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Gansu Province

Name (gān ) ['pleasant' 'respectful'] Old Name Kansu WG
CapitalLanzhou
Population25.865 million (1.88 %) [22nd] comparison table
Area454,000 km2 [175,289 mile2] (4.73 %) [7th]
GDP26,427 (2.73 %) [32nd]
Position of Gansu in China
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Google map of Gansu
Beijing Tianjin Shanghai Hong Kong Xinjiang Tibet Qinghai Gansu Inner Mongolia Heilongjiang Jilin Liaoning Yunnan Sichuan Guangxi Hainan Taiwan Guangdong Guizhou Chongqing Ningxia Shandong Fujian Zhejiang Shaanxi Shanxi Hebei Henan Hunan Hubei Jiangxi Anhui Jiangsu

Neighbors

Xinjiang Qinghai Inner Mongolia Ningxia Sichuan Shaanxi

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Gansu is the historic gateway into China. It stands between the high Tibetan mountain chains to the southwest and the Gobi desert to the north offering a trading corridor with Central Asia through the ages. The Great Wall snakes along its northern edge up to the Silk Route's fort at Jiuquan. The name Gansu is one of the few provinces named after two places ‘Gan’ (Zhangye area) and ‘Su’ (Jiuquan area).

Dunhuang, Gansu, music
Musicians in paradise, Yulin cave 25, Dunhuang, Tang Dynasty
Image available under a Creative Commons license

Gansu History

One of the earliest and most significant claims to fame is that the Qin people that went on to unify China under Qin Shihuangdi may have originated from Gansu. Wudi, the august emperor of the succeeding Han dynasty sought to solve once and for all the threat from barbarian tribes to the north. He strengthened existing parts of the Great Wall, built new walls and forced the re-settlement of up to 500,000 people into the Gansu region to consolidate Han rule.

Gansu, terraces, land form
Terraced farmland in the loess lands of Gansu

Places to visit in Gansu

Lanzhou is an important crossing point of the mighty Yellow River on the natural route to Xi'an and northern China.

horse,flying horse
A representation of the famous flying horse found in Gansu.
For more on the Silk Road into China that was so influential in its early history see our Silk Route guide.

The Buddhist caves at Dunhuang are witness to the famous journey of Buddhism along the Silk Route into China. The Mogao grottoes contain 2,300 painted statues and large painted murals. They have been protected by desert conditions from harm for centuries. Figures were painted over a period of nearly a thousand years and the depictions give useful insight to changes in sartorial style over time. Dunhuang was positioned as the last (and first place) in China on the pilgrim route to India. The Tang dynasty murals are considered the finest. Although human figures predominate there is, for instance a large, detailed depiction of Wutai Mountain. When discovered by Europeans in the early 20th century a number of important artifacts were taken away including the Diamond Sutra (the first printed book) which is now held by the British Library, London.

The Maijishan Grottoes near Tianshui, Gansu are another set of impressive Buddhist carvings cut deep into a steep cliff. Walkways are strung along the cliff edge for visitors to appreciate them. Some are carved, others are modeled in clay and date from the 4th century into the Qing dynasty. Bingling Si has another fine collection of Buddhist sculptures. Lanzhou has an impressive museum, and Linxia has a number of mosques. Wuwei in Gansu is where the famous flying horse sculpture was discovered in 1969.

Gansu, lake, desert
The famous crescent lake near Dunhuang, Gansu

Just as impressive as Dunhuang and Maijishan are the Yulin Caves . Also known as Wanfoxia ‘The gorge of ten thousand Buddhas’, it is rather remote and has caves constructed over a thousand year period dug out on two cliffs facing each other across a gorge. It is located 47 miles [47 miles] south of Anxi.

The fort of Jiayuguan at Jiuquan marked the Chinese frontier for many travelers long before China extended west into Xinjiang. Built in 1372 of tamped soil it controlled the narrow pass the Silk Route followed into China. The 35 feet [11 meters] high walls were wide enough for horses to ride along the top. Over land travelers must have been extremely impressed by their first glimpse of Chinese grand architecture.

Gansu, Jiayuguan, mountains
Jiayuguan fort with snowy Qilian mountains, Gansu

Gansu Geography

Cold in winter and very hot in summer, the province has very low rainfall (16 inches [40 cms] a year), so habitation and agriculture is restricted to areas close to rivers. It is a mountainous area (70% of land is mountains or plateau) with most land about 2,000m above sea level. Specialty food in the province includes lamb and Lanzhou noodles. It is famous for producing angelica; carved jade; medicinal herbs and melons.

The discovery of extensive iron ore and coal deposits has led to heavy industrialization in places, but much of the Gansu province is arid with desert or poor pasture land. Its long history of settlement is demonstrated by significant numbers of Tibetan, Hui, Mongol and Kazakh minority people.

Gansu, Lanzhou, modern housing
Lanzhou city skyline, Gansu

Gansu Climate

Temperature axisClimate ChartRainfall axis
Climate chart for Gansu
Both Temp Rainfall ° C/mms ° F/ins Key
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Major CitiesPopulation
Jiuquan 350,000
Lanzhou 1,846,200
Tianshui 320,297

Airports

Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport 兰州中川机场 ZGC IATA / ZLLL ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 41.6 miles (67.0 kms) from Lanzhou
See map of location Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport
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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Gansu, China', last updated 15 Oct 2015, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/maps/gansu.htm.

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