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Home >> China City Guide >> Gansu Province >> Zhangye

Zhangye

Wooden Tower, China ZhangyeZhangye is a town that has lost much of its former glory. It lies about 450km northwest of the capital Lanzhou of Gansu Province, and nowadays is most famed as both a small station on the Lanzhou-Urumqi rail line, and for its production of lethal liquor, including Zhangye Rice Wine, Zhangye Nan Wine and Siluchun Wine. Things were not always this way.

As early as 5,000 years ago, Zhangye was a popular dwelling place, a natural area of plain, surrounded by twin mountains, Qilianshan and Helishan. At this time the area was considered Tibetan, part of the large area of influence that the present day province struggles to remember. Even today the Tibetan influence is still here, especially a little to the south around the village of Mati.

In 111 BC, during the Western Han Dynasty, Zhengye was officially designated as an administrative town. The town grew to prominence along with the famed Silk Road, when virtually every merchant and traveler planning on going to Xinjiang and beyond, from central China (Zhongyuan), had to pass through Zhangye. By the Ming Dynasty (1364-1644 AD), the town had grown into a critical garrison for soldiers guarding the Great Wall. For a period in the Ming, the town even served as the capital of Gansu province.

Giant Buddha, China Zhangye CityThe signs of this glory are now all but faded in the city itself. A few attractions remain to signify this, most notably China's largest indoor reclining Buddha, a large minority population, including a scattering of Tibetans, and the crumbling Great Wall that runs to the south of the town. Most visitors here seem content with no more than a day here. Of more interest are the areas out of town, and while the tourism industry is happy to promote the famous Horse's Hoof Temple (Mati si) some 60km away, of better value are the villages and little, lesser known temples, of the Sunan Yugu (Tibetan) Autonomous Prefecture, around Mati.

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