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Xinjiang's ghostly 'Company 13' has bountiful legacy
2018-05-10 source:Xinhua
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A worker picks chrysanthemums for pigments in Xinjiang’s Bole. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps has been the major force to modernize the region’s agriculture. Shen Zhijun / Xinhua
Thousands of Gobi Desert graves mark the final resting place of people from across China who devoted their lives to developing the northwest

Company 13 does not exist. Or does it?

Thousands of graves stretch across the Gobi Desert, the final resting place of men and women who worked for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary organization established to develop and guard China's northwestern frontier.

The corps comprised 175,500 demobilized soldiers when it was founded in 1954, but they were soon joined by civilian volunteers from all walks of life and across the country.

Maintaining a military structure with divisions and regiments, the corps spearheaded the development of the region for decades, giving birth along the way to many stories of hardship and struggle.

Stories of the phantom company date back about 60 years.

Xing Zhengfa worked on Red Star No 2 Farm, which had 12 companies in the 1950s. He died and was buried in the Gobi Desert, beside the farm.

A friend, not knowing about Xing's death, came to visit him, and Xing's comrades did not have the heart to tell him the truth, so they told him Xing had been transferred to "Company 13".

Xing's friend left. Soon afterward, a letter was delivered to the farm, addressed to Company 13, Red Star No 2 Farm.

The burial ground of those who considered the farm their second home and had the misfortune to die there has been known as Company 13 ever since. Although it has never been officially recognized, Company 13 has become the biggest "company" in the division.

A low wall separates the graves from the vast farm. All tombstones face southeast, the direction of the supposed hometowns of those interred there. The inscriptions on them suggest the deceased came from every part of the country.

Among the tombs is Chen Xiliang's. He went to Xinjiang in 1949 from southern China's Guangdong province, more than 3,000 kilometers away. He has lain alongside his comrades for more than 20 years. A few steps from his tomb is the channel that irrigates the land, Chen's lifelong cause.