Yuncheng Salt Lake, China’s “Dead Sea”

(CNN) — Xiechi Lake, also known as Yuncheng Salt Lake in China’s Shanxi Province, has become popular on Instagram and other social media sites in recent years. thanks to striking aerial photographs of its colored surface.

Now China wants to convert that online popularity into real tourism.

Step one: advertise it to domestic Chinese travellers.

Recent tourism campaigns on Chinese social media sites including Weibo and WeChat refer to Xiechi as the “Chinese Dead Sea” and tout both its beauty and healing properties.

“As China’s version of Israel’s Dead Sea, floating here is an unforgettable experience, one you won’t find anywhere else,” reads a tourist advertisement sponsored by the aptly named Yuncheng Salt Lake (China’s Dead Sea ) Tourism Development Co. LTD. .

One accolade stands out as a sign of the lake’s endorsement at the highest level: Xiechi Lake was featured in a 2019 Chinese television special celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Salt crystals form at the top of Xiechi Lake.


How the wonder was formed

There are three types of salt lakes in the world: carbonate, chloride and sulphate. The Dead Sea and the Great Salt Lake in Utah are both chloride lakes. Yuncheng, however, falls into the latter group.

“If the sulfate in your water is higher than the calcium, all of the calcium is used, which leaves you with excess sulfate and you have a sulfate lake,” says Bernie Owen, professor of geography at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Xiechi is also a “closed basin” lake – meaning it does not drain to a river or ocean – which is why its salt content remains so high.

“Water goes in with the salt, water goes out, salt stays, more water goes in with the salt, evaporation. The salt stays,” says Owen. “There is no outlet for this one. It will gradually become saltier and saltier and saltier.”

But what about those gorgeous colors that have made the lake so popular with photographers? They have to do with the species of animals and plants that live in water.

“If you have brine shrimp, you tend to get red colors,” says Owen. “There’s a microscopic animal called a rotifer, and that will give a purple color. The purples that you (also) tend to get with green algae. And then greens or oranges (occur) in very saline lakes. “

It’s possible for salt lakes to freeze over, but not as quickly as other lakes – after all, think what happens when we spread salt on icy roads. Salt water freezes at lower temperatures than fresh water.

An aerial view of Xiechi Lake

An aerial view of Xiechi Lake

Xue Jun/Alamy

A lake becomes a star

In an effort to boost Xiechi Lake’s international profile, China is reportedly taking steps to have it added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

In a 2019 WeChat post, Luo Huining, Party Secretary of Shanxi Province, announced that local officials had started the application process.

“Yuncheng Salt Lake is the crystallization of Chinese culture and civilization. The salt lake has positive significance for promoting our cultural confidence and heritage,” he said at the time.

China has focused heavily on UNESCO nominations, which can be expensive and time-consuming, as a way to lend international legitimacy to its many historical and natural wonders.

Currently, China has 56 such World Heritage Sites, which places it second only to Italy on the total list. This achievement is even more impressive when you consider that the country’s first crop of UNESCO designations – which included the Great Wall and the Forbidden City – did not occur until 1987.

Two more such recognitions would tie China to Italy for the top spot on the UNESCO list.

There’s good news for budding travelers hoping to visit Xiechi Lake – it’s still not as popular or crowded as other tourist spots in China.

Travel Agency’s Tiger Li diverse china tells CNN that he has only arranged a few tours there. So far, almost all visitors have been Chinese domestic travelers.

This is expected to remain unchanged as long as China remains largely closed to international tourism. The country closed its borders in early 2020 and remains one of the few destinations in the world still adhering to a “zero Covid” strategy which includes very strict quarantine policies.

“Besides the scenery, I think mud bathing and other experiences are the main reason they go (to Xiechi Lake),” Li said.

According to a statement from the Yuncheng city government, Xiechi Lake contains black mud with restorative and healing properties – just like the Dead Sea.

The document goes on to claim that people can float on the surface of water without sinking – also, coincidentally, just like the Dead Sea.

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