it.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 10

Pausing for breath, a boy leans on the pannier in which he has hauled coal several hundred steps up a dark shaft.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 11

The mine shaft, illuminated only by a camera flash.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 12

The crew is all teenagers, here at the dump where coal accumulates.

China: Yunnan Village: Hengdi picture 13

The mayor of Hengdi, retired from the Red Army, has very little trouble exercising authority over the miners.


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