Map of Shanxi Hebei Inner Mongolia Henan Shaanxi

Shanxi Province

Name 西 (shān ) ['mountain' 'west'] Old Name Shansi WG
Population36.389 million (2.65 %) [18th] comparison table
Area156,000 km2 [60,232 mile2] (1.63 %) [20th]
GDP35,064 (5.10 %) [25th]
Position of Shanxi in China
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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


Shaanxi Inner Mongolia Hebei Henan

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Shanxi's western boundary is the mighty Huang He (Yellow River) while the Taihing mountain range marks its eastern limits; Shanxi is named from its location ‘west of these mountains’ compared to Shandongeast of the mountains’.

Together with Shaanxi and Henan, Shanxi province is positioned in the fertile Yellow River valley which was the nucleus for the development of the distinctive Chinese civilization. Most of the land is covered in loess - loose calcareous sand which is ideal for crop cultivation when irrigated. The northern boundary of Shanxi follows the Great Wall built during the Warring States period and then strengthened by Qin Shihuang the first Qin emperor, to mark the border and keep the barbarians out. Shanxi flourished up to the Tang dynasty, after which time the growing importance of the Yangzi basin; incursions by northern tribes; growth of sea trade and decline in use of the Silk Route all took their toll. Centuries of slow decline followed. In the last hundred years extensive coal deposits have led to rapid industrialization and the province suffers from the attendant pollution - Linfen was classed as the world's most polluted city in 2007.

Shanxi, Taiyuan, lake, modern housing
Longtan Park, Taiyuan, Shanxi
Wed 17th May

Belt and Road Initiative

Spending a trillion dollars (yes $1,000 billion) is a serious investment. China’s big idea is to open up the country for much wider trade. The primary focus is to develop stronger links with Central Asian countries on the route of the old Silk Road. However the initiative seems all embracing as even New Zealand, hardly on the Silk Road is keen to be involved. The idea is for both an overland ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (China to Europe) and a ‘21st century Maritime Road’ (China through the Indian Ocean to Africa and then north to Egypt). This has been shortened to ‘One belt one road’ or ‘Belt and Road’ or just ‘OBOR’ for short.

It is hard to work out exactly what the initiative is all about, there seem to be several factors and motives. One is that President Trump has continued to threaten China with extra tariffs to protect U.S. jobs from cheap Chinese imports. If China can open up new markets for her exports she will not be as badly hit by any protectionist measures. The U.S. continues to have a huge balance of payments deficit with China, in March 2017 the U.S. exported $9.6bn but imported $34.2bn. China’s heavy dependence on sales into the U.S. is a problem that needed to be fixed. In 2015 China’s main trade partners were: United States $457bn, Hong Kong $273bn, Japan $152bn, Germany $97.4bn and South Korea $90.1bn. Shifting trade to new countries will strengthen and stabilize China’s economy.

Many analysts also point to the problems of over-capacity in China. Just looking at total imports and exports is too crude a measure, the real problem is that China’s growth rate has slowed and the excess capacity in building related industries (steel, cement, construction) need new markets. If China can kick-start economic development elsewhere in the world she solves two problems at once - over-capacity at home and opening up new markets abroad. The China Communications Construction Group has already agreed deals worth up $40 billion in contracts with ‘Belt and Road’ countries. Sinking so much money in loans that may never be repaid is quite a risk. Venezuela now owes China $65bn and is not in a position to repay. Analysts consider such a huge project will be impossible to manage effectively and huge amounts are likely to be misappropriated.

The initiative comes at a particularly opportune time for the U.K.. Always keen on free trade and instinctively anti-protectionist the U.K. has more to gain than most other countries. With difficult talks ahead on exit of the E.U. trading block the opening up of possible deals with China all over the world is very appealing. U.K. politicians have been very keen to promote the initiative and use its undoubted trading expertise to jointly open up new markets.

The initial proposals centered on the countries of central Asia - along the route of the old Silk Road out of China. The initiative is therefore a way of re-invigorating trading links that were active for a thousand years before trade moved to China’s southern ports. The vast bulk of Chinese development had been along the south and eastern coasts, the poorest inland provinces have been left well behind. Of particular importance is the troubled province of Xinjiang. Positioned on the fringes of China the province is more Central Asian than Chinese with a Muslim majority. With frequent terrorist attacks by separatists in the province, China struggles to keep tight control. Recently China has banned Muslim parents from giving their children Muslim names and is embarking on a system of DNA profiling of every citizen. With the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative deals with neighboring Central Asian states (Takjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan) the increased economic activity should lessen instability in the region.

The key point is that China is changing from an inward to an outward-looking nation, no longer putting internal development as the top priority. With increased economic involvement comes political power too, and some hawkish observers see this as the first stage in the building of a new Chinese Empire.

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In the Communist era attempts were made to improve agricultural yields; the commune at Dazhai was held up as the example for all rural communes to follow. The leader Chen Yonggui became highly acclaimed but by 1980 the whole enterprise had been exposed as a fraud, set up as political propaganda. The industrialization of Tiayuan and Datong since 1949 has been far reaching and many of Shanxi's cities have an industrial feel.

Shanxi, temple, mountains
Daoist monastery on Hengshan mountain in Shanxi

Places to visit in Shanxi

There are many historic sights to see in Shanxi, including: Congshan Monastery in Taiyuan dating back as far as the 6th century but rebuilt in the 14th. There is also the Shuanglin Monastery nearby. Guandi Temple , Xiezhou (commemorates a famous General from the Three Kingdoms period); Ancient City of Pingyao with many intact Ming and Qing buildings south-west of Taiyuan; Yingying Tang Pagoda at Yongji; Northern Mount Heng is a 6,617 feet [2,017 meters] sacred Daoist mountain in the north-east of the province (there is a Southern Hengshan too). Nearby is the Xuankongsi Hanging Monastery. Finally another place worth a visit is the Wooden Pagoda at Yingxian.

Buddhism , stupa, mountains, Shanxi
A large stupa in front of a Buddhist temple, Wutaishan, Shanxi

Mount Wutai

Chinese proverb


Shān qióng shuǐ jìn [shan qiong shui jin]
mountain poor water exhaust
Run out of food and water
Thirsty and starving; destitute

Wutai Shan (mountain) in northern Shanxi consists, as its name suggests of ‘five platforms or peaks’. The highest peak is to the north and is 10,036 feet [3,059 meters] high making it the highest mountain in northern China.

Mount Wutai is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. The platforms are named after the five compass points, which in China include center. Where ground is protected from the sun all year round there is permanent snow cover. It has one of the oldest Buddhist shrines - Dafu Temple originally of Han dynasty date with 400 rooms. One room, the Bronze Hall, has impressive flowers and Buddhist sculptures all made in bronze. By its side stands a large white Dagoba (a Buddhist stupa). Set apart from the main group is the ‘Temple of Buddha's Halo’ with buildings dating back to Northern Wei and Tang date. The surrounding mountain area has extensive coal reserves.

Jinci Temple

Sui dynasty, pagoda, Shanxi
Jinci Buddhist Pagoda at Taiyuan, Shanxi. It is an octagonal Sui Dynasty structure standing 38m high with seven stories reconstructed in 1751CE.

The ancient Buddhist Temple of Jinci is located 16 miles [25 kms] south-west of Taiyuan, Shanxi. Founded way back in the Shang dynasty at the Springs that form the source of the Jin River, the temple has been much altered over the centuries. The foundation legend talks of a girl who was mistreated by her step mother; when the girl gave water to a passing mysterious horseman she was given a jar that magically refilled with water whenever the girl cracked a whip. The wicked step mother muscled in and tried her luck with the whip but this time the water flowed without stopping and turned into an ever-flowing Spring. The area is arid and a continuous water source was a great boon.

There is a Ming theater on Mirror Terrace where Huixian Bridge crosses the historic Zhibo canal. The ‘Offerings Hall’ was built in 1168 but the main attraction is ‘Mother Goddess Hall’ or ‘Sacred Lady Hall’ (Shengmudian) rebuilt in 1102 probably commemorating the mother of Shuyu of the Zhou dynasty. It is a very old wooden building with fine Song dynasty carvings. General Guanyu of the Eastern Han dynasty also has a hall there.

Yungang Caves

y, buddha, sculpture
Buddha sculpture, Yungang caves, Shaanxi
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In northernmost Shanxi, 10 miles [16 kms] west of Datong, Shanxi are some of the best preserved Buddhist carvings in China. The Yungang Caves date back to the Period of Disunity (460-494). They were built by the short lived Northern Wei dynasty who had enthusiastically embraced the Buddhist faith. The carvings may have been modeled on the earlier ones at Dunhuang, Gansu but these are carved into the rock in the Indian tradition rather than molded. After the Northern Wei moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang in 494 the area fell into disrepair until the Liao dynasty in northern China repaired and restored the monuments. The valley has a series of about 1,000 grottoes with at one time an amazing 100,000 carvings of Buddha in all sorts of sizes and guises. However, over time the numbers have reduced to 51,000. The carvings are embellished with costumes and even musical instruments giving a vivid portrayal of life in ancient times. The 52 feet [16 meters] statue in Grotto 19 is an impressive carving and may represent the Northern Wei Emperor Daiwu (446-452) who persecuted the Buddhists.


Shanxi province is divided between the cold and dry of the north and the hot and humid climate of the south. There are many ancient and religious sites dotted throughout Shanxi. The local cuisine uses wheat and lamb extensively which gives it a distinctive northern Chinese flavor.

Shanxi Climate

Temperature axisClimate ChartRainfall axis
Climate chart for Shanxi
Both Temp Rainfall ° C/mms ° F/ins Key
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Major CitiesPopulation
Changzhi 445,368
Datong 1,173,300
Taiyuan 2,321,500
Yangquan 477,686
Yuncheng 680,043


Yuncheng Guangdong Airport 运城关公机场 YCU IATA / ZBYC ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 6.8 miles (11.0 kms) from Yuncheng
See map of location Yuncheng Guangdong Airport
Taiyuan Wusu International Airport 太原武宿国际机场 TYN IATA / ZBYN ICAO
The airport has 1 terminal and is located 9.3 miles (15.0 kms) from Taiyuan
See map of location Taiyuan Wusu International Airport

City populations for 2012, Province statistics National Bureau of Statistics 2014

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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Shanxi, China', last updated 6 Dec 2016, Web,

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