From where I’m standing, town-sized Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex dominates the horizon, its unending cooling towers and chimneys reaching up into gray, washed-out sky. Between it and me, stretching into the gap, lies an artificial lake stuffed with a shaded, barely-liquid, toxic sludge.
Dozens of pipes line the shore, churning out a torrent of thick, shaded, chemical fracture from the refineries that surround the lake. The odor of sulphur and the yowl of the pipes invades my senses. It appears like hell on Earth.
Welcome to Baotou, the finest industrial city in Inner Mongolia. I’m here with a community of architects and designers called the Unknown Fields Division, and here is the last close on a three-week-long journey up the realm supply chain, tracing help the route client items spend from China to our retail outlets and properties, through container ships and factories.
That it’s likely you’ll maybe well presumably no longer possess heard of Baotou, however the mines and factories here relief to take care of our trendy lives ticking. It’s one in all the sector’s greatest suppliers of “rare earth” minerals. These aspects will also be stumbled on in all the pieces from magnets in wind generators and electrical car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs. In 2009 China produced 95% of the sector’s supply of these aspects, and it be estimated that the Bayan Obo mines appropriate north of Baotou possess 70% of the sector’s reserves. Nonetheless, as we might possibly maybe gape, at what value?
Factor of success
Rare earth minerals possess played a key honest within the transformation and explosive sing of China’s world-beating economy over the last few decades. Or no longer it’s clear from visiting Baotou that it be had a large, transformative impact on town too. As the centre of this 21st Century gold-shuffle, Baotou feels very extra special like a frontier city.