Every weekend, dozens of people pile off the train in Liuyuan, a sandswept town on the ancient Silk Road that’s the first train stop outside Xinjiang, 400 miles (650 kilometres) east of Urumqi, the regional capital.
“We must get online! We must!” said Zhao Yan, a petite, ponytailed businesswoman from Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. She has rented the same private booth in the Internet cafe every weekend since August in an uphill battle to keep her small trading business going.
“If this goes on another couple of months, I’ll have to give up,” Zhao said. “I can’t keep up with the outside world, and I’m losing money.”
Xinjiang residents are without Internet links unless they flee to farflung places like Liuyuan. One customer had travelled 750 miles (1,200 kilometres) just to get online.