An emerald dot shimmers in the haze. A mysterious mirage appears on the horizon, approaching the plane window across oceans of sand and time: the historic oasis town of Dunhuang, millennia-old watering hole to the smelly donkeys and camels that once chanced passage across the great Taklimakan and Gobi deserts. From here brave Silk Road souls sallied forth beyond the singing dunes of Mingsha out through the last great gate of the Great Wall and into a world of bloodthirsty savagery: the backwaters of Europe and Asia that craved fine silks and porcelains.
Gateway to the West when China was the world’s Fortnum & Mason, this once-prosperous trade hub today looks more like a derelict market town.
Yet for 10 centuries this Silk Road hub, a pre-eminent exporter of globalization, splurged its vast resources on astonishing public works of startling logistical complications, building over 492 breathtaking Buddhist caves.
Where once were Silk Road caravans today are wind and solar energy farms. They stretch across the sands beyond the ancient Great Wall, heralding a brand new wave of globalization: green technology, a field in which China is the world’s new market leader. Of course to those who know their Dunhuang history, there is nothing new under the sun.