The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region ("Inner Mongolia" for short) is the first "province" in China to achieve the status of an autonomous ethnic region. To the north of Inner Mongolia lies Russia, with Mongolia (aka "Outer Mongolia") an oval land mass sandwiched in between the two in the center, i.e., stretching from the northernmost point of the Uyghur Autonomous Region's border in the west to the northeast corner of Inner Mongolia's border in the east (or 'filling up the bowl' at the top of China, as it were, with Russia continuing left (west) and right (east), where the Mongolian-Chinese border ceases). Inner Mongolia is bounded on its southern border by China proper, beginning with Gansu Province in the west and ending with Heilongjiang Province in the northeast.
Inner Mongolia Plateau lies at an average height of about 1000 meters above sea level. Roughly speaking, the plateau consists of a mountainous area in the center surrounded by grasslands that are crisscrossed by rivers and dotted by lakes, with deserts and salt lakes in the west, extensive forests in the east, and a rich river plain in the southwest. Yin Mountain and its branch, Daqing Mountain, in the center of the plateau reach an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level, while the area around Hulunbeier Lake and Xilinguole River are endless grasslands.
In the western region of Alashan are deserts and salt water lakes, while the forests of Great Xing'anling dominate in the west. To the southeast of Great Xing'anling Forest lies the fertile Liao River Plain. In the southwest, corresponding to the part of Inner Mongolia that borders Gansu Province and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is the fertile Hetao-Tumochuan Plain and the Yellow River alluvial plain, with the Yellow River (Huang He River) and the Dahei River running through them, and with the agriculturally-rich Ordos Plateau below that (the latter has been somewhat over-exploited in recent years, with heavy grazing and plowed fields that require massive amounts of water and artificial fertilizer, a problem common to many developed countries, including the western part of the U.S.).
There are 13 billion mu (1 mu = 0.667 hectares) of grassland in Inner Mongolia, which corresponds to half of the entire area of Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia accounts for the largest quantities of leather, wool - including cashmere - and camel hair in China. The regions of Hetao and Tumochuan, as well as the West Liao River Plain are abundant in wheat, potatoes, sugar-beet and flax. Inner Mongolia is China's principal producer of sugar-beet and flax. It is one of China's principal producers of wheat, broomcorn millet, millet, potatoes, and sunflower, and a major producer of mushrooms, licorice, aniseed, and black sunflower seed. Inner Mongolia's Great Xing'anling Forest produces one-sixth of China's timber, and the Hetao region is famous for its sweet, aromatic Hualaixi melons. Inner Mongolia is China's second-largest producer of coal.
Inner Mongolia's industries are in large part geared to the the raw materials in supply in the area. Here are light industries that produce wool and leather as well as other handicrafts - and dairy products, of course, as well as heavier industries that produce steel and lumber as well as heavy machinery. In addition, there is an excellent transportation infrastructure in the region.
At the close of 2004, the total population of Inner Mongolia was registered at 23.84 million, spread across 49 ethnic groups, including Mongols, Han, Man, Hui, Dawoer, Elunchun, Korean, and a smattering of lesser ethnic groups. The Han ethnic group is the largest, at 78.5%, followed by the Mongols at 17.5%.
At the close of 2004 there were 80 National-Class (from Class 1A to Class 4A) tourist areas round about Inner Mongolia. Of these, 7 are Class 4A (the highest classification), such as the Gegentala Grassland Tourist Center and the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan (Ghengis Khan (CE 1162-1227) was the Mongol leader who conquered half the world and whose grandson, Kublai Khan, became the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty emperor), while 30 are Class 3A, such as the Wusutu National Forest Park, the Xilamuren Grassland Tourist Center, and the Huhenuoer Tourist Center.
In addition, there are 165 Star-Class (from 1-Star to 5-Star) hotels, of which 2 are 5-Star hotels, namely, the Inner Mongolia Hotel and the Xincheng Hotel. Eight of the best 1000 tourist cities of China are located in Inner Mongolia, among them, Huhehaote, Xilinhaote, and Manzhouli. To match the tourist flocks up with these many attractions there are 292 registered tourist agencies in Inner Mongolia, which has seen an explosion in tourism in recent years, as more and more tourists, domestic as well as foreign, cast their attention on this, one of China's last unspoiled frontiers.