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People's Daily Online>>China Society

The end of their reign

By Li Qian (Global Times)

08:02, January 11, 2012

Dawn has broken and Lei Tianhu and several companions head to the mountain mines with their mule train.

After loading each mule with 200 kilograms of gold ore the men and their pack animals walk clumsily along the narrow path leading down the hill to the highway.

It's another routine day for the people of Yancun village in remote Luonan county, in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Most of the villagers still earn their living from their mules that carry minerals, bricks, lumber and just about any other commodity over steep mountain passes.

Each mule can earn a family almost 150 yuan a day, while feeding them costs about 10 yuan a day.

Transport by mule remains very important in this mountainous region where roads wide enough to accommodate a truck have yet to link the many villages to the outside world.

When a mobile phone company wanted to build a cellular transmission base station high up the local mountains, it had to rely on low-tech mule power to haul its high-tech equipment along the steep narrow paths.

Road and highway construction remains a key to China's modernization drive, which has already put an end to the glory days of long caravans of pack animals and their handlers who for centuries followed well-worn trails throughout the country.

Perhaps one of the "greenest" forms of transport, mule trains have been reduced to serving only remote regions like Luonan.

In the past the rugged men who cared for and prodded their animals along dusty, dangerous trails often made big fortunes. Many of those still doing the job wonder just how much longer their ancient line of work can survive.

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