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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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A northern province of China, bounded N. by the Great Wall, W. by the province of Kan-suh, S. by the province of Sze-ch'uen, and E. by Shan-si, from which it is separated by the Hwang-ho. Area about 75,000 sq. m.; pop. about 8,300,000. Si-gan Fu, or Sian Fu, is the provincial capital; there are six other prefectural cities. Shen-si is divided into two parts by a barrier of mountains, consisting of the Fu-niu Shan and the Tsingling Shan, which attain elevations of over I i,000 ft., and run across the southern portion of the province from east to west. To the north of the mountains lie the basins of the Wei-ho and of several other tributaries to the Hwang-ho. The name Shen-si, "west of the pass," refers to the Tungkwan pass, near the confluence of the Wei and the Hwang-ho. The valley of the Wei, situated between high tableland (the Ordos plateau) on the north and rugged mountains to the south, forms the great channel of communication between Eastern China and Central Asia. Were it in the hands of an enemy the Chinese colonies in Central Asia would be completely severed from the mother country, hence the eagerness evinced by the government throughout all history to retain possession of the region. In this district are the sites of cities used as capitals of China in remote antiquity. Si-gan Fu, founded in the 3rd century B.C., was usually the capital until the time of the Kin dynasty (A.D. 1127), and it was chosen by the dowager empress as the temporary capital during the stress of the Boxer outbreak (190o-1901). It is noted also as containing the celebrated Nestorian tablet, erected A.D. 781, on which is engraved an edict according tolerance to the Nestorian missionaries. Modern Christian (Protestant) mission work in the city dates from 1876. The walls of Si-gan enclose a square space of 6 m. each way, and, unlike most Chinese cities, its fortifications are kept in perfect repair. During the Mahommedan rebellion it was closely invested for two years (1868-1870) by the rebels, who, however, failed to capture it. During a great famine which occurred in 1902 about 2,500,000 persons in the province died of starvation.

From Si-gan Fu radiate a number of roads going east, south and west. The east road is the great Tung-kwan road, which forms the principal means of communication between Peking and the northeastern provinces of the empire, and Sze-ch'uen, Yun-nan and Tibet. To the south. one road crosses the mountains to Shang Chow, and on to the Tan river, an affluent of the Han-kiang, and is thus connected with the trade of the Yangtsze-kiang; and another leads to Han-chung Fu and Sze-ch'uen. Leaving the west gate of the city two roads lead to Lan-chow Fu, from which town begins the great high road into Central Asia by way of Lian-chow Fu, Kan-chow Fu and Su-chow to Hami, where it forks into two branches which follow respectively the northern and southern foot of the Tian-shan range, and are known as the Tian-shan pei lu and the Tian-shan nan lu. It was along these roads that the fame of China first reached Europe, and it was by the Tian-shan nan lu that Marco Polo entered the empire. To defend this line of communication the Great Wall was extended beyond Su-chow, and the Kia-yu gate, "the door of the empire," was built. During the reign of Hia-wu Ti of the Han dynasty, Chinese colonies and high roads lined with fortified cities were established along this route, and though at times the government have lost possession of the line beyond the Great Wall, it has always succeeded in re-establishing its supremacy over it. Occupying a position, then, at the confluence of the roads which connect northeastern China with its western and south-western portions, Si-gan Fu is a city of great commercial importance. It has few manufactures, but does an extensive trade principally in the importation of silk from Cheh-kiang and Sze-ch`uen, tea from Hu-peh and Hu-nan, and sugar from Sze-ch`uen, and in the exportation of these and other articles (such as skins and furs) to Kan-suh, Russia and Central Asia.

Shen-si is purely an agricultural province. Its principal products are cotton, wheat and opium - the anti-opium decrees of 1906 had little effect on the province up to 1910 - and these it exchanges with the neighbouring provinces for coal, iron, salt, &c. Kao-liang, pulse, millet, maize, groundnut, barley, beans, pease, lucerne, and rape seed are also grown. The Wei basin being a loess region is unfit for rice, but for the same reason it produces fine crops of the kinds mentioned at a minimum expenditure of labour. The Shen-si opium is much valued by smokers and ranked next to the Shan-si drug, which was second only to that produced in Kan-suh. Coal abounds in the northern part of the province, but owing to difficulty of transit it is not worked to any great extent. The winters are cold, but short, and though fruit trees abound and are most prdductive, no evergreen trees or shrubs are to be met with within the province. Shen-si is specially noted for the varnish tree. Wolves are numerous in the mountains; the heron, ibis, wild goose and snipe in the valley of the Wei.

See M. Broomhall, The Chinese Empire (London, 1907), pp. 198208; L. Richard, Comprehensive Geography of the Chinese Empire (Shanghai, 1908), pp. 39-46, and the authorities there cited.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Shen-si'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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