In 2016, China announced plans to rejuvenate the country's northeast, a vast expanse of land made up of Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin provinces. There, an economy grounded in heavy industry is feeling the brunt of the country's dwindling growth rate.

Shuangyashan is the epitome of the region's desperate need for a breath of new life. Lying just over 100 kilometers south of the Russian border, the city takes its name — "Double Duck Mountain" — from the pair of fowl-shaped hills that lie beyond its suburbs.

But that isn't what Shuangyashan is known for. Like many other coal cities in this area of Heilongjiang province, Shuangyashan was born from coal, and used to be a small town. It started building a coal washing plant in 1954 aided by the former Soviet Union which provided 156 major industrial projects concentrated in mining, power generation, and heavy industry. Soon after that, thousands of people moved to here on the orders of the central government, to increase coal production. Thanks to the region's thick seams of high-quality coal buried hundreds of meters beneath the ground, Shuangyashan was once a prosperous and bustling place.

On weekends, the city's movie theater would offer free screenings to residents. Outside, dozens of children would sled up and down the layer of ice that covered the roads. In the cold air, their cheers and laughter would resonate between the buildings, only dissipating when their parents returned from the mines at the end of the day. The smoke rising from chimneys was a sign for the children to head home for warm family dinners.

Those were the days when mining was an enviable occupation. Workers and their family members were taken care of in the days of planned economies. "One black face feeds 10 white faces," the locals would say, in praise of those who slaved away deep underground. The job of a miner was a hard one, but it was stable and put food on the table.

The same cannot be said now. Following coal's "golden decade" — as it is commonly called — from 2002 to 2012, demand has plummeted amid a slowdown in China's economic growth and government pledges to cut carbon emissions. Coal is dying a slow death, the maladies which were formed in the planned economic period reveal day by day, and it is taking cities like Shuangyashan with it. Longmay Group announced that it planned to lay off 100,000 workers in 2016, which owned most mines in Shuangyashan. There is few job opportunities for the laid-off workers.

Attending the city's Heilongjiang Vocational and Technical College of Coal was once a matter of course for the region's young generation, as their parents who graduated from there also had a strong belief in it. Its guiding principle of "Students first, delivery first, employment first" promised graduates a bright future in a thriving industry. But following coal's recent collapse, the school's alumni are facing a landscape that's very different from the one they were promised.

China's mining colleges once promised graduates security and prosperity, but the experiences of young graduates and their parents tell a different story, the story of a fading city, a dying industry, and a volatile economy.