Located in northern China, Shanxi Province (not to be confused with neighboring Shaanxi Province, which has a comparable population) is known mainly for its coal industry, as it contains one third of the country’s coal deposits. Shanxi also contains significant amounts of other natural resources including iron and copper. Though two major Chinese dynasties were established from Shanxi, the area went through times of poverty and Japanese occupation.
The northern China province of Shanxi borders on Shaanxi Province on the west, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on the north, Hebei Province on the east, and Henan Province on the south. Shanxi covers an area of 156,300 square kilometers (roughly the size of the state of Georgia) of highly eroded plateau at an altitude of about 1,000 meters above sea level. On the western, northern, and eastern fringe, mountains rise from 500 to 2,000 meters above the plateau. The Huang (Yellow) River constitutes parts of the border to Hebei and Henan. Sheltered from winds from the ocean by the eastern mountains, Shanxi has a typical continental climate, with cold winters and dry summers, and an annual precipitation of 400 to 650 millimeters, which makes irrigation necessary. The capital of Taiyuan (estimated 2007 population 3.46 million) is situated in the center of Shanxi, which is divided into six regions and one hundred counties.
Shanxi was inhabited by farmers as early as 5000 BCE, and during the Western Zhou dynasty (1045–771 BCE), the state of Jin was established in the area. After the unification of China in 221 BCE by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) Shanxi often came into play as a crucial part in the Chinese empire’s defense against nomad invasions. Both the Northern Wei (386–534 CE) and the Tang (618–907 CE) dynasties were established from Shanxi, but when succeeding dynasties set up their capitals in eastern China, the area declined into a poverty-stricken region ruled by warlords or nomad chiefs. Shanxi was occupied by Japanese forces from 1937 to 1945.
The province is sparsely populated in the northwestern mountainous parts where sheep, cattle, and other livestock are raised. In the agricultural areas, relatively little wheat and rice is grown, the major products being millet, soybeans, and potatoes. Other main crops are cotton, sugar beets, tobacco, fruit, and vegetables. Shanxi has the largest known deposits of coal in China, accounting for one-third of the country’s total. The coal is of high quality and the coalfields cover an area of over 57,000 square kilometers and are easily mined near the surface. Other natural resources in significant amounts include iron ores, copper, and gypsum. The industry is concentrated around Taiyuan and Datong in the north. The coal industry is, of course, by far the most important, but important industrial products also include locomotives, automobiles, and tractors. The light industry produces consumer goods such as watches, television sets, and washing and sewing machines. Shanxi is home of the famous Yungang caves from the Northern Wei dynasty, containing fifty-three grottoes with about 51,000 statues of various Buddhist deities.
Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Shanxi Province. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1955–1956. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
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