Lanzhou, Gansu Province
Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, is a major stop on the ancient "Silk Road" west of Xi'an. Situated on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, Lanzhou has been important for thousands of years because of the Hexi Corridor, or “Corridor West of the Yellow River,” in which early Chinese civilization began. About 3,000 years ago, in the Zhou Dynasty, agriculture began to take shape in the basins of the Jin and Wei Rivers that formed the corridor, marking the beginning of the great Yellow River basin civilization.
Starting in the Qin Dynasty, merchants and traders traveling from Xi'an to central Asia and then on to the Roman Empire, or the other way round, broke their long journey at Lanzhou. To protect this corridor and important communications hub, the Great Wall was extended under the Han as far as Yumen, in the far northwest of present-day Gansu Province.
Lanzhou became capital of a succession of tribal states during the turbulent ventures that followed the decline of the Han Dynasty. During this time of turmoil, people began to turn to ideologies that satisfied their need for hope. Taoism developed into a religion, and Buddhism became the official religion in some of the northern states. Buddhist art also flourished, and shrines were built in temples, caves, and on cliffs. From the fifth to the 11th centuries, Dunhuang, beyond the Yumen Pass of the Great Wall, became a center for Buddhist study, drawing scholars and pilgrims from afar. It was a period in which magnificent works of art were created.