One of the largest official provinces in China (about twice the size of Germany), Qinghai is home to the world’s highest plateau, China’s largest inland lake, and the famous monastery Taer. Despite its harsh climate, the province is inhabited by a broad population including Tibetans, Chinese Muslims, and Kazakh and Mongol minorities.

A remote province in western China, Qinghai (Blue Sea) has a population that includes Han Chinese and Tibetans, as well as Mongol, Kazakh, Hui, Salar, and Tu minorities. The capital Xining (Western Peace) has an estimated population of 2.15 million, as of 2007. Qinghai is the fourth-largest official province in China, having six autonomous prefectures, thirty counties, and seven autonomous counties spread across 720,000 square kilometers (about twice the size of Germany, or half the size of the state of Alaska). Known as China’s West, Qinghai hosts the Yushu Horse Festival, which includes horse racing, dance competitions, and commercial trading.

Bordering Sichuan Province (southeast), Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region (southwest), Xinjiang Uygur A. R. (northwest), and Gansu Province (northeast), Qinghai encompasses part of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau averaging more than 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level, the world’s largest and highest plateau. From Qinghai arise three of Asia’s major rivers, the Yangzi (Chang), Huang (Yellow), and Mekong. Qinghai Lake (Koko Nor, in Mongolian) is China’s largest inland lake. More than 105 kilometers (65 miles) long, the turquoise lake is 3,205 meters (10,515 feet) above sea level. Its brackish waters host Niao Dao (Bird Island) sanctuary, where thousands of waterfowl congregate, including the rare black-necked crane. The Tsaidam (Mongolian for salt marsh) Basin of central Qinghai has an area of 240,926 square kilometers (93,022 square miles). Part salt marsh, part desert, and rich in minerals, coal, and oil, the area is of increasing interest for the exploitation of natural resources. Native fauna include wild yak, Przewalski’s horse, blue sheep, wolf, and a wide variety of birds. The saltwater-drinking camel, newly discovered in 2001, also inhabits part of Qinghai.

Qinghai’s harsh climate has an average winter temperature of ?15° C (5° F) and an annual rainfall of 25 to 51 centimeters (10 to 20 inches). The east produces spring wheat, highland barley, peas, potatoes, and rapeseed (canola). The vast grasslands of the west are suitable for herding yaks, horses, sheep, and goats. Other products from the area include wool, animal skins, oil, natural gas, common salt, and minerals. Per capita income is small. China’s main nuclear facility and waste site are in Haiyan, by Qinghai Lake. Qinghai is known as “China’s Siberia” because of the large number of prisoners sent there from the rest of the nation to work in the prison factories.

Once part of Tibet (Amdo), Qinghai came under Mongol rule during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), becoming part of Gansu Province. About 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Xining at Huangcheng is the famous Taer monastery, home of the reformer of Tibetan Buddhism Tsong-kha-pa (fifteenth century). After 1724, the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) continued to rule Qinghai, then called Koko Nor. In 1928 Qinghai became an official province of China. It contains autonomous districts for Tibetans, Chinese Muslims, and Kazakh and Mongol minorities. Xining is known for its Great Mosque and for the North Mountain Temple.

Further Reading

Haw, S. G. (2001). A traveller’s history of China. (3rd ed.). Northampton, MA: Interlink Books.

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

Mackerras, C. (2001). The new Cambridge history of contemporary China. (2nd ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Shaughnessy, E. L. (Ed.). (2000). China: Empire and civilization. New York: Oxford University Press.

Source: O’connor, Noelle. (2009). Qinghai Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1841–1842. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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