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Xinjiang's Ghostly 'Company 13' Has Bountiful Legacy

Time: 11:16 Dec-16

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Thousands of Gobi Desert graves mark the final resting place of people from across China who devoted their lives to developing the northwest

Company 13 does not exist. Or does it?

Thousands of graves stretch across the Gobi Desert, the final resting place of men and women who worked for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary organization established to develop and guard China's northwestern frontier.

The corps comprised 175,500 demobilized soldiers when it was founded in 1954, but they were soon joined by civilian volunteers from all walks of life and across the country.

Maintaining a with divisions and regiments, the corps spearheaded the development of the region for decades, giving birth along the way to many stories of hardship and struggle.

Stories of the phantom company date back about 60 years.

Xing Zhengfa worked on Red Star No 2 Farm, which had 12 companies in the 1950s. He died and was buried in the , beside the farm.

A friend, not knowing about Xing's death, came to visit him, and Xing's comrades did not have the heart to tell him the truth, so they told him Xing had been transferred to "Company 13".

Xing's friend left. Soon afterward, a letter was delivered to the farm, addressed to Company 13, Red Star No 2 Farm.

The burial ground of those who considered the farm their second home and had the misfortune to die there has been known as Company 13 ever since. Although it has never been officially recognized, Company 13 has become the biggest "company" in the division.

A low wall separates the graves from the vast farm. All tombstones face southeast, the direction of the supposed hometowns of those interred there. The inscriptions on them suggest the deceased came from every part of the country.

Among the tombs is Chen Xiliang's. He went to in 1949 from southern China's Guangdong province, more than 3,000 kilometers away. He has lain alongside his comrades for more than 20 years. A few steps from his tomb is the channel that irrigates the land, Chen's lifelong cause.

To turn the Gobi into farmland, Chen and more than 1,000 others took up their shovels to dig a canal that brings water to the farm.

They dug through the snow, living in tents, huddled by stoves. When the work was done, Chen took a job maintaining the canal and did not retire until his last breath.

"On his deathbed, he asked us to bury him close to the canal," his son, Chen Guangming, said.

Today, more than 4,000 hectares of fertile farmland have been made out of sand on the farm, thanks to the endeavors of people like Chen Xiliang. As head of the farm's water and electricity department, Chen Guangming has, to some extent, inherited his father's career.

"I'm deeply influenced by my father," he said. "Devoted to their cause, my father and his colleagues set a good example for us."

Irrigation on the farm is now a more sophisticated matter. With the help of sensors, the workers know which stretch of land is dry and needs water.

Through six decades, the corps has reclaimed 1.3 million hectares of farmland and is now modernizing Xinjiang's agriculture.

The corps has turned the country's driest region into the biggest area using water-saving irrigation technologies, and it now produces a sixth of China's cotton.

 

 

(Source: China Daily)

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