Gansu is one of China’s most diverse provinces. For many centuries it spanned the border of China’s cultural influence, beyond which were Mongolian, Tibetan and Turkic nomads each with their own rich cultures and history.

Jiayuguan, in the west of the province, marks the end of the Great Wall. Major cities grew up along the silk road, several of which became influential centres in the spread of Buddhism into China.

The Mogao and Dunhuang caves contain the most important testimonies to early Chinese Buddhist art and culture, dating from the fourth century. In the Labrang Monastery at Xiahe, Gansu is also home to one of the most important monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism. Large Muslim populations settled in the region during the Yuan Dynasty, and are particularly well known for their excellent lamb and noodle dishes.

Christianity was probably introduced to the province along the Silk Road by Syrian ‘Nestorian’ Christians. Some nomadic Mongolian groups in the area later converted to Christianity. Despite the turmoil of the late Ming period, some converts from Jesuit centres in neighbouring Shaanxi province also spread the Catholic faith. Catholic missions resumed in the nineteenth century, with the north of the province being worked by SDV and Scheutist missionaries when Protestant groups, most notably the China Inland Mission.

Most believers were Han Chinese immigrants into the region, though overall churches remained small. Since the 1980s, churches have reopened and grown significantly. In 2004, the estimate of the number of registered Protestant Christians in the province was 262,000.

Gansu remains one of China’s poorest provinces, with recent health studies showing that life expectancy and infant mortality are much worse than in China’s eastern cities. Gansu was the second most seriously affected province by the earthquake of 12 May 2008. Over five million people were impacted, mostly in remote mountainous areas in the south of the province. 17 churches in the Wudu district of Longnan City were seriously damaged and many families remain living in tents after their houses were made unsafe.

The Amity Foundation supports a number of integrated rural development programmes and English teachers in the province, which have been supported by the British and Irish churches.


Gansu landscape
Lamusi, Gansu Province Photo: M Ryan Hess Creative Commons logo
Caves in Gansu
Gansu landscape
Caves, Maijishan.  Photo: mke1963 Creative Commons logo
Dongxiang. Photo: Mak Zhou Creative Commons logo

Further information

© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010