Ningxia Hui Minorities Autonomous Region, the poorest region


Historically, Ningxia was a frequent seat of war and incursions by non-Chinese tribes.

The region south of the Huang He was incorporated into the Qin empire in the 3rd century BCE, at which time walls were built throughout the area. Irrigation canals on the Ningxia plains of the Huang He dating from the Qin (221–207 BCE), Han (206 BCE–220 CE), and Tang (618–907) dynasties provide further evidence that the area has long been inhabited. In the 11th century the area became part of the Xi Xia kingdom of the Tangut people. Yinchuan was captured by Chinggis Khan early in the 13th century and thereafter remained tributary to China.

During the time of the Tang and Han Dynasties (206 BC – 907 AD) Ningxia was the main place for trade and transportation between the eastern and western regions of ancient China. Ruins of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty can be found in its east region.

The major religions in Ningxia are Islam among the Hui Chinese, while many of the Han Chinese practice Chinese folk religions, Taoism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism. According to a demographic analysis of the year 2010, Muslims form 34% of the province’s population.

Traditional Hui cultural life was intimately interrelated with Islam. The Hui woman traditionally kept house; her role was domestic, and she could not undertake outside work. When they went out, Hui women typically wore the veil to conceal their faces, and they were forbidden to talk to males. The traditional culture has undergone changes, however, as Hui women have done farmwork and production work in factories. Some Hui women, especially in urban areas, have adopted contemporary fashion styles, including Western dress.

The Land

Ningxia is a relatively dry, desert-like region and features a diverse geography of forested mountains and hills, table lands, deserts, flood plains and basins cut through by the Yellow River. The Ningxia ecosystem is one of the least studied regions in the world.

Physiographically, the Ningxia region can be divided into two parts. Southern Ningxia is part of the Loess Plateau, with the Liupan Mountains as the main ridge.  Northern Ningxia is made up for the most part of the Ningxia plain of the Yellow River.

It was reported that approximately 34 percent (33.85 million mu) of the region’s total surface consisted of grassland.

Ningxia is rich in mineral resources with proven deposits of 34 kinds of minerals, much of which located in grassland areas.

The region is predominantly rural, with most of the population engaged in pasturing and farming the land.


Wine-making continues to boost the economy of what is still one of the country’s poorest areas. Before the arrival of viticulture, Ningxia’s 6.8 million people, 36 per cent of whom are Muslims from the Hui ethnic group, relied largely on animal grazing, subsistence agriculture and the cultivation of wolfberries used in traditional Chinese medicine. The province housed almost 40,000 hectares of wine grapes and produced 120 million wine bottles in 2017 – a quarter of the entire nation’s production.

The Ningxia plain produces abundant wheat and good-quality rice.


One of Ningxia’s main tourist spots is the internationally renowned Xixia Tombs site located 30 km (19 mi) west of Yinchuan. The remnants of nine Western Xia emperors’ tombs and two hundred other tombs lie within a 50 km2 (19 sq mi) area. Other famous sites in Ningxia include the Helan Mountains, the mysterious 108 stupas, the twin pagodas of Baisikou and the desert research outpost at Shapatou. A less visited tourist spot in Ningxia is the Mount Sumeru Grottoes (须弥山), which is among the ten most famous grottoes in China.

Yinchuan, in the centre of the Ningxia 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.

An extension of the main railway between Beijing and Baotou (in Inner Mongolia), completed in 1958, links Yinchuan to two major regional industrial bases: Baotou to the northeast and Lanzhou (in Gansu) to the southwest.

What to see

A unique landscape, unique local customs and habits, and ancient history, all add up to make Ningxia an interesting tourist area for those wishing to discover a rich and diverse region.

Yinchuan City (also called ‘Phoenix City’) is the capital of the region situated in the remote northwest of China. The 1000-year-old city is a famous cultural city beyond the Great Wall. The old sector of Yinchuan City to the west is green and peaceful, and contains all the places of interest. It includes the 1500-year-old Haibao Pagoda; the famous Buddhist architecture from the West Xia Kingdom Pagoda of Chengtian Temple; and the Western Xia Imperial Tombs known as the ‘Pyramids of China’. One can also find there the mystic Helan Mountain Rock Painting, created by the ancient nomads who dwelled in the regions of the Helan Mountains in northwest Ningxia. They used a bold and descriptive chiseling and drawing technique, to which they added dazzling colors, to depict the history of a splendid Chinese civilization.

Liupan Mountain is located in south Ningxia. This is an area famous for its picturesque scenery and it certainly lives up to its reputation as the ‘green islet’.

Sand Lake Scenic Resort is the national tourist trump card for those looking for a place with a lake, sand dunes, reeds, birds and fish. During the May-September period, the lake becomes a veritable paradise for a dozen or so varieties of precious bird species, such as swans, white and grey cranes, black storks, and wild geese.

Shapotou on the southern rim of the Tengger Desert: There one will find the Desert Research Centre, established in 1956 to find ways of preventing the sands from encroaching onto the railways, and one of China’s four singing sand dunes. Sliding down the sand dune gives one the ethereal feeling of descending from the sky. The peculiar geological structure of the place causes the sand to emit a resonance that reverberates like the tolling of a huge bell or the beating of a big drum. Limpid water flows gently in a knee-deep stream at the foot of the dune.

Ningxia is the home of Chinese Muslems. When you go, please be respectful of the unique local customs and habits of the Hui people.

Edited by staff


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