Closed Road in the Alatau Mountains

The Relics of Empire: Resource Extraction and the Making of Modern Xinjiang

Closed Road in the Alatau Mountains

The road to the old, now-abandoned tungsten ore field west of Wenquan, in Bortala Mongol Autonomous Region, had been washed out by a flood. Located in the foothills of the Dzungarian Alatau Mountains, which are visible in the background, the ore field was identified by Soviet planners in the 1930s. When a Soviet-sponsored rebellion broke out in 1944, various parties battled over the site. The ore field was abandoned by the time of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, after the tapping out of local veins, and the drying up of markets in the Soviet Union following the discovery of new tungsten fields in Kazakhstan. Today, a succession of smaller operations have cropped up at the site, many simply working with ore tailings left behind by the earlier operations. In many ways, the road itself is a relic, built atop the old Soviet road binding the site to Xinjiang’s main east-west trunk road. During the 1930s and 1940s, the road connected the mining operation to a Soviet-constructed ore-processing facility located just across the border in Soviet Horgos.