"The wild dusty place" Gansu Sheng by mke1963

Gansu Sheng Travel Guide: 544 reviews and 1,307 photos

Gansu is a big, big province with a land area half as big again as Japan, yet with a population of only 25 million. Historically and culturally it has been more part of Central Asia with significant Muslim influence, although traditionally the huge fort at the western end of the Great Wall has been China's front door, and the even bigger region of Xinjiang the front garden. The arid, dusty continental climate here creates extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter, and Gansu people are very hardy, practical folk.

The region's distance from trading routes during the last few centuries has led to economic stagnation that has created unrest - notably the uprisings in 1860. It was not always that way, though, as the Hexi corridor between the high mountains of Qinghai and the deserts of Inner Mongolia was for centuries a stretch of the ancient Silk Route. The towns and oases along the route became rich and their wealth and contributions to China's cultural treasure house is only just being realised. The Buddhist caves of Dunhuang are justifiably world-famous, although many of its treasures lie in museums in London, Paris, Berlin and Seoul. At the other end of this narrow strip of fertile land lies Wuwei, most famous for the discovery in 1968 of the Tianma, the bronze flying horse, which is now in the Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou (currently closed for remnovations that are probably unnecessary and just cosmetic). To the east of Wuwei, sections of the Great Wall are degrading gently in the sun and rain. The Wall here was built by joining a multitude of local walls to protect water sources, agricultural land, towns and cities. In some places there are so many junctions of the Wall, it is difficult to work out which side of the wall is 'in' and which is 'out'.
Much of central Gansu is badly eroded sandy loess uplands, where the soil is perilously thin and easily lost by water and wind erosion. Every year, the mighty Yellow River carries away a big chunk of Gansu. Villages are few and far between, and life is hard.

In the south, the deep cut valleys focus on Lanzhou and the government has invested huge amounts of money to create a massive industrial city to anchor the western economy. However, its remote location makes it difficult for companies here to compete with those on the east coast, and Gansu remains one of China's poorer provinces.
The province has always had an ethnically diverse population with many Tibetans and Muslim Hui, while the area southwest of Lanzhou is a particularly affluent Muslim area.
I like Gansu a lot, with its beautiful rugged landscapes, its traditional architecture, and its unpretentious outlook. Farmers here can't tell you about stock options, wi-fi standards or the Atkins Diet, but they can build a house, mend a tractor, grow crops to survive and live successfully and harmoniously in a difficult environment. They are honest, proud people.

Please note, when reading my Gansu pages, that I am currently (July 2005 - April 2006) leading a team working on a project to improve tourism in Gansu province. Although I have visited Gansu many times before this project started (23 times, in fact), I obviously have a slightly different perspective (or bias) on the province. As Gansu is one of China's poorest provinces, I am adding pages on places that I have not visited, because this province is worth visiting and it is incredibly difficult to get up-to-date information on the province. If you have photographs or commentary on specific villages, towns or sites and would like to add them to these pages, please do e-mail me. Tourism is directly helping to alleviate poverty and create economic opportunities in the province, and any information that might encourage people to visit this area will further help.
I should add that provding information is a personal thing and in no way connected to the project! However, some of the reviews and tips contain information and photographs of sites that are either closed to the public, not yet open to the public or simply inaccessible. If you are particularly keen to visit one of these sites or locations, please do contact me as I can put you in touch with the people who can 'make it happen' in most cases. However, some sites (notably the "Tibetan caves" at Matisi and the upper parts of the 1st July Glacier) are only accessible to researchers.
Sites not visited by me are marked with the letters NV (Not Visited) in the first line of the review.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Raw rugged landscapes; proud, stubborn, friendly people
  • Cons:Lanzhou (and that can be fixed), and the climate
  • In a nutshell:Visit Gansu and discover a China that China doesn't even know exists.
  • Last visit to Gansu Sheng: Dec 2003
  • Intro Updated Sep 19, 2005
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Comments (3)

  • Apr 4, 2005 at 5:30 AM

    He he...eagle eyes! Neither is his real name.! LOL!

  • Confucius's Profile Photo
    Apr 3, 2005 at 9:17 PM

    Lao Wang? He's Lao Zhou on your Shuangta page! Must be something in those Gansu apricots!

  • Redlats's Profile Photo
    Apr 28, 2004 at 9:10 AM

    Interesting reading. 25 mil in an area 1 1/2 times Japan's area still sounds crowded to someone from Canada (31 mil in an area bigger than China)


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