Taiyuan, China

Midway on the rail line between the more appealing destinations of Datong and Xi'an, and the most convenient starting point for a trip to the temples of Wutai Shan, TAIYUAN , an industrial powerhouse and the capital of Shanxi Province, sees more visitors passing through than stopping. However, this may soon change, as government efforts steer the city in the direction of modernization. New development is most apparent on the showcase street Yingze Dajie , lined with glossy new hotels, imposing banks and good restaurants. If you are breaking your journey here to head for Wutai, there is also a scattering of ancient buildings outside town worth a diversion. A city never far from shifting frontiers, Taiyuan, or Jinyang as it was originally called, sits in a valley next to the Fen River in the invasion corridor between the barbarian lands to the north and the Chinese heartland around the Yellow River to the south. As a result it has suffered even more than most Chinese cities from invaders and the strife that accompanies dynastic collapse. The Mongolian Huns invaded first in 200 BC, ousted when the Tobas, a nomadic Turkish people, swept south in the fourth century and established the Northern Wei dynasty. During the Tang dynasty, the city enjoyed a brief period of prosperity as an important frontier town on the edges of Han Chinese control and the barbarian lands, before becoming one of the major battlefields during the Five Dynasties (907-979), a period of strife following the Tang's collapse. In 976 the expanding Song dynasty razed the city to the ground. Jinci, ShanxiIn more recent history, the city was the site of one of the worst massacres of the Boxer Rebellion, when all the city's foreign missionaries and their families were killed on the orders of the provincial governor. This wasn't enough, though, to put off the English, French and Russians, who over the next two decades stepped up their exploitation of the city's mineral reserves beginning at the end of the eighteenth century. A habit of playing host to warlike leaders continued when Taiyuan was governed by Yan Xishan between 1912 and 1949. One of the Guomindang's fiercest warlords, he treated the city as a private empire. According to Carl Crow's contemporary Handbook for China, Xishan's city was a reform-minded place, well-known for the suppression of opium and its anti-foot-binding movement. His rule did not stop the city's gradual development by foreign powers, however, and extensive coal mines were constructed by the Japanese in 1940. Industrialization began in earnest after the Communist takeover and today it is the factories that dominate, relentlessly processing the region's coal and mineral deposits.
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