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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions >> Jiuzhaigou Valley

Jiuzhaigou Valley


Jiuzhaigou Valley is a nature reserve in northern Sichuan province of China. It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls and colorful lakes. Jiuzhaigou lies at the southern end of the Minshan mountain range, 330 km north of the provincial capital of Chengdu. It is part of the Jiuzhaigou County (formerly Nanping County) in the Aba Tibetan Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of northwestern Sichuan province, near the Gansu border. Approximate coordinates are 33 N 104 E.

The climate is cool temperate with a mean annual temperature of 7.2 C, with means of -1 C in January and 17 C in July. Total annual rainfall is 661 mm, 80% of which occurs between May and October.

The remote region was inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang peoples for centuries, but was not officially discovered by the government until 1972. Extensive logging took place until 1979, when the Chinese government banned such activity and made the area a national park in 1982. An Administration Bureau was established and the site officially opened to tourism in 1984; layout of facilities and regulations were completed in 1987. The site was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997.

Since opening, tourist activity has increased every year: from 5,000 in 1984 to 170,000 in 1991, 160,000 in 1995, to 200,000 in 1997, including about 3,000 foreigners. Visitors numbered 1,190,000 in 2002. As of 2004, the site averages 7,000 visits per day, with a quota of 12,000 being reportedly enforced during high season. The Town of Zhangzha at the exit of the valley and the nearby Songpan County feature an ever-increasing number of hotels, including several polished five-stars.

Jiuzhaigou takes its name from the nine Tibetan villages along its length. Few of them remain today, depending on what classifies as "a village inside the valley". The main agglomerations are Heye, Shuzheng and Zechawa along the main paths, plus Rexi and Heijiao in the smaller Zaru Gully. Maps also indicate villages named Jianpan, Panya and Guwa near the end of a small gully opposite Zaru. Finally, the Penbu, Panxing and Yongzhu villages lie along the road that passes through the town of Jiuzhaigou/Zhangza outside the valley.

In 1997, the permanent population of the valley was about 1000, made up of about 130 Tibetan and Qiang families. Due to the protected nature of the park, the residents are forbidden from agriculture activities and rely on government subsidies as well as tourism.

Jiuzhaigou is composed of three valleys arranged in a Y shape. The Rize and Zechawa gullies flow from the south and meet at the centre of the site where the form the Shuzheng gully, flowing north to the mouth of the valley. The mountainous watersheds of these gullies are lined with 55 km of roads for shuttle buses, as well as boardwalks and small pavilions. The boardwalks are typically located on the opposite side of the lakes from the road, shielding them from disturbance by passing buses.

Most visitors will first take the shuttle bus to the end of Rize and/or Shuzheng gully, then make their way back downhill by foot on the boardwalks, taking the bus instead when the next site is too distant. Here is a summary of the sites found in each of the gullies.