Germany's Der Spiegel magazine once labeled it "the perfect setting for a Hollywood film about the end of the world", and with an economy based on coal mining and chemicals, Shizuishan has a good claim to be considered China's preeminent Dirty Old Town. But like Salford in England's northwest, the subject of Ewan MacColl's famous song, Shizuishan has espoused urban renewal, green projects and environmental protection, and is attempting to reinvent itself as an attractive residential zone and even as a tourist destination.
Located in the far north of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Shizuishan was once a port on the Yellow river facing Inner Mongolia. In the early twentieth century it became an important center of the cashmere trade. Agents of foreign firms based in Tianjin would buy cashmere from Mongolian herdsmen or Hui middlemen, and ship it downriver for export. The 1937 Japanese invasion put an end to the trade and Shizuishan slumbered until, at the height of the Cold War, Mao Zedong decided to shift much of China's heavy industry from Eastern coastal regions to the Western interior, out of range of American bombers based in Okinawa.