New book finds hidden heroes in Keketuohai


FILE PHOTO: The Sun is a Seed: Finding Lost Keketuohai by Feng Shou

The extensive reportage The Sun is a Seed: Finding Lost Keketuohai has recently been co-published by the People’s Literature Publishing House and Xinjiang People’s Publishing House. This remarkable work presents the saga of the People’s Republic of China’s formation in the form of oral history.

Renowned author Feng Shou, a prominent figure in contemporary literature, has carved a niche for himself as a second-generation member of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps [founded in 1954, the XPCC combines the functions of production, administration, and defense, making indelible contributions to the development of Xinjiang]. Feng Shou’s literary oeuvre predominantly revolves around the history and culture of Xinjiang, meticulously documenting the profound societal transformations within the region.

Extraordinary contributions

During the process of crafting The Sun is a Seed: Finding Lost Keketuohai, Feng Shou embarked on a series of interviews with the enterprising individuals and diligent laborers of Keketuohai, unveiling the arduous mining narrative that had remained concealed for over half a century. The oral accounts of more than a hundred participants not only resurrect the fervent years but also furnish invaluable first-hand historical materials, reconstructing the life trajectories of tens of thousands who devoted themselves to societal development. This book serves not only a chronicle of these individuals’ life experiences, but also as an epic that bears witness to the development of the PRC. It provides a detailed account of the self-reliant lifestyle in Keketuohai, depicting the unwavering dedication of its inhabitants as they toiled to extract minerals using rudimentary tools.

The book records that in the early 1950s, in the extremely harsh environment, early prospectors explored and began mining with the most primitive tools. Despite facing winter temperatures plummeting to a bone-chilling minus 40 to 50 degrees Celsius, their resolve remained unyielding. Armed with hammers and pickaxes, and burdened with stacks of ore, they tenaciously fulfilled their production duties.

On May 11, 1969, the People’s Daily announced that China had become the first country in the world to have “neither domestic debt nor foreign debt.” This monumental achievement owes much to the unwavering efforts of the Keketuohai pioneers. The No. 3 mine pit has played a pivotal role in the PRC, including yielding essential resources such as beryllium for the first successful test detonation of a Chinese-made atomic bomb, lithium used in the China’s first successful hydrogen bomb, cesium used in China’s first artificial satellite, and tantalum-niobium ores for the joint test launch of China’s first nuclear submarine. These rare elements were invaluable for China’s national defense, scientific and technological advancements, and economic development.

The book also documents the myriad difficulties and obstacles encountered by the pioneers during the mining process: “They usually carried a drilling rig weighing dozens of kilograms to dig in. Due to the lack of oxygen in the mountains, they almost didn’t speak a word for a whole day. In the mine, no one talked nonsense, and everything could be conveyed with just one look. There was so much dust in the pit that they could dig out lumps of stone powder from the corners of eyes and nostrils at the end of the day.” “The conditions at that time were extremely harsh, with a severe shortage of housing, transportation, technical personnel and equipment. Driven by strong, adventurous energy and hard-working determination, they carried luggage, steel drills and sledgehammers, worked and slept in the mountains, caves, or cattle pens and sheep houses of the Kazakhs.” Neither the harsh natural environment nor the technical limitations deterred them.

Hidden heroes

In Keketuohai, the labor was undeniably arduous and perilous, yet each individual carved out their own realm of glory. The Kazakh laborer Abdulla, revered as the “Eagle in the Snow,” stands as an exemplary producer, a paragon of labor, and a “hard-core team leader in mining mountains.” The majority of the 30 women from Shandong who participated in the development of Xinjiang have since passed away. Having contributed across diverse sectors such as schools, mines, and hospitals, they are fondly remembered as the “Great Aunts of Keketuohai.” Individuals like Sun Chuanyao, Zhang Jingsheng, and Xiao Boyang, scientific researchers who ventured to aid Xinjiang following their university graduation, weathered hardships and matured within the region, ultimately emerging as pillars of the state. Countless builders, whose names have faded into obscurity, collectively embody the spirit of “the Keketuohai people.”

Pit No. 3 was actively mined from 1950 to 1998. Owing to national defense and confidentiality concerns, the toponym “Keketuohai” was entirely expunged from the Chinese map for a period of time, replaced by the enigmatic code “111.” It was not until the 1980s, following the declassification of Keketuohai, that this small town on the northwest border of China began to unveil its extraordinary history to the public.

In the postscript of this book, Feng Shou eloquently writes: “This book records and writes about a group of people who gathered together in Keketuohai and Ili Valley to pursue the rejuvenation of their motherland. Those dream chasers had a seed of the sun in their heart—the faith. They devoted their youth, health and even life to the construction of the country.” Though ordinary, these people are heroes. Their names merit remembrance, their tales warrant recounting, and the flame of their legacy should be passed down from generation to generation.


Gao Shan is the deputy director of the Editorial Department of Xinjiang People’s Publishing House.


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