Ancient city of the Huns Tongwancheng
The only known city remains of the Xiong Nu, Hun nu or Huns in China. The Hun nu controlled the territory of Inner and Outer Mongolia often raiding, fighting with China from 200BC to 200AD. Around 100 AD they split into Northern and Southern, the Southern migrating to China and becoming Chinese citizens. Around 420 AD the Southern branch build this City as part of China's border defenses. the Northern branch was driven west out of Northern Mongolia around 200AD and may have ended up as the Huns of Attila.
Into the Ordos
The Ordos desert extends to the north of Yulin for a whole day's driving until the floodplains of the Yellow River are reached. It was once all pasture and farmland, but climate change and overfarming has created a desert.
One of the most interesting aspects of this area is the remarkably successful anti-desertification programmes carried out by national, provincial and local governments, but also by local people: it has been a 50 year battle against the huge sand dunes, but increasingly successful. There is a huge amount of research continuing to discover the best species of dune-fixing and revegetation species and also the best methods of replanting. Small aircraft are used extensively to seed the ground with 'seed bombs'.
The local rural people have adapted to the conditions and have a good understanding of the crops to grow, how to grow them and how to slowly move back over the desert, advancing only as much as the ecosystem can cope.
The photo shows an area where the sand dunes either side of a river valley have been fixed, so protecting the agriculture and communities below. The vegetation on the left shows how dense the cover can be created. Out of sight are populus simonii varieties and salix flavida which both help to stabilise the sand, add organic matter and form an economic crop for local people (timber, silage and wicker).
Yulin is a prosperous city with a very long history. Given that Yangshao/Longshan culture relics have been found on the lower reaches of the Wudinghe river that runs through the city, this dates local habitation back to around 4000 years BCE. In the county of "Yulin City" (the actual city is the urban area of Yuyang District of Yulin City...always confusing!),Hetao Man was discovered, and he (or she) lived 35000 years ago.
The city is better known for its significant collection of border fortifications as it was, for centuries, on the very far northern border of Chinese civilization. Most significant of all is the Qin Great Wall, running across the northern edge of the city. In the town centre are the remains of the huge ancient walls, and walking around just part of them creates a sense of just how big and important this city must have been in years gone by.
Today, Yulin is becoming a wealthy city because of te vast reserves of coal, oil and gas. Perhaps more surprisingly, the railway only arrived here a few years ago in 2001, linking Yulin and nearby Shenmu to Xian and Baotou in Inner Mongolia. Now it is rising from its medieval ruins into the 21st Century in a manner more planned, more sustainable and more dynamic than most small Chinese cities. There is even a direct flight to Beijing now (not shown in the 2005 China airline timetable - see transportation tip), and daily flights to Xian.
Yulin sits, tucked into a leeward slope,at the very southern edge of the Mu Us Shamo, the south-eastern part of the Ordos Desert. It wasn't always this way: at the end of the last Ice Age, the Ordos was warmer (in winter), and had more rainfall, so became a particularly important agricultural area right up until 7-800 years ago when climate change, overfarming and land degradation turned the verdant pastures and fields into a terrible desert.
The Ordos is perhaps more significant globally than you might think. When the climate started to change and the fields began to turn to desert, the people - mainly Mongols at the time - were forced to move elsewhere. They became nomadic warriors and were involved in many battles with people living in adjacent agricultural areas....one of the main reasons the Great Wall was built in the first place. Later, they moved north, east and west....to become the dreaded Mongol hordes that threatened Europe in medieval times. Guess where the word "hordes" comes from? Ordos.
Nowawdays, 1 million people still live in Yulin City in 111 towns, of which the majority live in Yulin and the towns of Shenmu and Jingbian, and in villages south of the Great Wall which bisects Yulin City. The Wall is roughly the border between the sandy desert and the loess agricultural soils south of it. Many, however, live in the deep valleys running off the Ordos, farming maize, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes and making wicker baskets from red willow trees. The red willow was planted to help slow the spread of the sand dunes and is now used by lcal farmers to make wicker baskets. The anti-desertification efforts have been extremely successful,and large areas of desert have been stabilised and much of it recovered for agriculture.
Travelling south from Yulin to Yanan and Xian, the population density increases dramatically with every few kilometres, until the villages disappear and are replaced by rural houses every few metres, farming on every square metre of available earth, such is the fertility of the loess soil.
The city itself has enough old fortifications to hold the visitor's attentions for several days, and the Wudinghe valley south and the desert villages would require several days more exploring. North, near Dongsheng, is where the Chinese authorities claim is the burial place of Genghis Khan. However, historians are agreed that he is probably buried in northern Mongolia. Khan knew the Ordos well, and liked the area, expressing his desire to be buried here, but it is now believed that only some of his clothes were returned here to be buried, and these are what remain at Dongsheng. No matter, it is still easy to imagine Genghis Khan among the hills and fields of this attractive area, still totally unknown to Chinese and foreign visitors.
I have too few photos (and they are not so good!) of Yulin right now - I was there on business - but I will be returnig frequently.