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One Person's Village

Yang Angui sits on a granite stoop, his bronzed face reflecting no emotion. Around him, every household's door is sealed shut. Buildings are in ruins as if once ravaged by an earthquake. "There were originally 600 people here, now there are only 100", he says. 
Yang still owns two-thirds of an acre of farmland, but there is no one to work it. Every day, like a last lone sentry, he sits on his stoop. 
Ten years ago Yang's only son was killed in a mining accident under a nearby mountain, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, and a new house. Afterwards, his daughter-in-law remarried, and the children were adopted by the new family. From then on, only Yang and his wife remained. 
"All the youth went to work under the mountain," Mayor Wang recalls. "The crops yielded 600kg of food per acre; in bad years, only 300kg. We were surviving at the mercy of nature. By then, the most skilled had already left." 
Tao Niu Village, located on an imposing mountain range in the heart of Shanxi province, exists in stark isolation. Even today there are no roads providing vehicular access there, and walking from the nearest town requires more than an hour over mountain paths. Its local mines have long since been exhausted. 
But Tao Niu did have a golden age once. Thirty years ago, people came from all over as part of a 3,000-strong military workforce to participate in one ceaseless activity- mining. 
According to Yang, at that time, miners were almost exclusively honored national workers. Very rarely would a villager be permitted to go work in a public mine. Instead, villagers, including Yang's son, would work in the surrounding private mines that appeared later. In time, these were shut down by the government. 
In 1907, Tao Niu's Du Zhong mine began producing coal. During the war with Japan, Japanese soldiers frantically stockpiled coal from this area. Since then the coal had lasted almost 100 years. But with the coal gone now, the town's economy has crashed. "Everyone moved on. They left nothing." says Yang. More worrisome still, due to the extensive excavation of the mountain, the land in and around the town is now cleaving and revealing massive fissures. Already, 70 to 80 percent of all houses in Tao Niu have collapsed, with Yang's house itself buckling. 
In 1952, Shanxi's coal output was 10 million tons. Today, it is producing 700 million tons; a continuous stream of coal being hauled out of Shanxi to quench the Southeast's energy needs for heat and electricity. Cheap labor and cheap prices are what give China its comparative advantage and drive its economic boom, and Shanxi coal is a critical element of this. 

For Yang and his village, the outside world is only separated from them by the mountains. Down in the foothills he can buy any brand of mineral water, and while trucks far below carrying billboards throw up dust and sand, their cheap stereos blare distorted pop songs up into the hills. 
Tao Niu is now just a silhouette of a Shanxi village. But it is not the only one; by June 2001, 45 Shanxi villages had been relocated, 145 saw the devastation of their homes and water resources, and 1500 villages were not receiving adequate water supplies. 
Yang is hopeful, however. He has five daughters who are looking over two children, and who will support him and his wife. Yang's daughters have long since moved, now residing in a town at the foothills. When asked if one day he would move in under their care, Yang hesitated for a long time. He never answered.

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