Aba Tibetan & Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, or Aba Prefecture, for short, is located in the north-central part of Sichuan Province, where Sichuan Province interlocks with Gansu Province near the juncture of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan Provinces. Aba Prefecture's southeastern border lies about 200 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. This puts the prefecture on the eastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, where the land drops dramatically off west and southwest into the Sichuan Basin, which stretches into Chongqing Municipality. The prefecture itself accordingly slopes downward along a northwest-southeast axis.
The northwestern part of Aba Prefecture is characterized by high plateau, with an altitude of 3500 to 4000 meters, that serves as the watershed for the Yellow and Yangtze River systems. The southeastern part of Aba Prefecture is an area of high mountains and low hills, interspersed with valleys and gorges. The climate of Aba Prefecture naturally varies with the terrain. Thanks to the diversity of the topography and the climate, Aba Prefecture is rich in animal and plant resources as well.
According to archaeologists, whose work is based on historical-cultural relics unearthed at Yinpanshan, Maoxian County, in Aba Prefecture, there were human beings living in the prefecture over 5000 years ago, or about 3000 BCE, at what was the end of the Stone Age (aka the Neolithic, or New Stone Age) and the beginning of the Bronze Age in China (these "ages" vary from region to region around the world). The Yinpanshan Culture, as this Neolithic period culture is called, is closely related to the Majiayao and Sanxingdui Cultures of China, the former being roughly the same age as the Yinpanshan Culture, while the Sanxingdui Culture is significantly older, dating from the period 4170-2875 BCE.
In fact, it is believed that homo sapiens have lived in the area of present-day Sichuan (though not necessarily in present-day Aba Prefecture) since the Upper Paleolithic period (the oldest paleolithic period is the Lower Paleolithic, when early humanoids existed, then comes the Middle Paleolithic, when both Neanderthal and homo sapiens appeared, and finally, the Upper Paleolithic). These early humans were hunter-gatherers. The earliest human fossil in Sichuan was found in 1951 near the city of Ziyang, about 80 kilometers southeast of Chengdu, the province's capital. The fossil has duly been designated as "Ziyang Man". It is believed that during the Upper Paleolithic, Sichuan was much milder and wetter than it is today.
For thousands of years during China's imperial past, a multitude of ancient ethnic minorities, including the Qiang, Sienpi (Xianbei), Tubo and Hui, worked collaboratively, though not always entirely willingly, to make the prefecture a more habitable place. The result is that Aba Prefecture contains the cultural "footprints" of multiple ethnic minorities. The name of the prefecture was changed first to Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in 1955, then to its current designation, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in 1987.
During the period prior to the inclusion of present-day Sichuan into China under the Qin Dynasty, the capital of present-day Sichuan was the city of Chanling, or present-day Diexi, in Maoxian County. In BCE 272, the King of Qin State appointed the famous-to-be engineer of the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, Li Bing, as governor of Shu Prefecture, which the Qin State had wrested from the Shu State with an eye to using the prefecture as a stepping-stone for continued attacks on the Shu State. Much of present-day Sichuan Province - including present-day Aba Prefecture - lay within the Shu State.
At the time, the Min River flooded the entire area every year, and parts of the river were so turbulent during high-water times that it was extremely dangerous to attempt to navigate it. King Xiaoxiang of Qin set Li Bing the task of regulating the river so as to prevent flooding while at the same time making the river navigable year around. Li Bing proceeded to achieve the goal set for him by King Xiaoxiang mainly by shoring up the banks of the river with weirs, making it deeper and less turbulent, and within a short space of years, the Min River was tamed. Only a few years later, King Xiaoxiang was able to subdue the Shu State, and within the course of a few years more, the Qin Dynasty, the first dynasty to unify China, was established under King Xiaoxiang cum Qin Shi Huang, the first Chinese sovereign to proclaim himself "emperor" (though the China of the period by no means corresponded to the enlarged China of today).
Present-Day Aba Prefecture
Thanks to its varied terrain, Aba Prefecture offers a number of interesting scenic sites - in fact, the prefecture boasts some of the most charming scenic sites that one will find north of the Yangtze River, and some of the most renowned tourist sites in all of China. For example, Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Area is often referred to as a fairyland, Huanglong Scenic and Historic Area is known as a "paradise on earth", Mount Siguniang is called the "Queen among all hills in Sichuan", Wolong Nature Reserve is one of China's - and therewith the world's - few Giant Panda reserves, Kalong Scenic Resort is characterized by charming ponds and stone forests, and just beyond the borders of the prefecture to the northwest lie vast grasslands where large flocks of cattle and sheep graze.
Within Aba Prefecture itself are many ethnic characteristics that are worthy of special mention, such as the distinctive, whitewashed folk architecture of the prefecture's Tibetan ethnic minority, the villages of the hard-working Qiang ethnic minority, the ancient stone "pillboxes" (here, a defensive tower with open spaces, or holes, which permit defenders to employ weapons… corresponding to a castle's crenellations) that were manned by the fearless tribes of Greater and Lesser Jinchuan, as the area was called during the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, i.e., the area of western Sichuan that is divided by the Dadu River (Greater Jinchuan was the area west of the Dadu while the area east of the Dadu was called Lesser Jinchuan), which lies at the foot of Mount Murdo, and countless Buddhist temples. Both the Min River and the Dadu River empty into the Yangtze. Aba Prefecture is also the only place in Sichuan Province where China's other Mother-of-all-Rivers, the Yellow River, is present.
Since the topography of Aba Prefecture varies from a low-lying fertile river basin to a semi-arid high plateau, differernt parts of the prefecture are best visited during different seasons. For example, Huanglong Scenic and Historic Area is best visited from April to November, while Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Area is best visited from September to October. The best time to visit Siguniang Shan (Mount "Four Maidens") is at the height of summer, July and August. However, the very best time to visit any of these scenic areas is when you can, i.e., when you plan to visit the prefecture! The unmissable annual International Panda Festival is held in September.