Zhangye City Prefecture counts no less than 26 ethnic groups apart from the National majority, the Han People. Among the many, the largest ethnic communities are formed by the Hui, the Tibetans, the Uygur, the Zhuang and the Yugur.
85% of all Yugurs in China, some 35.000, are living within Zhangye City Prefecture, of whom most are concentrated at Sunan Yugur Autonomous County (肃南裕固族自治县), of which the main town and administrative Capital is Hongwansi Town (红湾寺镇).
Sunan County counts a surface area of some 20,456 Square Kilometers and has over 10 indigenous minority ethnic groups. The main Ethnic Groups in Sunan are Yugur, Tibetan and Han. The rare Monguor are also represented.
The only other autonomously ruled ethnic enclave of the Yugur can be found at neighboring Jiuquan City, more to the West, where some 15000 Yugur live at Jiuquan Huangnibao Yugur Autonomous Township. Inside of Sunan County lies another ethnic enclave Xishui Tibetan Township. Xishui is a majority Tibetan Town, but other ethnic identities share this hometown.
Sunan Yugur counts 6 districts plus it County District Town of Hongwangsi. These are Huangcheng District, Mati District, Kangle, Dahe, Mingua and Chifeng Districts. Huangcheng is the largest district in number of cizitizens, with 7408 souls, followed by Hongwangsi Town with 5637 and Dahe' District with 5802 citizens. Some 1096 nomads are counted to live inside the district with no address or residence.
One of the main Tourist Hotspots and historic Monuments of Zhangye Prefecture, the Mati Si grottoes is situated in Sunan Yugur Autonomous County, located at some 62 kilometers distance from Zhangye City. The spectacular features of this tourist zone do not only include the Mati Si ancient buddhist cave arts but also the national protected scenery of prairies and forests above which the beautiful snow-covered tops of the Qilian Mountains. After admiring the scenery and spectacular cave arts, one can easily head over to Sunan and have a meeting with the Yugur People, to enjoy their colorful wares and many other cultural traits.
Besides the unique nationality culture, Zhangye yearly holds its Mati Temple Tourist Festival involving lots of Buddhism and even more Yugur Culture which attract thousands of tourists from home and abroad.
Xishui Tibetan Township today has a surface area of 894 square kilomters and counts 5 ethnic groups. They are the Tibetan, Yugur, Hui, Mongol and the Han. Tibetans amount to over 90% of the township population and members of other groups all have kinship relations with them. At this remote location, the ethnic community is very close knit, and it can be said that "everyone knows eachother". With the Tibetan, Mongolian and Yugur cultures historically dominated by Buddhist influences, the local culture of Xishui Township is overwhelmingly Tibetan. Historically, different ethnic groups in Zhangye intensively interact with each other. As a result, it is one of the model area's in China where the harmonious cultural landscape of multiethnic coexistence preached by the Government is achieved to a large extend. Naturally, economic strains and enlarged mobility with influx of migrants can cause stress on local regulations and political wishes.
To illustrate the remoteness of the Xishui Township location, according to the 2003 statistic data provided by the National Government, the Township has 5 villages which have the small number of 296 households. Bajiaowan village near the DaGashun Dam counts 70 households. A Total of a mere 1,136 people live inside the extenses of Xishui Tibetan Township.
Among them, 642 males, 494 females and 494 able bodies. 192 of them have the non-agricultural household registration. Over 90% residents are Tibetans and over 90% of them are herdsmen. The rest Han, Yugur, Hui also engage in animal husbandry, adhere to their traditional religion of Tibetan Buddhism (mixed with Shamanism) and have close-ties to the Tibetan Community. All groups intermarry freely with the Tibetans dominant ethnic group. Some things have changed and have been modernized at Xishui, as well. Today, Male and female citizens enjoy equal rights and the both races and all ethnic groups are involved in the local economy. No sign of ethnic or gender discrimination within the community can be detected. Because the Yugur do not have a written version of their language,the Han Chinese and Tibetan writings styles are used. All the residents, share shamanistic traits with the Tibetans, in which they worship the mountains and waters together and respect natural life.It can be said that all citizens share most cultural traits with the Tibetan group.
The Holy Mountain of the Xishui Township people and Sunan County is the Da Gu Shan, which carries no less than 3 pagoda's atop its Icy ridges. Long undisturbed as the guardian of the Town, Dagushan has recently seen the roar of Chinese development arrive.
Xishui Tibetan Township is currently the location of the Xiaogushan Hydro-electric Power Project, a damming project of the Hei River. The proposed aim of this Project is to alleviate the increasing power shortage in Zhangye city and the Hexi Corridor. Usually, when there is not enough power, lights in the City will remain on, however the rural area's are cut off from electricity. It is hoped that with the building of the Dam enough electricity can be generated to make continued economic development of these far western regions possible, and include each rural village. Naturally, ensured supply of electricity is a base necessity for development of village economies and the fighting of rural poverty in Gansu Province.
According to the officially recognized plan of the development, the damming of the River should bring great benifits to the local people and the adverse social, cultural and environment impacts are of the project should be minor. However, this is for clear reasons highly doubtful. First and foremost, damming of rivers in otherwise arid (high plateux desert) area's is a precarious undertaking which nearly always leads to large environmental impacts. Secondly, the region of Zhangye and the Hei River already suffer from severe water shortages. Already drying out since the advent of the Ching Dynasty in 1644 AD, in the recent last 100 years the climate has turned more arid, with large scale irrigation of agricultural lands rapidly depleting rivers and groudwaters. As for the Yugur and Tibetan People, their livelihoods still largely depend on live-stock raising and agriculture making them vulnerable to any impacts of this project. Already, during several months in fall the riverbed downstream of XiaoGushan Dam has fallen dry, spelling obvious doom for all life downstream on the Hei River.
The Dam monitoring station can be found at Bajiaowan Village, in the Qilian mountains along the Hei He (Black River). The Dam itself is located at GPS Coordinates: 38 Degrees 30’ 02” North Latitude and 99 Degrees 59’ 00” East Longitude.
The world bank and Asian Development Bank have supported several initiatives ro relief local problems, first and foremost the trying roads leading to Xishui Township. Today traveling time is significantly down, however 4 wheel drive vehicles are helpful on the route.
Landmarks of Xishui Township are the Xishui Broad-leaf Tree Forest and the so-called 'Danxia' Landforms, only found in these regions in China.