Who by Fire

Erica X Eisen visits China’s Western edge

Of Suoyang City only ruins remain: the scattered remnants of an imperial garrison town in the Gobi Desert that once fended off the advancing armies of Genghis Khan. Early in its history, the westering forces of Xue Rengui were besieged there; the general’s soldiers, depleted and half-starved, kept themselves alive by rooting in the sand for a parasitic purple-brown fungi that thrives in the arid region. When the siege was lifted, the men renamed the city after the only thing that had sustained them.