Apologies for the break in blogging. I’ve been in Qinghai, covering the aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Jiegu. Communications were poor.
Before the quake, the local economy was doing remarkably well in Yushu. The area lies at 13,000 feet – too high for agriculture – and at the far end of the Tibetan plateau, close to the border with Tibet proper.
I was told by a local policeman that the population in Yushu had doubled in the past two years because of the county’s prosperity. Jiegu, the main city, was filled with tall buildings around a large and pleasant central square. There were even "American" dry-cleaning shops.
These buildings largely survived the quake’s impact. It was the residential areas off the centre of town that were flattened.
The wealth has come from local lead and zinc mines, from the traditional Chinese medicine industry (Chinese caterpillar fungus, snow lotus and saffron crocus all grow in Yushu and are fetching high prices on the TCM market), and from tourism. Yushu is now a well-established spot on the tourist trail in Spring and Summer.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, the situation remains grim. However, with a heavy injection of Chinese government money on its way for reconstruction, Yushu could end up with a significantly stronger economy in a few years time.