Country side farms, 1993, Lanzhou, Gansu. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Gansu is a northern province about the size of the state of California; it was an important stage on the Silk Roads. Agricultural products include tobacco, millet, wheat, and fruit; manufactured products include heavy machinery, petrochemicals, and nonferrous metals. The western end of the Great Wall is in Gansu.

Gansu (Kansu) Province is located in northern China at the upper reaches of the Huang (Yellow) River. On the west the province borders on Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces, on the north on Mongolia, on the east on Ningxia and Shaanxi provinces, and on the south on Sichuan Province. Gansu covers an area of 454,000 square kilometers and is divided into three topographical regions.

The western region composes part of the Gobi Desert and the so-called Gansu corridor, a passage more than 1,000 kilometers long but only 50 to 70 kilometers wide east to west between the Tibetan Plateau in the south and the Gobi Desert in the north. The Gansu corridor was an important part of the ancient Silk Roads, and agriculture in the oases there depend on the glacial streams from the Tibetan Plateau. The main crops are wheat, sugar beets, and cotton. The central region, with its extremely eroded terrain, is part of the great Loess Plateau (an area of unstratified loamy deposit believed to be chiefly deposited by the wind) of northern China, parts of which are the poorest districts in China. The southern region is a mountainous earthquake zone rising between 2,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level.

About 90 percent of Gansu’s population are Han Chinese. The remaining 10 percent are distributed among a number of minority nationalities who are either Muslims or who belong to Tibetan religions. The capital of the province, Lanzhou (2007 population 3.29 million), is situated in the rich agricultural area of the Huang River valley in the central region.

Gansu has been under Chinese control and influence on and off since the third century BCE and always has played an important role in trade between central Asia and China. When China was strong, Gansu constituted the western frontier of China, and the Great Wall ends there. During the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) Gansu became part of the empire along with Xinjiang and Qinghai provinces. The suppression of a Muslim rebellion in 1862–1878 almost devastated the area, and in 1928 Xinjiang and Qinghai became independent provinces. The borders of Gansu changed several times during the twentieth century, and in 1958 a large part was cut out to become Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

In the fertile river valley of the central region agricultural products such as tobacco, melons, millet, wheat, and fruit dominate. Gansu’s highly polluted industrial center, which is concentrated in and around Lanzhou, manufactures heavy machinery, petrochemical products, and nonferrous metals.

Further Reading

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Lipman, J. N. (1997). Familiar strangers: A history of Muslims in northwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Schran, P. (1976). Guerrilla economy: The development of the Shensi-Kansu-Ninghsia border region. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Gansu Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 887–889. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

A scenic view of the Gobi desert at night, Gansu province. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Gansu Province (G?nsù Sh?ng ?? ?)|G?nsù Sh?ng ?? ? (Gansu Province)

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