Xiyagou's spectacular exit: Shanxi village tunneled its way to the world

By Pete Marchetto ( ) Updated: 2015-06-20 09:49:45

Xiyagou's spectacular exit: Shanxi village tunneled its way to the world

Xiyagou in North China's Shanxi provincee. [Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

The beauty of the mountains of Shanxi province may serve as a lure for tourists, but for the villagers that inhabit the region, the spectacular rock formations and climatic extremes have been obstructions as well as a source of awesome pride

Xiyagou, or "Xiya Ditch", situated at the foot of Wangmang Mountain, is an extreme example of the difficulties people can face in this sometimes inhospitable region. As a community, Xiyagou had been largely self-sufficient for centuries. Slate from the mountains provided the inhabitants with building material they used to good effect in their distinctive village architecture. Abundant sources of water and fertile soil offered the villagers a certain harvest even in more difficult years

Above all, the hard work and ingenuity of the villagers themselves in their idyllic surroundings furnished them with all the necessities of life for centuries, in times when people generally tended not to travel even as far as a neighboring village except for special occasions.

However, this idyll was not to survive the pressures of the modern world. Over the 20th century, Xiyagou found itself increasingly isolated from the opportunities available to others less constrained by location. Isolated by sheer cliff faces several-hundred meters in height, the few passages the villagers had to the outside world were treacherous even in the best of weather and, during harsh winters, far too dangerous to be ventured.

Limited in trade, and with their small population necessitating a search for marriage partners from outside the village who found it increasingly less attractive in its failure to take advantage of the progress being made beyond its mountain peaks, Xiyagou faced not only a threat to its development but to its very survival.

The solution the villagers came up with in 1961 was to push their dedication and ingenuity to its limits. They determined to build a road — a steep road with hairpin turns familiar in mountainous regions the world over.

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