Shaanxi Province (not to be confused with neighboring Shanxi Province, which has a comparable population) is a mostly mountainous northwestern province about twice the size of Iceland. The capitals of the Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties were located near the capital city of Xi’an. In 1935 the Chinese Communist Party established its headquarters in Yan’an on the northern plateau. Important agricultural products are millet, wheat, rice, and tubers.

The northwestern Chinese province of Shaanxi (Shensi, Shanxi) borders on Gansu Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region on the west; Shanxi, Henan, and Hubei provinces, following the course of the Huang (Yellow) River, on the east; Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on the north; and Sichuan Province on the south.

Covering 205,000 square kilometers, Shaanxi is geographically divided into a large northern and a much smaller southern part by the Qinling mountain range. The northern region is a high, eroded loess (unstratified loamy deposit believed to be chiefly deposited by the wind) plateau about 1,000 meters above sea level. This is a fertile but dry steppe, with a temperate climate and an annual precipitation of 300–500 millimeters. South of the Qinling range the climate is subtropical, with annual rainfall of 750–1,000 millimeters. All of Shaanxi has a continental climate, with monsoon rain from July to September. The capital is Xi’an (estimated 2007 population 7.64 million), which is situated in the valley between the Wei River and the Qinling range. Shaanxi is divided into eight regions and ninety-three counties.

The Wei River valley was inhabited by settled peasants before 5000 BCE, and it was the homeland of the Zhou people, who overthrew the Shang dynasty (1766–1045 BCE) and founded the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BCE). The capitals of the Qin (221–206 BCE), Han (206 BCE–220 CE), Tang (618–907), and some minor dynasties were located in the vicinity of modern Xi’an. After the Tang dynasty fell the capitals of succeeding dynasties were founded in eastern China, and Shaanxi lost its importance as a political center and declined to become one of the most destitute areas in China.

Rebellions, civil war, and famine wreaked havoc in the province well into the twentieth century. In 1935, after the Long March, the Chinese Communist Party established its headquarters in Yan’an on the northern plateau, from where it fought Japanese occupying forces from 1937 to 1945 in the War of Resistance against Japan (known outside China as the Second Sino-Japanese War).

The majority of the population lives in the valleys of the Wei and Han rivers, and the most important agricultural products are wheat, millet, rice, and tubers, but rapeseed tobacco, and soybeans also account for a considerable part of the agricultural economy. Sheep breeding is important on the northern plateau, and south of the Qinling range corn, beans, fruits (especially apples), tea, and medical herbs are grown. Industry, which is concentrated along the Wei River, has a relative high output of light industrial products such as sewing machines, cloth, television sets, and watches, but heavy industry is also significant.

Further Reading

Keating, P. B. (1997). Two revolutions: Village reconstruction and the cooperative movement in northern Shaanxi, 1934–1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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

Vermeer, E. B. (1930). Economic development in provincial China: The central Shaanxi since 1930. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Xin Liu. (2000). In one’s own shadow: An ethnographic account of the condition of post-reform rural China. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Shaanxi Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1934–1935. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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