Baotou Travel Guide

Last updated by drwi at 2014/5/4

Baotou Overview

Baotou, a prefecture level city whose name in Mongolian, Baoketu, means "a place abundant in deer" - though the deer have long since been decimated - is situated on the banks of the Yellow River near the foot of the Yinshan Mountains. Baotou is located roughly in the center of the southwestern half of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia, for short), which lies on a northeast-southwest axis. Baotou Municipality covers some 28,000 square kilometers, with a population totaling over 2½ million that comprises 43 ethnic groups, including the Han, the Hui, the Man, and of course the Mongols, to name the largest groups.

But long before the arrival of these groups, the area of present-day Inner Mongolia - which marks the eastern edge of the Eurasian Steppe, an area that stretches from Hungary in the west to greater Mongolia in the east, and which in ancient times was dominated by nomadic horsemen - was originally inhabited by non horse-riding Mongoloid tribes who belonged to what has been termed the Ordos Culture, as revealed by the archeological finds unearthed at various sites in the area, including the Guoxianyaozi site near the village of Bayan Nur, on the eastern boundary of present-day Inner Mongolia near the border with Jilin Province.


Early, or Pre Han-Chinese, History

The earliest people who lived in the area around Baotou enjoyed a hunting-pastoral economy - they supplemented the meat from their sheep and goat flocks with that of wild animals, and of course they made good use of the pelts of both types of animals. These Baotou area Mongoloid tribes had a culture that was distinct from the culture of the horse-riding nomadic tribes of Scythian (Persian) origin who later entered the area, and with whom the Ordos people eagerly traded and otherwise interacted a great deal, and apparently, relatively peacefully.

The Scythian nomads were driven out by the more aggressive, horse-riding Xiongnu tribes who had earlier chased the Yuezhi out of the area of the present-day Qinghai-Gansu-Sichuan area (the Yuezhi fled further westward, settling in the area of present-day Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). The Ordos Culture of the area was eventually replaced by the culture of the Xiongnu, who, in turn, would be replaced by the Mongol tribes of Genghis Khan. The first section of China's Great Wall, built during the Western Han (BCE 206 - BC 009) Dynasty, was erected in order to keep out the Xiongnu, who were considered barbarians.*


Present-Day Baotou

Baotou boasts a great many places of cultural interest, such as grassland landscapes, singular Yellow River scenery, and unique desert landscapes. The latter include the site of the first section of the Great Wall - the ancient Qin-Zhao Dynasty Great Wall. It also includes Sand Gorge and the source of the Yellow River in the Yinshan Mountains. Other sites of interest in the area are Wudangzhao Temple and Nanhaizi Tourist Area.

The Saihan Tala Grassland is interlocked with the municipal area of Baotou, making it the only grassland in China - if not in the world - that is partially located within the limits of a city. The Genghis Khan Mausoleum - a must-see destination for any visitor to the area - is located on the northeastern edge of the Ordos Desert, about 100 kilometers southwest of the city of Baotou.


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* The name that the Xiongnu were known by among themselves is believed to have been "Hungnor", or "Hunoch", a name that the Han Chinese could not pronounce and which was therefore Sinicized to "Hungnu" in early Chinese sources (in much the same way that the English-speaking world would later render "Beijing" as "Peking"). The character for the syllable "hu" has the same sound as the character for "non Han-Chinese", or "barbarian", which may explain how the story came to emerge that the Great Wall was erected to keep out barbarians - it was in fact erected to keep out the Xiongnu tribes who made repeated and violent, if not barbaric, attacks upon the Han Chinese who had eventually moved into the area during the Han Dynasty.

One interesting theory has it that the westward push of the early Huns - believed to be descendants of the Xiongnu tribes who roamed the Eurasian Steppes and who caused the Chinese so much trouble that the latter erected the Great Wall in response - only occurred because the Xiongnu in the end realized that they could not defeat the Han Chinese, who, though by no means as fierce in battle as the Xiongnu, enjoyed what we today would call "safety in numbers": for every 10 that were killed, 100 would replace them.

Later descendants of the Xiongnu cum Huns, under the leadership of Atilla (the Hun) would invade the Gothic kingdoms of the Visigoths and the Vandals, who, in turn, would push southward into present-day Italy, sacking Rome, and westward into present-day Spain, wreaking havoc there. Thus, the sacking of Rome, by this theory, can indirectly be blamed on the fact that the Xiongnu, faced with the impregnability of the Great Wall and the reality of the superior numbers of the Chinese, sought westward, as this was the path of least resistance. Of course, the theory ignores the fact that the Goths need not have done to the Italians and the Spanish what the Huns did to them!

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