Province of northwest China, bounded to the north by Gansu, to the south by Sichuan, to the west by Tibet, and to the northwest by Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region; area 721,000 sq km/278,400 sq mi; population (2013 est) 5,777,900. The capital is Xining and Golmud is another major town. Industries include minerals, chemicals, livestock, oil, and medical products. There is animal rearing and bee-keeping.
History Qinghai was incorporated into China at the beginning of the 18th century, and became a separate province in 1928. For centuries Qinghai was part of Tibet. Tibetan nationalists regard the province as being under colonial rule. Criminals and political prisoners have traditionally been exiled to labour camps in Qinghai.
Topography Qinghai lies on the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau, called the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau in China. Mountain ranges and plateaus in the south and west are mostly between 3,000 m/9,800 ft and 5,000 m/16,400 ft, rising to 6,000 m/19,700 ft in the Tanggula Shan range which forms the border with Tibet autonomous region in the south, and to over 7,000 m/11,300 ft in the west where the Kunlun Shan range extends into the province.
In the centre of the province is the Qaidam Basin, an area of salt lakes and marshes between 2,500 m/7,700 ft and 3,000 m/9,800 ft above sea level. In the north are mountain ranges at the edge of the plateau rising to 5,000 m/16,400 ft, marking the border with Gansu province. In the east of Qinghai the plateau is cut by steep-sided river valleys with elevations falling to 1,600 m/5,200 ft. The Chang Jiang and Mekong rivers rise in the mountains of southern Qinghai and the Huang He River rises in the Kunlun Mountains in the west of the province. Much of the province is desert and was formerly almost uninhabited.
Climate Qinghai experiences long, bitterly cold winters, with January average temperatures ranging from −7°C/19°F in the east to −18°C/0°F in the west. Summers are short, with July average temperatures varying from 21°C/70°F in the east to 5°C/41°F among the mountains in the west. Average temperatures are kept low by the elevation of the province, but can range within a day from freezing to a maximum of 29°C/84°F. Rainfall is sparse; the average annual precipitation in the Qaidam Basin is less than 50 mm/2 in, and varies over the rest of the province from 500 mm/20 in in the east and 100 mm/4 in in the west.
Economy Opportunities for agriculture are restricted to the extreme east of the province, where some barley and spring wheat are produced. The herding of sheep, goats, and yaks on sparse pastures by semi-nomads predominates in the west.
A small portion of Qinghai's reserves of asbestos and salt are mined, and there are large deposits of aluminium and borax. The region's phosphates are used to manufacture fertilizer. There are significant oilfields in the Qaidam Basin at Lenghu in the west and near Mangnai, though as yet these are little exploited. Salts and other chemicals are extracted from dried-out salt lakes. Hydroelectricity from the Longyangxia Dam on the Huang He provides power for metal-working engineering, textile, and food-processing industries in the east of the province.
People Ethnically the population is very diverse. Han Chinese are in a minority, the most widespread cultural group being Tibetan (about 900,000, mostly nomadic herders). There are also Kazakhs, Mongols, and Hui (Chinese Muslims).
Communications A railway line runs from Xining to Golmud in the west of the province, and a highway leads through the province from Xining to Tibet. There are flights from Xining airport to Beijing, Chengdu, Urumqi, Lanzhou, and Guangzhou.
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