The forgotten town of black gold

Updated: 2013-05-14 09:51

By Cui Jia (China Daily)

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The forgotten town of black gold



Editor's note: This is the seventh in a regular series of reports brought together under the banner "Lost Horizons", which aim to show life in the less-reported areas of the country and to give a voice to those whose words often go unheard. Slideshows and video footage are also available at

Yiqikelike's heyday has long passed, as Cui Jia reports from Kuqa county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

The forgotten town of black gold

Li Xuelin, manager of an oil drilling platform near Yiqikelike, a former oil town that is almost deserted, says he rarely visits the place. [Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily]

A truck laden with equipment for oil rigs bounced along a dried riverbed dotted with huge red wind- and rain-scarred rocks for hours until the ruins of a town suddenly emerged from the barren land.

The broken walls became visible as the dust clouds raised by the truck finally settled in the Tarim Basin of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Yiqikelike in Kuqa county was once a thriving oil town; in 1958 the first drops of crude were extracted from the Tarim basin, one of China's largest natural reserves of oil and natural gas at the time. Thirty years later, when the resources were exhausted or extraction had become too expensive, the town was all but abandoned.

Over the years, the sand-strewn wind has blown most of the roofs from the brick houses, leaving a few broken walls standing. It's hard to believe that Yiqikelike, which means "three Mongolian gazelles" in the Uygur language, hidden deep in the Tianshan Mountains, was once home to more than 20,000 people who labored night and day to extract the treasure buried beneath the streets.

The forgotten town of black gold

Although the place is a ruin, some historical features are well preserved, including faded murals bearing quotations from Chairman Mao, which are just visible on the pockmarked walls. A tall monument stands in the center of the town square, but one can only speculate as to why it was built; all the images around its base have been eroded by the wind and sand and only a few fragments of yellow paint remain. It seems certain that nature will eventually wipe all trace of the town from the face of the earth.

Even in Yiqikelike's heyday, the poor state of the roads and the threat of flash floods during the summer months meant the residents were almost completely cut off from the outside world. In their self-sufficient way, they had a cinema, a school, a hospital and even a post office. These meager amenities provided almost all the residents' needs, according to Gao Bo, who was born and raised in the town.

"In 2006, I joined around 20 junior high school classmates and organized a reunion in the remains of the old school. We were all so emotional," said Gao who attended junior high school in Yiqikelike in 1976 when the city boasted more than 290 oil wells.

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