Located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, Sichuan, China’s fifth largest province, has an area of 485,000 square kilometers and a population of more than 87.5 million. The terrain and relief of the province descend from west to east, and are bowl-shaped. This contributes to a varied natural environment and unique landscapes and makes the province a highly popular travel destination.
The mysterious plateau in western Sichuan
The plateau in western Sichuan is part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. At an altitude of 4,000-4,900 meters, it tilts from north to south and is made up of the north-western plateau and southern mountainous terrain. This plateau is home to pandas, which are found in the wild only in China. Jiuzhai Valley, Huanglong, Hailuogou, and other natural marvels are all found in the western plateau, from where Tibetan, Qiang, Yi, and other ethnic groups originated.
The richly endowed Sichuan Basin
With an area of 162,000 sq km, the Sichuan Basin is an economically prosperous area and the most colorful out of China’s four major basins. Chengdu, the provincial capital, is located on the Chengdu Plain which is situated in the Basin. The gentle terrain, criss-crossing rivers and canals, and fertile land of the Plain have contributed to the distinctive gravity irrigation forged over the centuries. As a major Chinese grain producer and an ancient cultural center, it’s long been known as the Land of Abundance.
Sichuan has a total of 1,419 rivers, large and small, which are all part of the mighty Yangtze River, the third longest river in the world. Among them, 345 rivers each have a drainage area of more than 500 sq km and 22 rivers with a drainage area of more than 1,000 sq km. So the province is aptly referred to as the Province of a Thousand Rivers.
Early in the Shang and Zhou periods (1600 BC-256 BC), the present-day Sichuan had two states: One, founded by the Shu people, was in the west; and the other, controlled by the Ba people, was in the east. This explains the historical name of the province--Ba-Shu. As early as 4,000-5,000 years ago, the Chengdu Plain was the origin of the culture that arose in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The Plain was home to the Sanxingdui Culture and The Jinsha Site.
Sochuan is a renowned cultural center with many great people. Its unique geographical location and long history have contributed to the brilliant Ba-Shu culture.
A land of poetry
A great many important historical figures were born here or lived here. Sichuan is home to China’s most brilliant poetry, which has been cherished by generations of readers. The writing careers of Li Bai and Du Fu, two of China’s finest poets, were closely connected with the province. Sichuan’s three major poetry museums, Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage in Chengdu, Li Bai’s Residence in Jiangyou, and the Sus Residence (Su Dongpo), are amongst the most popular destinations for tourists after Jiuzhai Valley and Huanglong.
Buddhism and Taoism are the two major religions in the province. Mt Qingcheng, one of the origins of Taoism, and Dujiang Dam are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Mt Emei is one of China’s four major Buddhist mountains. In 1996, the Mt Emei-Leshan Giant Buddha was added to the World Heritage List as a cultural and natural site.
The popularity of Buddhism and Taoism over the centuries has resulted in more than 1,000 temples, grottos, stone carvings, and paintings, which are now well-preserved as historical cultural artifacts, such as the world’s biggest Leshan Giant Buddha (dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the 71-meter tall Thousand Buddhas on Cliffs (dated back to the Sui Dynasty (581-618).
The period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280)
Of all the provinces in China, Sichuan lays claim to the largest number of antiquities from the Three Kingdoms. According to both ancient and modern historians, of the three Kingdoms (Wei, Shu and Wu), the Kingdom of Shu was the best governed. Renowned historical sites include Wu Hou Shrine in Chengdu, Zhang Fei Temple in Langzhong, Jiangwei City in Wenchuan, and the Shu Kingdom Roads at Jianmen Pass.
Sichuan is home to 15 ethnic groups including Yi, Tibetan, Qiang, Hui, Mongolian, Hmong and Tujia. Most of these people live on the plateau in the west and the mountainous regions in the south. Among them, Tibetan, Qiang, and Yi are representatives.
Tibetans are historically known as Tubo. Sichuan has over one million Tibetan people distributed mainly in the western plateau. Sichuan has the greatest number of Tibetans outside Tibet.
The Qiang is an ancient people with a history of thousands of years. They live mainly in Maoxian County in Ngawa Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture and Beichuan Qiang Autonomous County in Mianyang City. Sichuan is the only province with a large Qiang community. Qiang people worship white stones, a sacred symbol of their polytheism. Of all their religious rituals, the one most often held is in praise of heaven, while the most ceremonious is reserved for the gods of mountains.
The Yi people in Liangshan identify themselves as Nuo Su. According to popular local folklore, they descended from a primitive tribe more than 2,000 years ago.
Sichuan, known as the Land of Abundance, boasts great natural beauty and its inhabitants are predominantly Han people, the majority ethnic group in China. Its mild climate, abundance of nature and economic prosperity make it best known as a place of leisure. The local people love Bai Long Men Zhen (chatting). In tea houses, local people would often chat cheerfully on numerous topics over tea.
As the development of western China accelerates, Sichuan focuses on its six major pillar industries: electronics and IT, hydropower, mechanical metallurgy, pharmaceutical chemicals, food & beverage, and tourism. The province boasts favorable investment environment and growth potential. As of May 2013, more than 230 Fortune 500 corporations had started their global operations in Chengdu. In 2012, its GDP rose 12.6% YoY to 2,384.98 billion yuan, and Per capita GPD advanced 12.3% YoY to 29,579 yuan.
The Sichuan Basin has a subtropical monsoon climate. Its unique geographical relief brings a warm, humid, foggy climate with short periods of sunshine. The average temperature is 5-8℃ in January and 25-29℃ in July. The annual average temperature stands at 15-19℃. Weather in Chengdu means rainy days and short periods of sunshine, with more than 200 rainy days per annum. The high-altitude plateau in western Sichuan has a typical plateau climate. Most of the plateau is very cold throughout the year with low but concentrated precipitation, and high diurnal temperature range. This area has plenty of sunshine during the year, with around 2,500 sunshine hours every year. This is in sharp contrast to the climate in the Basin area.