China’s Mystery Patterns

By | November 14, 2011

This has absolutely nothing to do with what I should be working on but this piece in Gizmodo caught my eye: a number of weird lines and structures in the middle of the Gobi Desert in China’s western reaches. Like this one:


They don’t seem to make much sense, despite some quite ingeniuous explanations by some of the commenters.

I’ve put all the locations in one Google Map here. I don’t claim to have the answers but I’ve found some clues.

While it’s true that they seem to have some military connection, they are not close enough to Lop Nur to be part of the nuclear weapons testing that took place there.

A book by John Wilson Lewis and Litai Xue called China Builds the Bomb says that Dunhuang, the nearest town, became the temporary base for a PLA unit in 1958 assigned to find the country’s first nuclear test base. Although they quickly moved further west (settling for Lop Nur), the Soviet advisors had come up with a site some 140 km northwest of Dunhuang, relatively close to where all the weird patterns are.

Part of the explanation can be found on an Australian military buff’s website.  It doesn’t give sources, but describes the patterns which most resemble airfields to be mock airstrips along with concrete pads that serve as targets for missile testing (the piece was written in 2005.) This would seem to suggest that the other patterns are also targets, although they’re not mentioned in the piece.


Another clue is in this machine-translated piece about China’s lunar ambitions. It says that Chinese researchers are based about 200 km from Dunhuang where the country’s version of the Mars Rover is undergoing testing in conditions “closest to the moon.” It says they have  built a “a board room, five generators…and a huge indoor stadium.” I can’t see anything like that but given what is out there in that desert I wouldn’t be surprised to find several.

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