August 15, 2005
That's what billboard reads outside Hongyuan and it's obvious the motto has been taken to heart. Since I was last here only 4 years ago Hongyuan has doubled or tripled in size. The roads have been paved. Modern streelights adorn the streets. Housing blocks now stretch out into the plateau. In a sense Hongyuan has always been a development. For China it is a relatively new city, created out of scratch when the Red Army stopped here to regroup in 1949. The city was not near anything in particular, just an outpost in the middle of the grasslands. It is miserably cold in winter and brutally hot in summer. From the forties to the eighties it was little more than a nomad trading post and army base. In the early 90's when I started visiting the city was probably 85% Tibetan. 10% Hui Muslim. 5% Chinese. It was a rough and tumble place with pool tables lining the streets and one eyed Tibetan prostitutes beckoning passersby from smoky dimly lit rooms. Yaks roamed the streets and there were men with their horses selling dog skins and fresh mares milk. Tibetan midget fortune tellers hung out at the gates of the bus station ready to predict your future. Knock down drag out fights were a regular nighttime activity. Almost all of that is gone now. A Chinese policeman explained to me that the housing blocks were exclusively for Chinese and that the local government provided big incentives to settle here. "The city is 75% Chinese, soon 85%," he told me with obvious pride. There are now ice cream parlors, nail salons, and kids playing basketball, it's a nice town and every day it becomes a little more like everywhere else, but walking down the main street makes me sad. I miss the old Hongyuan.