Home to near 100 million people, Northwest China includes the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Ningxia and the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai.
Shaanxi (Chinese: 陝西; pinyin: Shǎnxī; Mandarin pronunciation: [ʂàn.ɕí] (listen); alternately Shensi) is a landlocked province of the People’s Republic of China. Officially part of the Northwest China region, it lies in central China, bordering the provinces of Shanxi (NE, E), Henan (E), Hubei (SE), Chongqing (S), Sichuan (SW), Gansu (W), Ningxia (NW), and Inner Mongolia (N).
Shaanxi covers an area of over 205,000 km2 (79,151 sq mi) with about 37 million people, the 16th highest in China. Xi’an – which includes the sites of the former Chinese capitals Fenghao and Chang’an – is the capital and largest city in the province. Xianyang, which served as the Qin dynasty capital, is located nearby. The other prefecture-level cities into which the province is divided are Ankang, Baoji, Hanzhong, Shangluo, Tongchuan, Weinan, Yan’an and Yulin.
Shaanxi comprises the Wei Valley and much of the surrounding fertile Loess Plateau, stretching from the Qin Mountains and Shannan in the south to the Ordos Desert in the north. Along with areas of adjacent Shanxi and Henan provinces, it formed the cradle of Chinese civilization, with its Guanzhong region sheltering the capitals of the Zhou, Han, Jin, Sui, and Tang dynasties in addition to the Qin. It does not include the full territory of the Yellow River’s Ordos Loop, with the Great Wall of China separating it from the grasslands and deserts of Inner Mongolia.
The vast majority of the population of Shaanxi is Han Chinese. Mandarin is mainly spoken in Shaanxi, including Zhongyuan Mandarin and Southwestern Mandarin; another variety of Chinese, Jin, is also spoken.
Shaanxi is China’s 15th largest economy, ranking within the middle among China’s administrative divisions. The fossil fuel and high technology sectors compose the two largest industries in Shaanxi province. The high technology sector includes aircraft and aerospace industries, and Shaanxi produces more than 50% of the R&D and manufacturing equipment for the country’s domestic commercial air industry.
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi is one of the oldest cities in China, and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Since the 1990s, as part of the economic revival of inland China especially for the central and northwest regions, the city of Xi’an has re-emerged as an important cultural, industrial and educational centre of Shaanxi and the central-northwest region. It is the most populous city in Northwest China.
Gansu (甘肃; formerly romanized as Kansu) is a landlocked province of the People’s Republic of China, located in the northwest of the country. Its capital and largest city is Lanzhou, located in the southeast part of the province.
The seventh-largest administrative district by area at 453,700 square kilometres (175,200 sq mi), Gansu lies between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus and borders Mongolia (Govi-Altai Province), Inner Mongolia and Ningxiato the north, Xinjiang and Qinghai to the west, Sichuan to the south and Shaanxi to the east. The Yellow River passes through the southern part of the province. Part of Gansu’s territory is located in the Gobi desert. The Qilian mountains are located in the south of the Province.
Gansu has a population of 26 million, ranking 22nd in China. Its population is mostly Han, along with Hui, Dongxiang and Tibetan minorities. The most common language is Mandarin. Gansu is among the poorest administrative divisions in China, ranking 31st in GDP per capita. Most of Gansu’s economy is based on the mining industry and the extraction of minerals, especially rare earth elements. Tourism also plays a role in Gansu’s economy.
The State of Qin originated in what is now southeastern Gansu and went on to form the first known Empire in what is now China. The Northern Silk Road ran through the Hexi Corridor, which passes through Gansu, resulting in it being an important strategic outpost and communications link for the Chinese empire.
Qinghai (青海; formerly romanized as Tsinghai, Ch’inghai or Kokonur) is a province of the People’s Republic of China located in the northwest of the country. As one of the largest province-level administrative divisions of China by area, the province is ranked fourth-largest in area and has the third-smallest population. Its capital and largest city is Xining.
Qinghai borders Gansu on the northeast, Xinjiang on the northwest, Sichuan on the southeast and the Tibet Autonomous Region on the southwest. Qinghai province was established in 1928 under the Republic of Chinaperiod during which it was ruled by Chinese Muslim warlords known as the Ma clique. The Chinese name “Qinghai” is after Qinghai Lake (cyan sea lake), the largest lake in China. The province was known formerly as Kokonur in English, derived from the Oirat name for Qinghai Lake.
Located mostly on the Tibetan Plateau, the province has long been a melting pot for a number of ethnic groups including the Han, Tibetans, Hui, Tu, Mongols and Salars. Tibetans constitute a fifth of the population of Qinghai and the Hui compose roughly a sixth of the population. There are over 37 recognized ethnic groups among Qinghai’s population of 5.2 million, with national minorities making up a total of 45.5% of the population.
The area of Qinghai was brought under Chinese rule from 1724. After the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the region came under Chinese Muslim warlord Ma Qi’s control until the Northern Expedition by the Republic of China consolidated central control in 1928, creating the province.
Ningxia (Chinese: 宁夏; Mandarin pronunciation: [nǐŋ.ɕjâ]; alternately romanized as Ninghsia), officially the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR), is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China located in the northwest part of the country. Formerly a province, Ningxia was incorporated into Gansu in 1954 but was separated from Gansu in 1958 and was reconstituted as an autonomous region for the Hui people, one of the 56 officially recognised nationalities of China. Twenty percent of China’s Hui population lives in Ningxia.
Ningxia is bounded by Shaanxi to the east, Gansu to the south and west, and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the north and has an area of around 66,400 square kilometres (25,600 sq mi). This sparsely settled, mostly desert region lies partially on the Loess Plateau and in the vast plain of the Yellow River, and features the Great Wall of China along its northeastern boundary. Over the years an expensive and extensive system of canals has been built. Extensive land reclamation and irrigation projects have made increased cultivation possible.
Winemaking continues to boost the economy of what is still one of the country’s poorest areas. Before the arrival of viticulture, Ningxia’s 6.8 million people, 36 per cent of whom are Muslims from the Hui ethnic group, relied largely on animal grazing, subsistence agriculture and the cultivation of wolfberries used in traditional Chinese medicine. The province housed almost 40,000 hectares of wine grapes and produced 120 million wine bottles in 2017 – a quarter of the entire nation’s production.
Xinjiang (Uyghur: شىنجاڭ; SASM/GNC: Xinjang; Chinese: 新疆; pinyin: Xīnjiāng; alternately romanized as Sinkiang), officially the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), is a provincial-level Chinese autonomous region in the northwest. Being the largest Chinese administrative division and the 8th largest country subdivision in the world, Xinjiang spans over 1.6 million km2 (640,000 square miles). Xinjiang contains the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, which is administered by China and claimed by India. Xinjiang borders the countries of Mongolia (Bayan-Ölgii, Khovd and Govi-Altai Provinces), Russia (Altai Republic), Kazakhstan (East Kazakhstan and Almaty Provinces), Kyrgyzstan (Issyk Kul, Naryn and Osh Regions), Tajikistan (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region), Afghanistan (Badakhshan Province), Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan) and India (Jammu and Kashmir). The rugged Karakoram, Kunlun and Tian Shan mountain ranges occupy much of Xinjiang’s borders, as well as its western and southern regions. Xinjiang also borders the Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. The most well-known route of the historical Silk Road ran through the territory from the east to its northwestern border. In recent decades, abundant oil and mineral reserves have been found in Xinjiang and it is currently China’s largest natural gas-producing region.
Xinjiang is home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Uyghur, Han, Kazakhs, Tibetans, Hui, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Mongols, Russians and Xibe. More than a dozen autonomous prefectures and counties for minorities are in Xinjiang. Older English-language reference works often refer to the area as Chinese Turkestan. Xinjiang is divided into the Dzungarian Basin in the north and the Tarim Basin in the south by a mountain range. Only about 9.7% of Xinjiang’s land area is fit for human habitation.
With a documented history of at least 2,500 years, a succession of people and empires have vied for control over all or parts of this territory. The territory came under the rule of the Qing dynasty in the 18th century, which was later replaced by the Republic of China government. Since 1949, it has been part of the People’s Republic of China following the Chinese Civil War. In 1954, Xinjiang Bingtuan was set up to strengthen the border defense against the Soviet Union, and also promote the local economy. In 1955, Xinjiang was turned into an autonomous region from a province.