Thanks to my father’s new job, I got an opportunity to visit this tiny town called Pingliang in China’s Gansu Province. Located at the border of Gansu, Shaanxi and Ningxia Provinces, Ping Liang was once a crucial stop on the ancient Silk Road. Unlike most cities in Gansu which are dry and grey, Ping Liang is surrounded greenish mountains, decorated by turquoise lakes and has a river running through the north of the city. The major city has an area of 1936 sq km and a population of 500,000, but most part of it remains very much undeveloped regardless of China’s soaring GDP, but it is also a lovely backwardness that makes the city somehow charming.
The Ministry of Urban Planning and Construction is an ugly fortress that has tried so hard to look modern (and probably western) that it resembles a medieval prison.
Just alongside the main road of the city there are some dirty allies that could lead you to a community that looks like a quake zone. The local “convenient store” is a dark hole behind which daily necessities cluster. In front of people’s front door might be a dirty ditch or a pile of rubbish. All these scenes are accessible within five minutes’ walk away from the governmental fortress, yet no one sees there is anything wrong.
A majority of population in Ping Liang are Hui people, a Chinese Islamic ethnic minority. The Chinese Hui are a moderate group of muslin who sometimes follow the mainstream Islamic rules selectively, especially among the youth. Here in Ping Liang, everyone speak Chinese and the only distinguish between the Han Chinese and the Hui is their hair accessories. Men wear white hat, and women wear colourful headscarves. Besides, the local people are well known for their expertise in food. A walk to the muslin community guarantees a great feast even when it is during the Ramadan.
Ping Liang is one of the few cities in China that still fiscally relies heavily on the support of the central government. Among the six satellite counties of the city of Ping Liang, four of them have their majorities of population living under poverty line. In some remote villages, cave-dwellers have not yet moved out. However, in the downtown Ping Liang, restaurants line up and KTVs open until early morning. On the wall writes advertisement of services ranging from “loan sharks” to “illegal vehicles” to “fake IDs” to “guns and drugs”. The city has no museums, libraries or movie theatres, people seem to care no other than finding a good place to have lunch, afterwards, have a nice walk to kill an entire afternoon, and then go to a nice dinner.