For decades after Baiyin's largest mine opened in 1956, the city's state-owned behemoth, the Baiyin Nonferrous Metals Company (BNMC), was China's main supplier of copper. It also furnished prodigious amounts of zinc, lead and selenium from the region's mines. Now the stuff in the ground is nearly gone. Although Baiyin, a city of 1.7m on the Yellow River in the arid north-western province of Gansu, still has some mines and smelters, it must find something else to do....

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