▪ autonomous region, China
in full  Hui Autonomous Region of Ningsia,  Chinese (Wade-Giles)  Ning-hsia-hui-tsu Tzu-chih-ch'ü,  (Pinyin)  Ningxia Huizu Zizhiqu,  

      autonomous region located in north-central China. It is bounded on the east in part by Shensi; on the east, south, and west by Kansu; and on the north by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Most of the region is desert, but the vast plain of the Huang Ho (Yellow River) in the north has been irrigated for agriculture for centuries. The total area of the autonomous region is about 25,600 square miles (66,400 square kilometres). Its capital is Yin-ch'uan. Ningsia is nearly coextensive with the ancient kingdom of the Tangut people, known in China as the Hsi Hsia; (Xi Xia) after its conquest by Genghis Khan, it was named Ningsia (“Peaceful Hsia”).

Physical and human geography

The land
      Physiographically, the Ningsia region can be divided into two parts. Southern Ningsia is part of the Loess Plateau, with the Liu-p'an Mountains (Liupan Mountains) as the main ridge. The region is covered with a thick layer of loess (wind-deposited soil)—which in some places is more than 300 feet deep—and the topography is generally fairly flat. Northern Ningsia is made up for the most part of the Ningsia plain of the Huang Ho (Huang He). The river enters Ningsia from the Tsinghai plateau in Kansu and flows east, then north into Inner Mongolia. West of the plain are the Ho-lan Mountains. These mountains serve as a shelter against the sandstorms from the T'eng-ko-li Desert, which lies to the west of the mountains.

      On an elevation of 3,600–3,900 feet (1,100–1,200 metres) above sea level, the Ningsia plain slopes gradually from south to north. The plain is an arid area, but the Huang Ho provides irrigation. Many canals have been built over the centuries. The network of willow-lined canals and paddy fields gives the landscape a look resembling that of southern China.

      The climate of Ningsia is continental. Temperatures range from an annual average maximum of 80° F (27° C) to an annual average minimum of 7° F (−14° C). Yearly precipitation on the Ningsia plain is only about eight inches (200 millimetres).

The people
      The ethnic composition of Ningsia includes the Han (Chinese), who constitute the majority of the population; Hui (Chinese Muslims), the largest minority group; and Manchu and small numbers of Tibetans and Mongols. Nearly all the people speak Mandarin Chinese, with some speaking Tibetan and Mongolian, and the predominant religions are Islām and Buddhism. Islām has the most believers, primarily among the Hui.

      The region is predominantly rural, with most of the population engaged in pasturing and farming the land. It is one of China's more sparsely settled areas. In the widely scattered cities, residents traditionally have been devoted to handicrafts. Since 1949, however, more workers have begun to be employed in mining and manufacturing. The capital, Yin-ch'uan, is Ningsia's largest city.

The economy
      The Ningsia plain produces abundant wheat and good-quality rice. An intricate system of ancient and new irrigation canals has improved agricultural yields in the region, although the use of chemical fertilizers is well below the national average. Cash crops include sugar beets. In the mixed agricultural and pastoral areas, a good breed of sheep, a domesticated form of the argali of eastern Mongolia, is raised. Its wool is soft, white, and lustrous. The Manchu especially have long been known for breeding and raising pigs. Melons and apricots are also grown in quantity.

      Mineral resources of Ningsia are limited to coking coal reserves in the P'ing-lo and Shih-tsui-shan areas, near the Inner Mongolian border. Coal was mined on a small scale in the past but has been expanded since the construction of the Pao-t'ou–Lan-chou railroad in 1958. There also are reserves of gypsum, glass, and limestone.

      Yin-ch'uan (Yinchuan), in the centre of the Ningsia plain, was well known in ancient times as a border city on the western frontier of China. Until the mid-20th century it was largely a trading centre for farm and animal products. Medium-sized and small factories, including a farm-tool plant and a woolen-textile mill, have since been built there. The Huang Ho, to the east, provides irrigation and facilities for water transportation.

      Industry has grown steadily. Natural resources and agricultural products such as wool and sugar form the foundation of many enterprises. The region produces consumer goods such as paper, foodstuffs, and wool and cotton fabrics. An extension of the main Peking–Pao-t'ou railway, completed in 1958, links Yin-ch'uan to two major regional industrial bases, Pao-t'ou (in Inner Mongolia, to the north) and Lan-chou (in Kansu, to the south). A highway bridge built across the Huang Ho in the 1970s near Yin-ch'uan has further stimulated economic development.

Administration and social conditions
      The region has two prefecture-level municipalities (shih), Yin-ch'uan and Shih-tsui-shan. There are two prefectures (ti-ch'ü), Yin-nan and Ku-yüan. The autonomous region is further subdivided into counties (hsien).

      Ningsia was formerly a backward area in education. In 1935 there were only two high schools, two normal schools, and about 200 elementary schools, attended by very few of the children. Since the Communist government was organized in 1949, there has been much improvement. Illiteracy has been markedly reduced. Health care also has been transformed with the building of clinics and hospitals.

Cultural life
      Traditional Hui cultural life was intimately interrelated with Islām (Islāmic world). The Hui woman traditionally kept house; her role was domestic, and she could not undertake outside work. When they went out, Hui women traditionally wore the veil to conceal their faces, and they were forbidden to talk to males. The traditional culture has undergone changes, however. Under the Communist regime, for example, Hui women have had to do farm work in the communes and production work in the factories.

      The region south of the Huang Ho was incorporated into the Ch'in (Qin dynasty) Empire in the 3rd century BC, at which time walls were built throughout the area. Irrigation canals on the Ningsia plains of the Huang Ho dating from the Ch'in (221–206 BC), Han (206 BC–AD 25), and T'ang (AD 618–907) dynasties provide further evidence that the area has long been inhabited. In the 11th century the area became part of the kingdom of the Tangut people, Hsi Hsia, in western China. Yin-ch'uan was captured by Genghis Khan early in the 13th century and remained tributary to China.

      As Mongol power declined and Turkish-speaking Muslims migrated from oasis settlements to the west, Ningsia came increasingly under Islāmic influence. The descendants of Muslim settlers maintained their separateness from Chinese society. In the mid-19th century Ningsia became embroiled in the general Muslim revolt in the northwest, and tension between Han and Hui continued well into the 20th century. After 1911 the region came under the control of Muslim warlords, and Ningsia, as part of the “Muslim” belt, became part of the political base of the Ma clan of Ho-chou. Wooed by the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang)—to which they declared nominal allegiance—the Japanese, and the Russians, the region remained an arena of conflict throughout the period between World Wars I and II.

      In 1914 the Ningsia area became a part of the province of Kansu, and in 1928 it was constituted as the province of Ningsia. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) parts of Ningsia were incorporated into the Shen-Kan-Ning border region, where Communist authorities appealed for minority support by proclaiming their cultural and political rights. Although some Hui leaders joined the Communists and rose to positions of influence in the region, most Ningsia Hui supported the Ma clan. In the end, a Communist victory in Ningsia was won by the People's Liberation Army in battle with the armies of the Ma clan.

      From 1949 to 1954 the province was subject to the authority of the Northwest Military Administrative Committee. Ningsia was then made directly subordinate to the central government as part of Kansu. At the same time, autonomous Hui regions were established on the east and west bank sections of the Ningsia irrigated plain and in the foothills of the Liu-p'an Mountains. In 1958 these areas were combined to form the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningsia. In 1969 Ningsia reacquired the T'eng-ko-li Desert region from Inner Mongolia; the region then reverted to Inner Mongolia in 1979.

Chiao-Min Hsieh Victor C. Falkenheim

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Universalium. 2010.

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