Sichuan [dead link] (四川; Sìchuān; previously known as Szechwan), is a province in Southwest China. It is China's fourth most populous province; at 81 million (2013) it has about the population of Germany.
Historically, Sichuan has been mainly an agricultural region, though with a few important cities. Over the past several decades, it has been a major supplier of migrant labour to more prosperous coastal provinces in East China and South China. Sichuan is now developing rapidly.
The western part of the province was formerly part of Kham province of the Tibetan Empire, and is still ethnically and culturally Tibetan. Unlike Tibet proper, foreigners are allowed to visit the Tibetan areas of Sichuan without any special permits or being limited to a guided tour, making it an excellent place if you want to experience Tibetan culture independently.
|Aba Prefecture |
In the central north area of Sichuan, it is a Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture
|Ganzi Prefecture |
In the west of Sichuan, it is a Tibetan autonomous prefecture
|South Sichuan |
Comprises Liangshan Prefecture, which is an Yi autonomous prefecture, and Panzhihua Prefecture
|East Sichuan |
Comprises the capital Chengdu and other major cities of Sichuan
- 1 Chengdu — the capital of Sichuan with 2,000 years of history, the southeastern part is encircled by small mountains and to the north east is Chengdu Campagna
- 2 Dege — home to an amazing Tibetan library
- 3 Ganzi — rough Tibetan town and launching point for exploring local monasteries
- 4 Kangding — gateway to western Sichuan's Tibetan region
- 5 Langmusi — beautiful Tibetan border town sitting in both Gansu and Sichuan, with two monasteries, horse trekking opportunities and a sky burial site
- 6 Leshan — home of the largest stone carved Buddha in the world
- 7 Songpan — base camp for exploring Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve and the Amdo Tibetan culture
- 8 Xiangcheng — on the high-road to Yunnan
- 9 Xichang
- 1 Beichuan — memorial city destroyed by earthquake and landslide in 2008, parts of it are open to tourists for viewing the damage and paying respect
- 2 Emeishan National Park
- Hailuogou Glacier Park
- 3 Huanglongsi -Jiuzhaigou National Park
- Jianmen Shudao National Park — Jianmen Pass and Ancient Plankway of Shudao
- Kanggar Mountains National Park
- 4 Qingchengshan-Dujiangyan National Park — one of the ancient cradles of Daoism
- 5 Shunan Zhuhai National Park (lit. Bamboo Sea)
- 6 Siguniangshan National Parks
- 7 Yading Nature Reserve
Climate — See the climate table on the Chengdu page
Sichuan means Four Rivers after the four main rivers in the region. In total 1,300 rivers and streams run through the province. It has been historically and economically known as the "Province of Abundance".
The native language of most of Sichuan is a variant of Mandarin (Southwest), which differs from standard Mandarin of the north-east significantly in pronunciation, and use of slang which are unique to the area. Nevertheless, speakers of standard Mandarin will be able to understand the local dialect with some difficulty when spoken slowly. Tibetan is still the mother tongue in most of the highland west, and is co-official with Mandarin in Ganzi and Aba prefectures. The Tibetan spoken in Sichuan is the Kham Dialect, which differs significantly from the Standard Tibetan spoken in Lhasa, and is not completely mutually intelligible. Qiangic, spoken by the Qiang minority group, also native to Sichuan, can also be found in isolated parts of western Sichuan. Virtually all younger people are able to speak standard Mandarin, regardless of what their native language or dialect is.
The vast majority of signage is always in Chinese characters throughout the province, though signs in the western part of the province are often bilingual in Chinese and Tibetan. Many young people in Sichuan's larger cities speak some English.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan has a fairly large modern airport with domestic connections to many cities all over China and also some international connections. Internationally you can fly from Europe (KLM), Singapore, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, and many people arrive and depart using the very good air services available.
China has an extensive railway network and Chengdu is well connected to many cities by rail. A fast train connects Chongqing and Chengdu. Chongqing is a very large city which was part of Sichuan until 1997 but now is an independent municipality. Many trains shuttle every day between Chongqing and Chengdu. Not so long ago, the journey took anywhere between 4 and 8 hours depending on stops. Now a fast bullet train (over 200 km/h) runs several times a day between the two.
Another option is buses. Buses run between Chongqing and Chengdu taking about 4 hours. However, bus travel seems to be less reliable than trains because of road works that are often occurring.
There are also several options for travelling within Sichuan. Many popular tourist destinations such as Leshan and Jiuzhaigou National Park are serviced by buses. The network is quite extensive and the highways are good. Buses also seem to mostly run on time.
Air travel is available within Sichuan if you want to go to Jiuzhaigou National Park which is over 300 km from Chengdu.
Go hike and camp in Yading National Nature Reserve of China, where Joseph Rock fell in love with the Chinese landscape and natural world.
Sichuan cuisine is well-known worldwide, including dishes like Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁 / 宮保雞丁, gōngbǎo jīdīng) and Twice Cooked Pork (回锅肉 / 回鍋肉, huíguōròu). It is also famously spicy, with liberal use of chilies and the indigenous Sichuan pepper (花椒, huājiāo). Sichuan peppers are used to make málà (麻辣) food, which is not just spicy but produces a unique numbing sensation—it makes your mouth feel tingly or numb.
One specialty of the area is the Hot Pot (火锅 / 火鍋, huǒguō), a sort of wide-mouthed soup pot into which an assortment of vegetables and thinly sliced meats are dropped to cook. Typically, the pot has two parts separated by a partition; one side is extremely spicy, the other milder.
Sichuan food plays approximately the role in China that Mexican or Italian food does in the US or Indian food in the UK. It is found more-or-less everywhere and in every style of restaurant from cheap hole-in-the-wall to very fancy indeed.
In the mountainous western part of the province Tibetan cuisine is predominant, meaning that you can try various Tibetan dishes like butter tea and tsampa.
Wuliangye (五粮液 Wǔliángyè), a representative Chinese liquor.
Sichuan suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 2008 centered on Wenchuan County, about 100 km north of Chengdu. Many towns were nearly completely destroyed and over 80,000 people killed with hundreds of thousands more injured or homeless. Reconstruction is now complete, but there is always a risk of another quake.
Many of West Sichuan's main attractions are located at altitudes above 3,000 meters and thus altitude sickness is a threat. Make sure to monitor your health and take it easy for a day or two if moving from the lowlands to higher elevations.
To help combat this sickness, many local Chinese eat medicine known as Hong Jing Tian. These are red capsules that the soldiers of the People's Liberation Army use to help them quickly adjust to altitude conditions in the Western Chinese provinces. Local tour companies will have a ready supply of this medicine if you ask.
There is also tension in Western Sichuan between the Chinese government and the mainly Tibetan people there, and travel restrictions may apply to this area. See the warnings under Tibet.