Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia are located in the central and eastern parts of West China, a place where the Qinghai-Tibet, the Inner Mongolian, and the Loess Plateaus meet.
Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia have long been closely related to the Yellow River because its upper course flows through them, irrigating their farmland and bringing prosperity to their people. The magnificent Liujia Gorge in Gansu and the Qingtong Gorge in Ningxia where the Yellow River passes through provide favorable conditions for power generation. Large-scale, multi-purpose projects for taming the Yellow River and utilizing its water resources have been built at the gorges. The Yellow River has not only nurtured the people on its banks since remote antiquity but also created brilliant history and culture in the area. In fact, the river valley is the cradle of the Chinese nation as a whole.
Gansu is situated on the upper reaches of the Yellow River in the northwest. The ancestors of the Chinese began to inhabit Gansu some 200,000 years ago. In 121 B.C. during the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty, a trade route that ran through Gansu's Hexi Corridor and linked China with Central and Western Asia-and ultimately with the whole of the western world-was opened. Later known as the Silk Road, it remained the only artery of trade and culture between China and the outside world. Both Zhang Qian (?-114 B.C.) and Ban Chao (32-102) took the route when they were sent to Central Asia as envoys by the Han Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty monk Xuan Zang (602-664) traversed to India through the route in search of Buddhist scriptures. The Venetian traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324) went to Yuan Dynasty China via the route. Lin Zexu (1785-1850), a high-ranking official and strong advocate of opium prohibition of the Qing Dynasty, also followed the route when he was exiled to Ili in Xinjiang.
Scattered along the ancient Silk Road in Gansu are a great number of cultural relics and historical sites. They include the Majishan (Wheat Stack Mountain) Caves in Tianshui, the Taoist temple on Kongdongshan (Kongtong Mountain) in Pingliang, the Wangmugong (Temple of the Queen Mother of the West) Caves in Jinchuan, the Binglingsi Caves in Yongjing, the Dayun Temple and Tiantishan (Heavenly Ladder Mountain) Caves in Wuwei, the Dafosi (Giant Buddha Temple) in Zhangye, the Matisi (Horse's Hoof Temple) in Sunan, the Heishan (Black Mountain) rock carvings at Jiayuguan, the Changma Caves in Yumen, and the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang.
Ningxia's Guyuan boasts excellent caves on Xumishan (Sumeru Mountain) which, regarded as treasures of ancient Chinese art, compare favorably with China's best caves at Dunhuang, Datong, and Luoyang.
The Hetao (Great Bend of the Yellow River) Plain is of great importance to both Ningxia and Inner Mongolia in terms of agriculture. The Yellow River runs eastward from Gansu to Ningxia. After reaching Ningxia's Zhongwei County, it flows north along the foothills of the Helan Mountains. Blocked by the Yinshan Mountains in Linhe County, Inner Mongolia, it runs eastward again until it reaches Inner Mongolia's Togtoh County where it runs south abruptly and continues its course along the Luliang Mountains. As a result, the river forms a great bend that encloses the Ningxia-Inner Mongolia Plain on three sides like a too (bag), hence the name Hetao (River Bag).
The western part of the Hetao Plain, popularly known as Xitao, belongs to Ningxia. Lauded as a place with lush southern-type fields north of the Great Wall, it helped nurture the brilliant Xixia Culture that existed from 1038 to 1227. The eastern part of the plain, which lies between the Ordos Plateau and the Yinshan Mountains and is habitually referred to as Dongtao, belongs to Inner Mongolia. It is the grain producing area in western Inner Mongolia and has long been reputed as the granary north of the Great Wall.
Inner Mongolia constitutes part of China's northern frontier region. Its length east-west measures some 2,500 kilometers. The area has a vast expanse of land, beautiful and rich in natural resources. Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, is a base chosen by the state for producing special articles needed by China's ethnic minorities and is one of the major open cities in the northern frontier region. Inner Mongolia extends over the entire Inner Mongolian Plateau. Richly endowed with lush pastures and grasslands.
In the 13th century, the Mongols began to appear on the stage of history in China. They have left us a rich cultural heritage, an example of which is the world-famous Mausoleum of Genghis Khan. With a rich endowment of tourism resources, Inner Mongolia's tourist industry is forging rapidly ahead. It has attracted a great number of tourists from China and abroad, especially those who want to return to nature, with its blue sky, white clouds, verdant pastures, fine horses, and colorful folk customs.
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