The stories I learned walking the Burma Road—perhaps WWII’s greatest engineering feat
Meet hundred-year-old Xu Ben Zhen, one of 200,000 Chinese whose backbreaking wartime labor built the Burma Road to resupply their country.
Writer and National Geographic Society Explorer Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk is a 24,000-mile storytelling odyssey across the world in the footsteps of our human forebears. He sends this dispatch from southwestern China.
Tengchong, Yunnan Province, ChinaWar built the road.
It unspools north from Myanmar, or Burma, to the jungled hills rumpling the border of China. Near Tengchong, an ancient Chinese trading post leveled by U.S. bombers in World War II, it bypasses a McDonald’s closed by COVID-19. It rolls on through tile-roofed hamlets where farmers use its tarmac verges to dry their corn. It turns right around high, subtropical mountains that comprise a nature preserve. And it dead-ends in the corrugated palms of retired schoolteacher Xu Ben Zhen.
Teacher Xu is a hundred years old.
Eighty-three years ago, when Xu was 17, he was recruited into a legion of 200,000 Chinese laborers who, armed with little more than shovels and rattan baskets, helped save China during the Second