Nick Holdstock, Edinburgh Review | Eurozine, July 12, 2009
The city at the empire’s edge
On 5 February 1997, something happened in Yining, a small border town in northwest China. There was definitely a march, possibly a riot, maybe even a massacre. There were certainly shootings, injuries and deaths.
When you finally reach Yining, after two days on a train from Beijing, then another day on a bus, you will see the same broad streets lined with twostorey, white-tiled buildings that exist in every town in China. You can buy the same pirate DVDs, engine parts, strips of beef suffocated in plastic as you would elsewhere. You will recognise the men with short black hair in blue or black cheap suits, one hand hovering close to their pager, the other holding a cigarette of almost prohibitive strength. There will be overcrowded buses, red taxis with their fare lights on, men and women squatting, waiting, cracking sunflower seeds. Never mind that the sky’s unusually blue, that once, between a gap in the buildings, you glimpse a line of white-toothed mountains. By the time you reach the town square you will have forgotten that Kazakhstan is less than an hour away.