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Red Star, Black Gold

The images in this series are about how Chinese factories and manufacturing has been fired by an insatiable appetite for coal.

Over the last few decades, China has become the new workshop of the world. Factory output there now outstrips that of America, and, despite the recent economic slowdown, Chinese manufacturing is still the back-bone of the economy. From iPhones to luxury handbags, from car parts to plastic toys – the world has become dependent on all manner of goods made in Chinese factories; and the Chinese economy has boomed.

But the power behind this massive economic growth has come from electricity derived from coal. China is still the world’s largest user of coal, and burns over 3 billion tonnes of coal each year. The majority of which is used in power stations and factories, especially in heavy industries like steel production and chemical manufacturing.

Much of this coal comes from Inner Mongolia, which has vast coal reserves and where these photographs were taken. In February 2009 I took the trans-Manchurian express on a two day train journey from Beijing to the Russian border. My destination was a small mining town called Zhalai Nuer. The town was still in the grip of a harsh Siberian winter that made it feel like I had come to the end of the world.

Lutien Mine is on the edge of Siberia and is one of the largest open cast mines in the region. The nearby Dongfanghong coal factory washes and grades the coal, which is sent by rail across China for use in power stations and factories.