Datong: The Part You Don’t See and Might Not Want To


Upon researching Datong in The Lonely Planet, we were forewarned that beneath this up and coming cultural Chinese city, there is an even deeper culture that is slowly being disregarded and destroyed and remade to what China wants to look like. With that you get quaint little shops, lantern filled streets, ancient temples, well manicured streets, and delicious cultural restaurants. But what are the growing pains a city suffers during this time and what about the people who prefer the old, usual way of life?

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Walking up to the old town of Datong, you are going to be greeted by a huge, intimidating, well maintained city wall. Upon the wall you will see many ornate turret towers and large temples on each corner. Every side has only a few select gates open by which you can access the treasures of the old town that lay within. Entering the wall may leave with something to be desired however. Though you are greeted with some wide shopping streets and tall angular temples, you will also gaze upon massive cranes, the sound of explosives, and piles of rubble and scaffolding climbing the towers. Datong is undergoing a 5 year long process of redefining itself as the old town it once was, taking many liberties in design as it goes. Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 6.12.53 PM

The city that once was filled with cultural back alleys with little city homes and families are slowly being demolished. Walking some of these back alleys now seems as if you are crawling through a haunted ghost town. You may see remnants of life, but roofs are crushed, and trash thrown in the streets, and remains of furniture, along with clothing strewn about. It reminded me of some of the post earthquake damage I had seen in Nepal. The government displaced hundreds of people turning these once cultural hotspots into disaster zones. Of course it is for the ultimate good of the city, but only a block from beautiful temples and amazing shopping streets, you will find the strong few who have chosen to remain in their homes despite the destruction all around them. Being the budding photojournalist I am, I decided to walk some of these backstreets and see what I could find.

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Just a few meters down one back alley I was about to turn around because I was so saddened by the lack of life and huge amount of destruction. But thats when I heard the distant voices of children. I go further and I find a small community of people living amongst this rubble. I don’t know if they financially had no other option or were just attached to their home, but they had chosen to live amongst this mess in Datong. The kids wore mismatched clothing and oversized woman shoes. They ran around the rubble as if it was their playground and they knew no different. But what will they do in a few years when the government completely removes them and there is no other option for them? Where will they live? Will they find a new normal? Meet the children of Datong.

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