Overview Map of Gansu Province and surrounding area's. Click for Full Sized Version.
Bayan Har Mts
Amnye Machen Mts
The Ejin River (Chinese: 额济纳河 Ejina-he, Mongolian: Etsin-gol, Edzin-gol), also known as
the Heihe River, is a major river system that originates from Glaciers on the northern side of the Qilian Shan mountains on the border of Qinghai Province and Gansu Province some ways due South-West of Zhangye City. The river is around 800 km in length and has two major branches.
The Hei river Basin is the second largest inland river basin in the arid region of northwest China, and, together with the Bai River, is regarded as a main branch river of the Yellow River water system.
(There is a second Hei River in Shaanxi Province in China which includes Jingpen Reservoir. Yet, another Hei River in located in or near Inwate, Japan).
Heihe, Black River today:
Silk Road and the Hei River and Delta:
In the past the wetlands stretched roughly from the Gansu-Inner Mongolia Border all the way North to the Altay Mountains providing a travelable route for silk road traders and their caravans.
This so-called Northern Silk Road measures about 2,600 km (1,600 miles) in length, connecting the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'An (Xi'an) via the Hexi Corridor, traveling through Zhangye to turn north towards Gashun Lake. From Gashun Lake one could travel westward via Hami (Kumul) to Urumqi and then to the west over the Pamir Mountains to emerge in Kashgar before linking through to ancient Parthia
Green History of the Hei River & Delta:
Sadly, both lakes have dried up in recent years due to a combination of over-use of water for irrigation and industry and a period of prolonged drought.
Goshun Nur had an area of 267 km2 (103 sq mi) in 1958 AD, of 213 km2 (82 sq mi) in 1960 AD, and has dried up in 1961 AD.
Before that, the Juyan Lake basin was a rare wetlands area in the otherwise arid regions, covering an area of about 10,000 square kilometres (3,900 sq miles). Surrounded by the Gobi Desert and enclosed by mountains the delta region of the Heihe (Ejin) formed a large inland delta of lush greens stretching between the Qilian mountain range in the South and the Gobi Altay.
As a green strip of land leading Northward it formed an important route on the ancient Silk Road, providing a link up with the central route through Zhangye and the North-Western Route through Urumqi.
The boundaries of the Gashun/Juyan Lake Basin is essentially formed by the Mazong Shan mountains to the west, the Heli Shan and Longshou Shan mountains to the south, the barren Ala Shan (western Alxa Plateau) Desert of Inner Mongolia with beyond the Helan Shan and Lang Shan ranges in the east and the Mongolian Gobi Altay range to the north.
Landmarks, Monuments and Scenic Spots of the Hei River & Basin:
Shandan Army Horse Farm 55 kilometers due South of Shandan, South-East of Zhangye.
Head out on your own guidance to find the wetlands of the Hei River located due North of Jiuquan in the general direction of the Space Launch Center near Jinta and County. The GPS coordinates given for the Nature Reserve are 40°30'North 99°12'East, which is due West of the Hei River itself.
Schematic Map of the many sub-pathways of the Silk Road in China clearly showing the one-unavoidable pathway of the Hexi Corridor.
Qilian Mt Range
The route likely first emerged as early as 4000 years ago and the knowledge of human inventions that traveled along the route sparked the success of the first Chinese Dynasties. However, many millennia later it was the Han Dynasty that truly opened the West to Chinese influence and protected trade in these regions, thus giving rise to the first emerging "Silk Road", an international trade route of "global" importance.
From around the year 102 BC onward the lower course of the Hei River formed a forward defense line for the armies of the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), who were defending the region against the nomadic Xiongnu Tribes. Behind the barrier of the Hei River and a reinforced defensive line with a wall, watchtowers and turrets that formed one of the first versions of the Great Wall of China, envoys, diplomats, spies and traders could now travel West from Chang'An (Xi'An), bypass the Xiongnu via the Hexi Corridor and travel via a string of Oasis along the Southern Rim of the Taklamakan Desert to head into the unknown lands of barbaric Central Asia.
The use of the route by international traders was greatly expanded after the Han Dynasty armies had gradually pushed back the northern tribes (Xiong-Nu) in the second half of the first millennium BC. The cultural and economic highpoint of the route and regions is counted to have been between the 2nd century BC to 8th century AD. From that Time onward, the route continued to be operational until well into the 20Th Century.
The Hei valley, the part of the Hei River trajectory within the Hexi Corridor, is virtually the only part of the Alxa Plateau that has any permanent agriculture or permanent population. It was colonized by Han and other Peoples as long ago as the 1st century BC, but only on a small scale. Throughout history only the spots where fresh water was available in abundance were settled. These were the towns that supported the thin line of the Silk Road. Villages and Towns, even today are mainly of agricultural nature and relatively small in size and population. Larger population centers know various industries and some know a thriving tourism industry.
Today's permanent settlement only came about in comparatively recent era. Only after the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 AD did the situation change, and then only slowly. Irrigation systems were expanded, crops and agricultural techniques improved and populations grew modestly.
Irrigation is always an imperative for both agriculture and human life in the arid climate of the area, however the intense salinity of the soil in these regions is a major problem for agriculture.
Famous Visitors to- and Explorers of the Region:
The First European visitors to venture into Central Asia from the West and entered China during the 6Th Century. They were a group of Nestorian Monks. On their Journey they possibly traveled along the Hei River.
The next European reports on the Hei River valley came in the 13Th Century when Marco Polo traveled along this route to visit Jiuquan Town and not much later Zhangye. Marco Polo did not describe the Hei river itself although he mentioned the abundance of rhubarb that was grown in the regions.
European explorers to visit the area of the Hei River and Juyan Basin include Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov between 1907 AD and 1909 AD.
In 1930 and 1931 AD a Sino-Swedish expedition traveled through the area and made various archeological finds. Among things, they discovered great numbers of documents written on wooden strips and dating from the period before the Dong (Eastern) Han (25 AD–220 AD). Most of them date from the period between 73 BC to 48 BC and are considered to be the earliest surviving Chinese official documents.
Other European explorers that helped Map the region and made important archeological discoveries were Sven Hedin and Sir Marcus Aurel Stein.
(Now Afghanistan) and Persia. Another route lead North into what today is Kazakhstan and travel along the Eastern rim of the (Gobi) Altay Mountains to lead to Qaraghandy and Astana.
Unfortunately, since around the year of the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China, 1949 AD, the Hei river area has been suffering from acute desertification. The problems extend far and wide, including the far away Aral Lake in Central Asia, the Tarim - China's 5Th largest River, the southern rim oasis of the Taklamakan desert (Hetien, Kokand, etc) the Lop Nur Area and even the great Yellow River itself.
Ground water levels in the Heihe River regions have dropped by as much as 5 meters since the 1940s, while forest coverage near the river shrunk by 1924 km between 1958 AD and 1994 AD, leading to yearly recurrent dust storms with regional implications.
Reportedly, between the years 1949 AD and 1995 AD agricultural suitability of the Hei River valley decreased by 2%. The dry period of the year in the regions has increased from around 100 days in 1950 AD to 200 days and more in the 1990's and after the year 2000 AD. Although planting of tree belts has been succesful in limiting desertification, the sands keep advancing on civilizations. Dust storms have been emerging from the downstream region of the Hei River since the 1960's.
In the Hei River Delta in the North, Juyanhai (Juyan Lake or Gashun Lake and Subo Lake), two Lakes with adjoining wetlands area North of the Western curve of the River used to measure 267 Square kilometers and 37 Square kilometers respectively. However in the 1960's rampant and unregulated water diversion upstream often led the Hei River to stop flowing in the upper reaches within Ejina Banner of Inner Mongolia. Thus, the Lakes have dried up completely in recent years and the ruins of Kharakoto threatened by moving sands.
Recent climatic changes and periods of prolonged
DVD Chinese Revolutionary Classic Film
"The Echo of Qilian Mountain"
( no longer available )
The western branch flows from the base of the Qilian Mountains south-west of Zhangye, after which it flows in the north-western direction towards Zhangye City. It passes East of Zhangye and just North of the Town of Gaotai, after which combines with the Eastern branch.
The eastern branch of the Hei River starts on the Northern Flank of the Qilian Mountains, due South of Shandan. From there it flows North to flow through Shandan, turn west and through Zhangye (Ganzhou) to join up with the western branch near Gaotai. The two branches merge some ways north of Gaotai and then continue their flow northward into Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where the river splits into two branches near Ximiao Town. Both branches flow northward into the Ejin Basin, a depression filled with salt marshes and swamps that vary greatly in size from one season to another.
Between Dingxin and Ximiao the Hei River changes name and is called the Ruo River.
North of Ximiao the river bifurcates into two streams, the Xi (Morin) and Dong (Narin) rivers, which empty, respectively, into Lakes Gaxun (Gashun) and Sub (Sogo).
Both lakes are located inside the large Alxa League administrative district in the Gobi Desert.
The Great Wall of China runs south of the Hei River, roughly between Shandan and Zhangye City. This section is designated as belonging to the Han Dynasty Era (206 BC - 220 AD). Over two millenia old and officially protected as a National Relic the local remnants are mere ruins of what was in the past. Currently under attack from both development and desertification in the region, the remnants are expected to have disappeared within the coming twenty years.
China Report - Map of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty
Satellite image of China and North-East Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall of China.
Gashun Naoer is the larger Lake located in the West and Subo Naoer Lake is the much smaller lake in the East. The Gashun Naoer is also known in Chinese as Juyan Lake (Chinese: 居延海; Mongolian: Gaxun Nuur, Goshun Nur). The Subo Naoer is known as Sogo Hu or simply eastern lake.
China Report - Map of the Gobi Desert & Yellow River Flow
A Satellite Image Map of the Entire Gobi Desert Region. Map overviews North-West Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and North and North-Eastern China giving a Full Overview of the Gobi Deserts. Clearly visible details of geographical features such as mountain ranges, rivers, valleys and lakes.
Map includes country borders, name and location details of Cities and Villages (clearly visible).
Mouse over Image to Reveal more information and follow the flow and path of the yellow river from Xining in Qinghai Province to the Bohai Sea. Details of old / former Yellow River flow (south of new) and new trajectory to the Bohai Sea.
droughts have only served to exacerbate the already dire water shortages in the region, especially in the Northern Flows of the Hei river, the Juyan Basin.
Recent climatic changes have also complicated the salinity problems. For instance, according to Genxu and Guodong (1999) an annual salinity increase of 4% was measured over the period from 1961 AD to 1987 AD for the entire Jinta Region of the Hei River valley. All factors combine to decrease the suitability of land for agriculture and lead to gradual as well as dramatic environmental changes. Vegetation changes and goes into decline, sandy deserts arise burying crops and sometimes villages in their shifting sands and dust, water quality declines rapidly after which the land has become unfit for agriculture.
Appearance of various heavy industries along the Heihe River and in the Hexi Corridor contribute further to water shortages and have added worries about pollution.
The river waters of the remaining Hei River, mainly near Zhangye and Gaotai, not only serve as a life-line for human civilization within the hexi corridor, its waters also provide a crucial place of replenishment for migratory birds traveling through the region. Egrets and White Swan are among the many species seasonally spotted in force at the Hei River and wetlands. Without the waters of the Heihe, the entire region would revert into desert lands.
Throughout the 1990's Government measures and initiatives to deal with the worsening water situation have been multiple. As increased water resources development for human use has affected the scale of oasis establishments in the middle reaches and even threatened the very existence of lower (northern)-reach oases in the Hei River basin over the last decades, a regional approach to management of water resources has become essential. Steps are taken on each level.
First and foremost, the Government has obliged each (rural) family in Gansu Province to build their own rain-water storage facility. In each village concrete underground tanks have been constructed to store rainwater and use it at a later time for irrigition or other purposes.
Secondly, as for agriculture in the region, new methods of water saving in agricultural production have increased production while reducing the amount of water used or lost to evaporation. Special green houses which reduce evaporation and allow for a layered growth of plants are now in widespread use. New irrigation channels have been covered. The Government has implemented schemes to induce farmers grow crops that need less water for their growth. In the 1960's rice was one of the main crops grown in the upper Hei River regions, but with todays water shortages local farmers have chosen to grow crops such as cotton and various fruits and fruit trees in a further attempt to attack the problem near its base.
Thirdly, Industrial useage and wasting is monitored and managed on a regional basis in order to ensure no area will be left without water. Although this sounds promising, fact of the matter is that recent droughts have strained water management systems in North-West Gansu Province, as well as Inner-Mongolia and the southern half of Xinjiang-Uygur Atonomous Region beyond their limits.
Following a severe drought during the summer of 2000, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region suffered the hardest winter in living memory. The drought seriously affected the condition of the grasslands, leaving little or no grass for winter grazing. Which, in turn, affected the ability of herders to gather hay and fodder. A large proportion of the livestock was not sufficiently strong to survive the harsh winter ahead and hundreds of thousands of thin and weakened animals initially died in the region as a result. Although the snow in many areas was gradually melting with the coming of spring, the lack of hay and fodder and the poor condition of pasture land took further deaths of livestock until the grass began to grow again. In many areas, this only occurs near the end of the month of May or the beginning of June. The Red Cross Society of China estimated that between 30 and 40% of livestock died in the worst affected areas before the end of the Inner Mongolian spring, resulting in widespread hunger and malnourishment among the population.
In the present official view of the Provincial and National Governments, exploitation and utilization of water resources should bring about a harmonic relation between economic development and the ecological environment in the whole basin.
To be effective in sustainable water management for all area's involved the whole area should be considered as an entirety. Most water, some 80% is used for agriculture.
Todays industrial and agricultural projects in the region must adopt and present feasible plans as regards to the water management in the wider region. Apart from this, administrative measures such as strengthening the laws for the protection of water resources in upper streams, increased policing of water resources, macro-control of water consumption of citizens and industry, and implementing water-saving measures in middle and lower reaches have led to a much more efficient use of water resources and has so far prevented further rapid degradations of the local environment.
Much has been done to protect vital natural area's and wildlife habitats leading to an increase of the number of animals and migratory birds living in the region or passing through. There rich biodiversity in this area includes wetland plants such as Kobresia kansuensis, Carex muliensis and Carex lasiocarpa, and wetland rare water birds
such as Grus nigricollis. Ducks, white swans and various Crane species abound in and around the restored sections of the otherwise degraded wetlands of the Hei River.
Zhaowu Ruins - Go to Linze County and the village of Banqiao on the Hei River to locate the last remaining remnants of Zhaowu Town, millennia ago the Capital City of the Nomadic Rouzhi Tribe. Before the arrival of the Han Dynasty Armies in the West descendants of the Rouzhi people populated this middle section of the Hexi Corridor along the Hei River, making grateful use of the green oasis and grasslands underneath the mountains. Nine Kingdoms were formed around separate Oasis along the Hexi Corridor, populated by shrewd trading people who, due to their strategic location were able to dominate trade between these regions and central Asia. Although the Rouzhi prospered and multiplied, they were eventually driven out by the Xiongnu People, and emigrated across the Pamir mountains to the West. Although Zhaowu has been abandoned since some scattered remains exist. Today's Zhaowu village near Banqiao are built on what were once the suburbs of Zhaowu City of the Rouzhi.
Jiuquan JSLC - China's 1st Space Launch Center in the Desert just across the border of Inner Mongolia from Jiuquan. To be exact: the Base is part of Ejina Banner (额济纳旗), of the Alashan League (阿拉善盟) in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The Hei River flows through the Base Area.
The former Tangut (or Western Xia, Xi Xia) capital of Khara-Khoto - Black City, now deserted, lies near the lower end of the Ejin river, the section of the Hei River that runs inside the Ejina and Alxa Banners of Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region. Established in the year 1032 AD, according to legend, the city which lies along the river, was abandoned after Chinese forces diverted the river away from the city in 1372 AD. Some 100 years before that event, the City of Khara-koto was visited by Marco Polo who named it Etzina, Capital of the Tangut Kingdom.
Juyan Lake Basin, Gushan Salt Lake and former wetlands area: See the desertification progress with your own eyes.
Large scale human development of the Hei River basin began only as late as the year 1944 AD. Especially after the founding of the Peoples Republic of China the construction of artificial Oasis in order to increase arable land surface area and agricultural production in the region, as well as the founding of industries along the Hei River have drastically increased pressure on water- and other natural resources. Between 1949 AD and 93 reservoirs were built in the plains of Hei River basin boosting agriculture and population size. Due a population boom of sorts and increased water use by households, agriculture and industry, by the 1960's water began to grow scarce in the region and salinity of the water
Dust Storms arise from the Minqin Lake Area of western Inner-Mongolia reflecting the effects of water diversions upstream and the drying out of Minqin Lake and its wetlands (Image: 2007).
was on the increase. The vegetation on the mountainsides began to decrease.
From the 1970's onwards, decreases in anual rainfall and outflow of gletsjer waters have led to widespread use of groundwaters, leading to drastic falls in the local water table.
In the 1980s, more damage to the local nature and wildlife were done when land reforms combined with the emergence of capitalist markets encouraged farmers to raise more of their crops, causing a drastic rise in water-use for irrigation as well as shortage of land to go valuable crops on. Thus, local farmers and authorities set to work draining the Wetlands and reclaiming lands. Small local springs feeding the wetlands were blocked with sand and covered with soil. Since then the wetlands have nearly completely dried out to make way for more arable land. Surrounding villages followed suit. Ponds and waterways were covered over and riverside vegetations cut back and destroyed. According to local citizens even centuries-old graveyards were plowed over to be used as farmlands to grow crops. In rural areas in the wide vicinity of Zhangye and Gaotai anyplace small pond or water was filled in. Some were used for urban development but most were turned into Farmlands. It was one of the worst recent examples of gross mismanagement of the environment for which the region is still paying a heavy price.
The Farmlands in the area increased, briefly raising output of crops, however destruction of the wetlands triggered widespread environmental changes. Water tables in the wide region have dropped sharply, at some Towns to over 200 meters below ground. With the loss of wetlands, the weather got drier and rainfall in the Hexi Corridor and regions downwind have further declined. Today some towns are unable to find any groundwater, or the water is too salty to drink. Many towns are abandoned, others have water trucked in from other places.
Obviously, large scale diversion of water upstream leads to decreases of available water downstream. Due to a fall in water levels in the central Hei River as well as the fall in ground water levels more than 30 tributaries as well as the terminal lakes of the Hei River have now dried up or gone underground. Water flowing into this traditionally green area has dropped from 900 million cubic meters to an estimated 200 million, leading to the disappearance of hundreds of lakes and ponds.
Irrigated lands have been salinated and desertification has already enveloped many villages, especially in the Northern middle and lower reaches of the Hei River, the Juyan Lake Area. Remaining Towns and historic monuments are threatened.