/shahn"see"/, n.
Older Spelling. Shanxi.

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Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Shan-hsi,  (Pinyin)  Shanxi,  

      sheng (province) of northern China. It has an area of about 60,200 square miles (156,000 square kilometres). Roughly rectangular in shape, Shansi is bounded by the provinces of Hopeh to the east, Honan to the south and southeast, and Shensi to the west and by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the north. The name Shansi (“Western Mountains”) testifies to the rugged terrain of the territory. The largest city and provincial capital, T'ai-yüan (Taiyuan), is located in the centre of the province.

      Shansi has always held a strategic position as a gateway to the fertile plains of Hopeh and Honan. Since ancient times it has also served as a buffer between China and the Mongolian and Central Asian steppes. A key route for military and trading expeditions, it was one of the major avenues for the entrance of Buddhism into China from India. Today it is important for its vast reserves of coal and iron, which form the basis of heavy industrial development, and for its production of cotton for export.

Physical and human geography

The land
      Two-thirds of the province is composed of a plateau, part of China's vast Loess Plateau, that lies at elevations between 1,000 and 3,000 feet (300 and 900 metres) above sea level. The plateau is bounded by the Wu-t'ai and Heng Mountains on the north, the T'ai-hang Mountains (Taihang Mountains) on the east, and the Lü-liang Mountains (Lüliang Mountains) on the west. The eastern mountains average between 5,000 and 6,000 feet in height and reach their maximum elevation at Mount Shih-ku (8,300 feet), located in Hopeh Province. The highest peak in the west, Mount Kuan-ti, reaches an elevation of 9,288 feet, while the northern ranges are crowned by Mount Wu-t'ai (Wutai, Mount) at 10,033 feet.

      The Huang Ho (Huang He) (Yellow River) flows through a mountain gorge from north to south and forms the western border with Shensi Province. At Feng-ling-tu the river turns sharply eastward and forms part of the southern border with Honan Province. The southwest corner of the province is part of the highland region that extends from Kansu to Honan provinces and is covered with a layer of loess. The Fen River Valley comprises a chain of linked, loess-filled basins that crosses the plateau from northeast to southwest. The largest of the valley's basins is the 100-mile-long T'ai-yüan Basin. North of T'ai-yüan are three detached basins, which are areas of cultivation. Farther north the Ta-t'ung Basin forms a separate feature.

Drainage and soils
      Several rivers drain eastward and southeastward, cutting valleys and ravines through the T'ai-hang and Wu-t'ai ranges, including the Hu-t'o and its tributaries. In the west several rivers cut across the Lü-liang Mountains and drain into the Huang Ho; principal among these is the Fen, which flows southward through two-thirds of the province. The northern mountains are drained chiefly by the Sang-kan (Sanggan River), which flows eastward.

      In the mountains, several types of light-brown and brown forest soils are common, with meadow-steppe varieties found at higher elevations. Alluvial soils in the central and southern portions of the province are formed mainly of calcareous (lime-bearing) brown soils deposited by the Fen River. There are also loess and lime deposits. Natural organic materials are not abundant, and salinity is excessive.

      Shansi has a semiarid climate. The mean annual rainfall ranges from less than 10 inches (250 millimetres) a year in the northwest to a maximum of 20 inches in the southeast. Between 70 and 80 percent of the annual rainfall occurs between June and September. Temperatures range from a January mean of 19° F (−7° C) and a July mean of 75° F (24° C) at T'ai-yüan, to a January mean of 3° F (−16° C) and a July mean of 72° F (22° C) at Ta-t'ung. Winter droughts are common because the plateau is subject to the full force of the dry northwestern wind that blows in the winter from the Mongolian Plateau. In summer the southeastern monsoon (a rain-bearing wind) is blocked by the T'ai-hang Mountains. Hailstones are a common natural hazard, as are frequent floods, particularly along the course of the Fen.

Plant and animal life
      Vegetation distribution primarily depends on the direction in which the mountain slopes face. The southern slopes are characteristically covered by species such as oak, pine, buckthorn, and honey locust, which are more tolerant of drier conditions than are the linden, hazel, maple, and ash that prevail on the more humid northern slopes. The province has long been cultivated, and such natural vegetation as remains consists mainly of shrubs and grasses; isolated forests occur on the north-facing slopes. Destruction of the original forest cover in ancient times eliminated most animal species.

The people
      Most of the province's people are of Han (Chinese) origin and speak the Northern Mandarin dialect of Chinese. The small minority populations include the Hui (Chinese Muslims), in the T'ai-yüan–Yü-tz'u region, and some Mongols (Mongol) and Manchu around Ta-t'ung. Most of the populace lives in agricultural villages. The highest rural densities occur in the T'ai-yüan Basin, in the southeast around Ch'ang-chih, and in the Fen Valley.

      The two principal urban areas are T'ai-yüan, the capital and leading industrial and mining complex, and Ta-t'ung (Datong), a mining and rail transport centre. Other manufacturing and transport centres include Yü-tz'u (Jinzhong) and Yang-ch'üan (Yangquan), both east of T'ai-yüan, and Ch'ang-chih (Changzhi) in the southeast. Smaller cities are Ch'ü-wo (Hou-ma) and Lin-fen, both situated in the fertile Fen Valley; Fen-yang, immediately southwest of T'ai-yüan; and Yün-ch'eng, on the Hsieh Ch'ih salt lake in the southwest.

The economy
      Shansi is China's major coal region, producing one-quarter of the country's output. Proven reserves of anthracite and high-grade coking coal have supported the development of heavy industry and thermal generation of electricity. Iron ore is mined from vast deposits in the Ma-an Mountains district of central Shansi. The largest titanium and vanadium (metallic elements used in alloys such as steel) deposits in China are located near Fen-hsi. Other mined minerals include silver, zinc, copper, and edible salt.

      Because of widespread erosion, only about one-third of the province is under cultivation. Extensive soil and water conservation efforts since 1949 have taken the form of terracing, afforestation, the digging of irrigation canals, diking of cultivated plots, soil desalinization, and land reclamation along rivers.

      In the extreme north the short growing season and long, cold winter limit cultivation to one annual crop of spiked millet, spring wheat, naked oats (oats with no covering on the kernels), potatoes, and sesame. In the rest of the province—except for the mountainous areas—the longer growing season permits three crops in two years or two crops in one year. Winter wheat, millet, soybeans, kaoliang (a variety of grain sorghum), corn (maize), and cotton are raised in adequately irrigated areas. Some tobacco and peanuts (groundnuts) as well as some fruits are produced in the central basins and on the Huang Ho floodplain.

      Only a small part of Shansi's cultivated acreage is devoted to cash crops, such as cotton and sesame, the latter grown both for its oil seeds and for its fibre. Other cash crops include castor beans, rapeseed, and Indian hemp.

      The relatively low ratio of population to land over much of Shansi's hilly terrain has traditionally fostered animal husbandry. Sheep are raised for their high wool yields. Domestic animals include pigs, horses, yellow oxen (for transport), donkeys, and chickens.

      Most of the province's industries are concentrated in the T'ai-yüan–Yü-tz'u region. The iron and steel industry produces ingot steel, pig iron, and finished steel products. Heavy machinery, industrial chemicals, and chemical fertilizers are produced, as are cement, paper, textiles, milled flour, and wine. Other iron and steel centres include Yang-ch'üan, Ch'ang-chih, Ta-t'ung (which also produces cement and mining machinery), and Lin-fen.

      Shansi relies heavily on rail lines, both for intraprovince transport and for shipping raw materials, industrial commodities, and foodstuffs outside the province. The longest of these, the T'ung-p'u trunk line, runs from Ta-t'ung to Feng-ling-tu, in the southwest corner of the province. Additional branch lines connect the main line with newly opened industrial and mining sites. Major efforts have been made to relieve the pressure on Shansi's railways from ever-increasing freight volume and limited coal transport capability. Rail lines have been double-tracked and electrified, and trunk and spur lines have been constructed.

      Long-distance, all-weather roads have been extended, especially near coal mines; many roads serve as feeder routes to the rail lines. The Fen River is navigable for small flat-bottomed boats as far north as Lin-fen. Freight traffic on the Fen, as well as on the north–south section of the Huang Ho, is insignificant, however.

Administration and social conditions
      The chief provincial administrative body from 1967 to 1980 was the Shansi Provincial Revolutionary Committee. It was replaced in 1980 by the People's Government, which is the administrative arm of the People's Congress. The province (sheng) is divided into four prefecture-level municipalities (shih) and seven prefectures (ti-ch'ü). At the next lower level there are counties (hsien) and county-level municipalities (shih). An Office for Planning the Energy Resource Base of Shansi was established in 1982.

      The educational and medical institutions that were established in Shansi, mainly through foreign initiative, between 1898 and 1910 played a minor role in ameliorating the widespread poverty, illiteracy, and substandard health conditions that then prevailed. Shansi University, founded in T'ai-yüan by an English missionary in 1902, was one of the first in China to offer Western curricula in liberal arts, law, and medicine. Since 1949 technical schools for agriculture, mining, forestry, and machine technology have been established, as have universities, colleges, senior middle schools, and primary schools. The medical colleges and affiliated hospitals in T'ai-yüan offer treatment and full courses of study in both Western and traditional Chinese medicine.

      Public works projects include a centralized water supply system based at Lan-ts'un that regulates the flow of the groundwater supply of the T'ai-yüan Basin, modernized sewerage and waste disposal facilities in the major cities, housing projects, and extensive “green belt” areas that are planted with thousands of trees.

Cultural life
      Shansi's long-standing position as an avenue of communication between the North China Plain, the Mongolian steppes, and Central Asia gave rise to a rich and varied cultural and folkloric tradition. Several distinctive forms of Shansi opera became popular under the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties. Metalworking has been a specialty of Shansi craftsmen since the 2nd millennium BC. The province was also famous for the uniquely sculpted decorative tiles and glazed pottery figures used for temple decoration. The Chin-tz'u, near T'ai-yüan, is Shansi's best known temple complex; it was originally built in the 5th century AD. During subsequent periods it served as a monastery and as the centre for several religious cults.

      Pollen analyses from western and southern Shansi reveal that several cereal plants were grown there as early as the 5th to the 3rd millennium BC. During the Hsi (Western) Chou period (1111–771 BC) the fief of Chin (now a colloquial and literary name for Shansi) was established in the area of modern Ch'ü-wo (Hou-ma) along the Fen River in the southwest.

      Under the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) Shansi assumed what was to become its traditional role as a buffer state between the pastoral nomads to the north and west and the sedentary Chinese farmers to the south and east. A predilection for political autonomy was paralleled by a commercial aggressiveness that led to the rise in the 18th and 19th centuries of a class of Shansi bankers and merchants famous throughout China.

      From the end of the Han dynasty until the reunification of the empire under the Sui dynasty in 581, Shansi came under the dominance of several short-lived dynasties, most prominent of which was the Wei dynasty (AD 386–534/535) of the Pei-ch'ao (Northern Dynasties). Buddhism prospered for the first time during the Wei period; it was from Shansi that the Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-hsien began his legendary journey to India. The Buddhist cave sculptures dating from this period and preserved at Yün-kang today constitute some of China's most precious art treasures.

      From the 7th century until the end of the 14th century, control over the area shifted back and forth among local military leaders, invading Turkic and Mongol forces, and representatives of the Chinese dynasty in power. Some stability was restored during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

      Antiforeign feeling ran high during the latter years of the Ch'ing (Manchu (Qing dynasty)) dynasty (1644–1911/12), despite the fact that there was relatively little foreign influence in the province. A few manufacturing establishments were set up in T'ai-yüan in 1898, and a French- and Chinese-financed railway between T'ai-yüan and Shih-chia-chuang in western Hopeh was built from 1904 to 1907. In 1900 antiforeign feeling took a violent form when an English mission church in T'ai-yüan was burned by the I-ho ch'uan (a secret society that came to be known as the “Boxers”), and foreigners and Chinese Christian converts were killed. This led to the outbreak of what became known as the Boxer Rebellion, which eventually spread to Peking.

      After the overthrow of the Ch'ing dynasty in 1911/12, the Shansi warlord Yen Hsi-shan (1883–1960) ruled as an absolute dictator until the end of World War II. Yen was instrumental in establishing the nucleus of a heavy industrial base and in opening the T'ung-p'u railway in 1934.

      During the Sino-Japanese War of 1937 to 1945, the Japanese developed coal resources in the T'ai-yüan Basin and expanded heavy industry. They were, however, continually harassed by Communist guerrillas who operated from mountain bases. The agricultural and handicrafts cooperatives established at these bases were instrumental in facilitating economic and social recovery after Communist forces assumed control of Shansi in 1949.

Baruch Boxer

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Universalium. 2010.

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