Greater Xing’an, a sparsely inhabited mountain range in northeastern China, is one of the country’s most important timber areas and home to a wide variety of natural resources, including many used in traditional Chinese medicine. Deforestation has become a problem in the mountain range.

The Greater Xing’an range (Da Xing’an ling) is a crescent-shaped mountain range extending 1,400 kilometers from south to north in the northwestern parts of Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces in northeastern China. The Greater Xing’an range is one of China’s most important timber areas. Other major natural resources include gold, marble, coal, charcoal, and peat.. Deposits of silver, copper, iron, titanium, and other metals also have been detected. The area is also known for its many mineral springs as well as a vast variety of plants and herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Taoer River, running near the border between the two provinces, divides the range into a 100-kilometer-wide southern part and a 2,300-kilometer-wide northern part. The northern part of the range runs for about 670 kilometers, with smooth and rounded peaks rising 1,000 meters above sea level; a few, such as Mount Fengshui and Mount Dajiluqina, reach over 1,390 meters. The eastern slopes are steep; the western slopes merge into the Inner Mongolia Plateau, which is about 700 meters above sea level. It is an exceedingly cold area, with winters lasting more than eight months and an average temperature in January of ?28° C. A record low for the area of ?52.3° C was recorded in 1969, and permafrost is widespread. The brief but mild and relatively wet summers with an August average temperature of 15° C make a three-month growing season possible. The southern part generally consists of lower mountains and has a somewhat warmer and drier climate. Here grassland and mixed deciduous trees of aspen, oak, willow, and elm have taken the place of the dominant coniferous forests of the northern range.

Since the construction of several railways into the mountains in the 1930s, the region has been heavily deforested, which is increasingly threatening the ecological balance. Between 1960 and 1980 cultivation of farmland has pushed the tree line about 100 kilometers to the north. In 1987 a fire devastated over 1 million hectares of trees, reducing the forest cover of the mountains by an estimated 14.5 percent. This deforestation seriously affected the biodiversity (biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals) and climate of the area and has had a critical impact on wildlife such as the already threatened population of brown bears.

The range is sparsely inhabited by ethnic groups, of which the Oroqen and Evenki (or Ewenke), who settled the area in the seventeenth century, are the most numerous. Both were originally nomadic people who bred reindeer, hunted, fished, and gathered wild herbs and fruits. Since the 1950s hunting and forestry have been their main sources of income, while some agricultural products for local consumption have been grown in the lower valleys. Since 1996 hunting prohibitions to protect wildlife have been enforced with increasing strictness by the Chinese government. These prohibitions have led many people to abandon the traditional ways and settle down as farmers or opt for a job in the city. Both the Oroqen and Evenki are officially recognized minority nationalities.

One of “China’s Greatest Autumn Forests”

While many Western tourists have focused on well-known sites such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Terracotta Army at Xi’an, those more familiar with China highlight other attractions, including ancient forests. This text comes from a website extolling the glories of an autumn day spent in the mountains.

Leaving Beijing or Shanghai for Northern Heilongjiang is like leaving Odessa or Moscow for Siberia. The Great Xing’an would be in Siberia, but for the Heilongjiang River, and sits at a higher elevation. The thousand-mile stretch is almost exclusively preserved virgin forest, China’s largest reserve of such, and a cornucopia of ecological diversity, although packed in ice much of the time. Visit late in the year at your own peril; with a good Oroqen guide you may live to see the northern lights.

The Oroqens are one of China’s most fascinating minorities, native to this region, and their lifestyle (until recently) reflects much of what is fascinating about this remote forest realm. They’ve been known by the Han for hundreds of years as both “the Hunting Clan”, and “the Deer-using Clan.” With such a short growing season and such a profusion of game, from the four footed in the hills to the finned in the rivers, the Oroqen had no reason to seek sustenance from the soil. The deer that they domesticated are actually reindeer, showing that these people and their lives are as Arctic as the Laplanders.

Not until the 1950s were the first families of Oroqen goaded out of their forest retreats and put in vaguely urban centers, but there are still some making a life in the forests, and worshiping their gods of fire and stone. If getting to the leafy heart of darkness is your kick, you can’t go far wrong with Xing’an, although you’ll go far by train—a twelve hour ride from Harbin to Jagdaqi, what passes for a major city in those parts.

Source: From “China’s Greatest Autumn Forests,” retrieved March 14, 2009 from

Further Reading

Krieg, R., et al.. (1998). Provinzporträts der VR China. Hamburg, Germany: Institut für Asienkunde.

Ma Yin (Ed.). (1989). China’s minority nationalities. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Ren Mei’e, Yang Renzhang, & Bao Haosheng. (Comp.). (1985). An outline of China’s physical geography. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Yu Chang, et al. (2007). Long-term forest landscape responses to fire exclusion in the Great Xing’an Mountains, China. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 16, 34–44.

Zhao Songqiao. (1986). Physical geography of China. Beijing: Science Press.

Source: Nielsen, Bent (2009). Greater Xing’an Range. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 936–937. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Greater Xing’an Range (Dàx?ng‘?n L?ng ????)|Dàx?ng‘?n L?ng ???? (Greater Xing’an Range)

Download the PDF of this article