Across China: Ups and downs of China's rustbelt in lens

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-10 23:22:13|Editor: An
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TAIYUAN, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- While people in the rustbelt of China's northeast are looking into the future, photographer Wang Yuwen is tending to the past.

Wang, 69, took tens of thousands of photos in the past 40 years, chronicling glory, gloom and hopes in the old industrial heartland of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces. An exhibition of Wang's work was held at the 17th China Pingyao International Photography Festival in late September.

The region enjoyed decades of prosperity until the late 1970s. A campaign led by the central government in 2003 helped it regain some steam. However, fettered by a legacy of central planning, the region has lagged behind again since 2013.

"The old heavy industries made tremendous contributions to New China. Numerous workers gave their lives to the cause. We should remember that," Wang said.

Born into a family of miners in Liaoning where most of his photos were taken, Wang has a special bond with those who made their living underground. "My grandfather, father and sisters all worked in the mines," he said, and many of his photos depict life and death in the mines.

A picture taken in 1983 shows Haizhou coal mine, which opened in the 1950s and was Asia's largest open colliery at the time. The mine used the most sophisticated technology available, with all machinery imported.

By the 1990s when many heavy industries were struggling, some mines were closed and workers were laid off. A picture shot in 2003 shows a former miner from Haizhou raising sheep. "Many workers became street vendors or did other manual work. They understood what had happened," Wang said.

Two years later, the mine was completely shut down and the site was transformed into a park in 2009.

Other photos include one showing pedicabs driven by former miner in Liaoning crossing trolley rails and one of children playing on rails overgrown with grass.

High-polluting, low-tech, inefficient factories in northeast China began to be phased out around 2005.

In 2016, the central government began a new effort to rejuvenate the area through industrial restructuring. It hopes to develop the region into a base for advanced equipment manufacturing and raw materials with international competitiveness.

During the past year or two, Wang's shots have depicted how the goal is being attained: new production lines for high-speed trains, cars and robots.

As "craftsman spirit" is encouraged, Wang concentrates on skilled workers, including Chen Xinhai with Shenyang Machine Tool, a model worker who maintains imported machines.

In addition to radical changes in the region, those things that remain unchanged impress Wang.

"After leaving the shaft, what miners did for leisure was smoking, showering and drinking. That has never changed in all these years," Wang said.