Narrowest City In The World: Yanjin 🗿
This place gets photographed & shared more than its actually visited (🗿Amazing Places Series)
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In This Post:
This Weeks Video: Yanjin, The Narrowest City In The World
Yunnan’s Incredible Bridges
The Mystery of The Bo People
China’s Biggest Cities You’ve Never Heard of
World’s Narrowest City:
Yanjin County, Yunnan, China
This is a fun one…
Every few months, a photo like this ⬇️ goes viral with a title like “the world’s narrowest city.” I’ve seen one too many not to dig in.
This is Yanjin County, China. Yes, it’s a real place. Yes, it looks like that. And yes, that’s awesome.
Yanjin is a city in Southern China in Yunnan province. The region is extremely mountainous with deep river gorges and steep cliffs. It sits between snowy Tibet and the jungles of Southeast Asia, a mixture of which probably provides the right image.
It’s very difficult to get around here. Modern China’s impressive engineering has made it easier, with super tall bridges and winding tunnels, but for centuries the highways were the rivers. (more below on the super tall bridges!)
So it makes sense that towns were built along the river. Unfortunately, there’s just not a lot of space.
By the way, a whole lot of posts call this the Nanxi River. It’s not. It’s called the Heng.
Yanjin was a significant trading hub for resources like salt (I’m told that’s where it gets its name in Chinese – can anyone confirm?). The ancient Bo people lived here – they’re most famous for their precariously hanging coffins, but were unfortunately wiped out in the middle ages.
Over time, Yanjin grew and grew into the city it is today. (I say city, but the Chinese would consider this more of a town. It’s has an estimated population of 400,000 , but for China, whose top 50 cities all have over 2 million, that’s pretty light). (more below on China’s giant cities).
Buildings are built where possible, which is essentially between the river and the mountain, avoiding the one road that exists on either side. So the city expanded in the two ways it could: up and along. Anything close to the river is built on very tall pillars to prevent flooding, though floods and landslides do seem to be a persistent problem.
Yanjin doesn’t get as many visitors as the popularity of its photos might suggest, but if you’re in the area, there is a road in and out, and a train station on a rail route that looks like a trip on its own.
Yunnan’s Incredible Bridges
The absolutely amazing engineering that cuts travel times from hours to minutes
China has spent recent decades and untold billions connecting their vast country with modern, fast, and record-breaking infrastructure projects. The country monopolizes the current top lists of tallest bridges, longest tunnels, and fastest trains.
Among the most interesting are the bridges and tunnels around Yanjin: in Yunnan Province. The steep undulating topography of Yunnan has forced engineers to get creative and test new limits. Some have cut travel times from hours to minutes, literally. Here’s a sample:
The Duge Bridge (aka Beipanjiang Bridge) is currently the world’s highest bridge. It’s road deck sits 1,850 feet (565 m) above the river below. It cut travel from about five hours to just one
The Lvzhijiang Bridge was recently completed in 2022 (I’m not even sure it’s open yet). It is the world’s longest single-span, single-tower bridge, by a long shot. Its entire 2600 feet (798 m) length is supported by one tower on one side of the river. Just in case you weren’t impressed enough, it starts and ends with tunnels direct into the mountains on either side.
The Gaoligongshan Tunnel is a tunnel currently being built in Yunnan that will break the record for longest rail tunnel in Asia. Upon completion, it is expected to run 21.5 miles (34.5 km) long under what’s essentially a whole mountain range. It’s part of the in progress rail connection between China and Myanmar (the south of Yunnan province borders Myanmar, as well as Vietnam and Laos).
Check out highestbridges.com to see tons more, with pictures! (linked here)
The Mystery of the Bo People
The Unknown culture that built narrow cities & hung coffins off cliffs
What we know is they placed their dead on cliff faces, built river trading hubs, and prospered in a wide swath of Southern China. Unfortunately, what we don’t know is pretty much everything else.
The Bo People are an ancient culture that inhabited Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in Southern China for millenia. They fought against and with various iterations of China’s ruling dynasties and warring kingdoms until roughly the middle ages, when they were wiped out by conquest. They are considered “extinct” now, but there are ethnic groups in Southeast Asian countries that are thought to be descendents or closely related.
There are, unfortunately, many ancient cultures in China that are considered “wiped out” or “extinct.” Some have rich preserved histories displayed in museums and cultural sites, but most do not, like the Bo. It was typical for Chinese ruling groups to seek to disappear rival minority cultures that they had conquered… which isn’t really atypical of the rest of our world during the same times.
Find out about the Bo People:
Link: Ancient China’s Hanging Coffins & The Forgotten Genocide of the Bo People By Paths Unwritten
China’s Top Cities
Massive Metropolises That You’ve Never Heard of
Growth in China is staggering: so many people, so many new cities to house them. As part of research for this Yanjin video, I checked out how large China’s top cities actually are, and how many there are.. and I was impressed, even though I expected to be impressed!
Seriously, look at the below top 30… how many have you heard of?…
(For context, the US’s largest city, New York City, has population of apx. 8.8M as of 2020)…
Utterly fascinating. Delighted to have discovered your Substack!