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Dead cities' new lives

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

Updated: 2015-07-22 08:11:54

Dead cities' new lives

Ruins of ancient loess structures in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region's Turpan prefecture. [Photo by Erik Nilsson/China Daily]

The Easter Bunny came to town-specifically an ancient ghost town in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

When the day celebrating Jesus' resurrection coincided with the Chinese Tomb Sweeping Day this April, our 3-year-old scoured Yar's ruins for candy-packed plastic eggs stashed by a pagan hare.

It dawned on us that the fact we staged the egg hunt in the dead city of Yar, also known as Yarkhoto, or Jiaohe, shows how its ancient position as a multicultural Silk Road nexus breathes new life into its international appeal. That narrative thread hems Turpan's rich tapestry of past and present cultures along the ancient and emergent routes.

The site's bygone multiculturalism sired the city that lured us there.

Yar was a global village before the term existed. Yet intolerance made it a mass grave.

Its heterogeneous composition propelled prosperity for 1,600 years, until Islamic Mongolian conquerors incinerated Yar to enforce religious homogeny.

This left what Hungarian-British archaeologist Aurel Stein a century ago called "a maze of ruined dwellings and shrines carved out for the most part from the loess soil".

His depiction remains apt.

This early legacy attracts a growing plethora of modern peoples from further afield. Even Americans.

And we contributed to its internationalist revitalization by observing our foreign festival among its remnants. Chinese unacquainted with the egg-stashing custom gawped.

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