Neolithic cultures such as the Dadiwan, Majiayao, and Qijia lived in Gansu Province. Many different ethnic groups such as the Bonan, Dongxiang, Han, Hui, Kazakh, Manchu, Mongolian, Salar, Tibetan, Tu, and Uyghur have lived there since ancient times.
Gansu Province’s role in ancient China
Gansu province has played a central role in China’s history since ancient times. It was the gateway between China and the west as the Silk Road wound its way from town to town in Gansu. Merchants and traders on the Silk Road moved items such as tea and silk from ancient China to such countries as India, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Products and ideas from the western world flowed back into China, including religions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.
To keep the Huns and other tribal groups from invading from the north, the Great Wall was extended through the mountains and into the desert during the Western Han (206 BCE – 23 CE) dynasty.
Gansu has had a long history of being controlled by various countries. Tibet had control during part of the Tang (618 – 907 CE) dynasty. The Uyghur’s had control from 848 to 1036 CE.
The Muslim Rebellion began in Gansu province in 1862 CE and was put down by the Qing (1644 – 1911 CE) dynasty army.
Ancient cities in Gansu Province
Gansu province has many ancient cities. Seven are described below: Dunhuang, Jinchang, Linxia, Longnan, Tianshui, Wuwei, and Zhangye.
On the far western edge of Gansu Province is Dunhuang (Sha Zhou). This city marked the western boundary for the ancient Chinese empire. It was a military outpost that also served as the last link with China on the Silk Road.
To mark the boundary between China and the Western World, the ancient Chinese built thick walls with doorways to keep the invading tribes out and to allow passage of camels and carts between China and the West.
Yangguan Pass and Yumenguan Pass were two such doorways between the eastern and the western worlds. Both passes were built during the Western Han ((206 BCE – 93 CD) dynasty.
The ancient Chinese built Buddhist temples in the caves near Dunhuang beginning in the early fourth century CE.
Legend has it that Roman soldiers living in Jinchang (Zhelaizhai Village, Liqian) married into local tribes and into Western Han dynasty families over 2000 years ago. Roman style buildings can still be found in this area of China.
Temples and pagodas from the Chen (557 – 289 CE), Sui (581 – 618 CE), and Tang (618 – 907 CE) dynasties are found in Jinchang.
Jinchang is home to the third largest desert in China – the Badain Jaran Desert.
Linxia (Han, Daohe, Hezhou) is another military and government center on the Silk Road. It was used as a connection between the extreme western boundary of ancient China and the central interior of ancient China. Linxia has been important to the ancient Chinese emperors and their dynasties since the Qin (221 – 207 BCE) dynasty.
As a crossroad between the western edge of ancient China and the rest of the empire, Linxia has been home to many tribes and religions. Buddhist temples built in caves and Islamic mosques share Linxia.
The first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, was from Longnan. The Qin rulers held much of the territory, and when Qin Shihunagdi took the throne as the first emperor of China, he included Longnan in his Chinese empire.
Many people lived in this part of China during the Zhou (1100 – 771 BCE) dynasty.
In ancient China, Tianshui was known as Qinting. People have lived in this area since the Zhou dynasty.
Fuxi, a mythological ancient Chinese wise king, was born in Tianshui.
Near Tianshui is Maiji Mountain, which is home to Maiji Caves. Starting in the Qin dynasty, the Maiji caves were used as Buddhist temples and shrines. The ancient Chinese painted murals on the cave walls and placed clay statues in niches or carved them directly into the cave walls. Some of the statues are more than 50 feet high.
Additionally, a Neolithic site of the Yangshao (Zhangshao) people has been uncovered near Tianshui.
Wuwei (Liangzhou) was one of the cities along the Silk Road. It played an important role in many ancient Chinese dynasties including the Western Han (206 – 23 BCE), the Eastern Han (25 – 220 CE), and the Three Kingdoms – Wu (222 – 280 CE).
Ancient temples and tombs can be found in Wuwei. A Confucian temple from the Ming (1368 – 1644 CE) dynasty holds over 30,000 books. A tomb, Leitai Tomb, was built during the Eastern Han dynasty for a government official. It is famous for the bronze sculptures that were placed in the tomb. One of the bronze sculptures, a galloping horse, has become the symbol of modern tourism in China.
Zhangye (Ganzhou) was an important city on the Silk Road where traders from many countries sold their goods. Two important architectural buildings in Zhangye are the Wooden Pagoda Temple and the Giant Buddha Temple.
The Wooden Pagoda was built during the Chen (557 – 589 CE) dynasty. It is a nine-story octagon (eight-sided) building that uses wooden pegs instead of metal nails to hold the wood together. Each story has rooms, windows, and doors like the one before it. Over time, many dynasties, such as the Sui (581 – 618 CE), the Tang (618 – 907 CE), the Ming 1368-1644 CE), and the Qing (1644-1911 CE), rebuilt or renovated the temple.
The Giant Buddha Temple was built during the Northern Song (960 – 1126 CE) and the Southern Song (1127 – 1279 CE) dynasties. A reclining Buddha statue located in the temple is over 100 feet long. It is painted and has gold plating. The temple also includes a thirteen story clay pagoda.
Ganzu Province Geography
Gansu is a province in western China that actually is the geographical center of the Chinese empire. Bordering Mongolia and Tibet, it has desert (Gobi, Badain Jaran, and Tengger), mountain, and plains areas. The Yellow River flows through part of Gansu province.
Ganzu Province Culture
Gansu province is famous for carpets, such as Tibetan-style patterns and jade (luminous) cups.
Gansu province cuisine is renowned for its pulled wheat noodles, carved melons and flour paste strips.
Famous People from Ganzu Province
- Fuxi: mythological ancient Chinese wise king
- Zhang Qian (200 – 114 BCE): explorer and envoy
- Qin Shihuangdi: First emperor of China, builder of the Great Wall of China, creator of the terracotta army