By Lan Xinzhen

Over a century after droves of Americans were heading to the western states to seek out new opportunities, the Chinese government launched its own campaign to put Western China onto a fast development track. By 2010, thanks to the Western Development Program, the pace of economic growth there overtook that of the eastern coastal region to become a new economic engine in China.

This comes as wholly welcome news for a country with great regional disparity in economic growth.

What do we mean by Western China? Its physical area accounts for 71.4 percent of the country, extending for [2.75 million square miles]. It embraces the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou; Ningxia Hui, Xinjiang Uygur, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions; and the municipality of Chongqing. Western China is home to 356 million people, 28.6 percent of China's total population. Minority ethnic groups constitute the main part of the region's population: in fact, some 75 percent of China's ethnic minority people live here.

Western China boasts particularly rich natural resources. About 82.5 percent of China's hydropower resources are concentrated here, but less than one percent has yet been exploited. Among the 140 minerals proven to exist in China, over 120 have been discovered here: coal reserves account for 36 percent of the national total, oil for 12 percent, and natural gas for 3 percent. Western China is ahead of the rest of the country, even the world, in its reserves of sought-after metals such as rare earth.

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