in the northwest of the People’s Republic of China, is situated between Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and the Huangtu Plateaus.  It borders Inner Mongolia to the north and Zinjiang to the west.  The province is often abbreviated as ‘Gan’ or ‘Long’, or called Long West or Long Right because it lies to the west of Long Mountain.  It has a population of over 25 million people (1997), most of whom are Hui Chinese.


Gansu was populated in prehistoric times by numerous Neolithic cultures.  Many artefacts have been found from the Dadiwan culture, which flourished in the east of Gansu from 6000 BC to 3000 BC.  The Majiayao culture (3100 BC– 2700 BC) and part of the Qija culture (3100 BC – 1900 BC) also lived in Gansu.

The founding state of the Chinese empire, the Qin state, developed out of the southeastern part of Gansu and even the Qin name is believed to have originated from the area.  Many Qin tombs and artifacts have been discovered in Fangmatan (ner Tianshui), including the remarkable find of a 2200-year-old map of Guixian county.

Because the Hexi corridor runs along the narrower ‘neck’ part of the province, Gansu was valued as a strategic outpost and communications link for the Chinese empire during imperial times. During the Han Dynasty, the Great Wall was extended across this corridor, along with the jade gate pass (Yumenguan) and the Yangguan fort towns built along the wall.  Remains from these towns and of the wall can still be found there.  During the Ming Dynasty, the Jiayunguan outpost was built in Gansu.  Nomadic tribes like the Yuezhi and the Wusun populated the north-western end of the province.

Located along the Silk Road, Gansu was important economically, but ideas and beliefs travelled down the road as well as goods.  Temples and Buddhist grottoes including those at Mogao Caves (Caves of the Thousand Buddhas) and Maijishan Caves contain murals that are artistically and historically valuable.  Recently, in August of 2006, an early form of paper, inscribed with Chinese characters, was discovered at a Western Han garrison near the Yumen pass. The paper dates back to about 8 BC.

Gansu has suffered from frequent natural disasters, particularly earthquakes.  Some 180,000 people were killed in Gansu in 1920 when it was hit by an earthquake registering 8.6 on the Richter scale, and in 1932, 70,000 people died in an earthquake registering 7.6 on the scale. Droughts and famines have also plagued Gansu and hindered its economic growth, but the province is now making more of its abundant mineral resources by developing industry.


Gansu contains the geographical centre of China, which is marked by the Centre of the County Monument at latitude 35.33 degrees North and longitude 103.23 East.  Part of the Gobi Desert is found in Gansu, and the Huang He river passes through the southern part of the province.  The Yellow River gets most of its water from Gansu and flows straight through Lanzhou.

The province has an area of 454,000 square kilometres and is mostly above 1 km over sea level.  It is flat in the north and very mountainous in the south, where the Qilian mountain range is found.  Qilian Shan Mountain is Gansu’s highest point with an elevation of 5,547 metres.


Cotton, linseed oil, maize, melons, millet and wheat are important crops in Gansu, and the province is also the source of many wild medicinal herbs that are used in Chinese medicine.

Mining is, however, the mainstay of the economy.    The province has 3,000 deposits of 145 different minerals, with several of the reserves being the largest in China. Gansu has rich deposits of antimony, chromium, coal, cobalt, copper, fluorite, gypsum, iridium, iron, lead, limestone, mercury, mirabilite, nickel, crude oil, platinum, troilite, tungsten and zinc.  There are also significant oil fields at Yumen and Changqing and the province as a whole has an estimated 700 million tons of petroleum.  Coal reserves are estimated at 8.92 billion tons. 

Other industries, mostly related to the mining industry, include electricity generation, and the manufacturing of building materials, oil exploration machinery and petrochemicals.

Gansu’s water resources are an important source of energy; the province is ninth in China for annual hydropower potential and water discharge.  The province also has good potential for wind and solar power development.


Some 26,033,400 people live in Gansu, 73 percent of them in rural areas.  Gansu is 92 percent Han with numerous minorities including Hui, Tibetan, Dingxiang, Tu, Manchu, Uyghur, Bonan, Mongolian, Salar and Kazakh.


Most Gansu inhabitants speak dialects of Northern Mandarin Chinese. Along the borders people speak Amdo Tibetan, Mongolian and Kazakh, although most of the minorities also speak Chinese, except for the Mongolian-speaking Tu minority.

Gansu cooking is based on the crops grown there – beans, sweet potatoes and grains like wheat, millet and barley.  Within China, Gansu is famous for its pulled noodles and Muslim restaurants which serve authentic Gansu cuisine are found in most major Chinese cities.


There are 659 species of wild animals living in Gansu, including the giant panda, snub-nosed monkeys, antelopes, snow leopards, deer. musk deer, fawn and the Bactrian camel.  It also has 24 rare animals that are protected by the state and 441 species of birds.  Many of these species and subspecies are unique to Gansu, making the province of great value to wilderness preservationists and naturalists.

Gansu is China’s second largest supplier of medicinal plants and herbs and contributes some very odd ones like hairy asiabell root, fritillary bulb and Chinese caterpillar fungus.

Tourist Attractions

The Jiayuguan Pass of the Great Wall is the largest and most intact pass of the Great Wall.  Built in the early Ming Dynasty, around the year 1372, it was the first pass on the west end of the Great Wall and named ‘The First And Greatest Pass Under Heaven.’  It was built near an oasis that was on the very western border of China at the time.
An interesting legend is told about the Jiauyguan Pass about a brick said to rest on a ledge over one of the gates.  According to one version, the official in charge of building the pass asked its designer how many bricks he would require, and his estimate was so accurate that only one brick remained over.  That brick was placed on top of the pass in commemoration. Another version says that the project was assigned to a military manager and an architect. The architect told the manager how many bricks he would need, but had not asked for any extra.  The manager insisted that he ask for more in case of unforeseen circumstances. To appease him, the architect, who was put out by what he took as an insult to his planning capabilities, asked for one single brick more than he expected to use.  When the gate was finished, the extra brick had not in fact been needed and it was left on the ledge over the gate.

The Mogao Grottoes near Dunhuang once included more than 1,000 grottoes, of which only 492 cave temples remain.  They still represent, however, an amazing collection of Buddhist art and religious artefacts. Each temple has a large statue of a buddha or bodhisattva and religious paintings.  In 336 AD a monk named Le Zun (Lo-tsun had a vision of golden rays of light shining down on him like a thousand buddhas and he started to carve the first grotto to record that vision.  During the Five Dynasties people ran out of room on the cliffs and they could not build any more grottoes; as archaeological evidence tells us now, they solved their dilemma by painting over older works of art.

The Silk Road and Dunhuang City

The historic Silk Road leads from Chang’an to Constantinople, leading merchants to Dunhuang in Gansu where they would get fresh food, camels and guards for the dangerous journey through the Takla Makan desert.  Before leaving Dunhuang they would pray to the Mogao Grottoes to keep them safe.  If they made it back alive, they would return to the Grottoes to give thanks.  As they crossed the desert, the merchants formed trains of camels to protect themselves from thieves.  They were always relieved to reach Kashi (Kashgar) where most of them concluded their business and returned.  The ones who went on would trade their Bactrian camels for single-humped ones, enjoy some local fruit, and head off for their next destination.

Bingling Temple

Also called the Bingling Grottoes, the Bingling Temple is a Buddhist cave complex in a canyon along the Yellow River.  The site was founded in 420 AD and contains dozens of caves and caverns filled with frescoes, carvings and sculpture.  Among the more amazing works is the Maitreya Buddha, which stands at more than 27 metres tall.  This Buddha is very much like the great Buddhas that used to line the cliffs of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.  The only way to reach the Maitreya Buddha is by boat from Yongjing, and that is only possible in the summer or fall.

Labrang Monastery

Built in 1710, the Labrang Monastery is one of the six major monasteries of the Gelukpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, and the most important one in Amdo.  It is headed by the Jamyang-zhaypa and has six colleges which house more than 60,000 religious texts and other works of literature and cultural artefacts.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, although not a major tourist attraction, is located in the Gobi desert in Gansu.

Colleges and universities

Lanzhou Unniversity
Gansu Agriculutral University

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