Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is one of the country’s most important cities open to the outside world like a piece of emerald embedded at the foot of the Tianshan Mountains. The city, located between latitude 43°5’ to 44°0’ north and longitude 86°0’ to 88°5’ east on an alluvial fan at the northern foot of the Tianshan Mountains, with the Junggar Basin in the north and surrounded by mountain ranges in the east, west and south, and the Urumqi River flowing through it from south to north, covers an area of 11,440 square kilometers with an elevation of 680 to 920 meters, of which 49.3 square kilometers are covered by the city proper, which is two to six kilometers from east to west and sixteen kilometers from north to south. The total urban planning area of the city is 1,600 square kilometers. As the political, economic, cultural, science and technological and information center of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Urumqi is the hub of communications linking the region with the rest of the country as well as linking it up with various parts north and south of the Tianshan Mountains.
The place where Urumqi stands was a pastureland in ancient times. At the beginning of the Han Dynasty, the wasteland was reclaimed and agriculture was initiated by immigrants. During the Sui Dynasty, trade began to be conducted between the region and the interior of the country, which further brought in the advanced civilization from the Central Plains. During the Tang Dynasty, troops were stationed in the Urumqi area to develop the land and to build frontier fortifications. During the Ming Dynasty, a city was set up in the present Jiujiawan District of Urumqi, but it was destroyed by fire in the Junggar Rebellion which was put down by the Qing government in 1755, the twentieth year of the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong. The Qing troops built barracks on the east side of the Urumqi River in 1758, the twenty-third year of Qing Emperor Qianlong. Five years later, a new city was built and named " Dihua", which, in Chinese, means "enlightening and civilizing" and, so, carries implications of contempt for the minority nationalities. In 1765, Dihua City was extended from its north. In 1884, the tenth year of Qing Emperor Guangxu, Xinjiang Province was established and Dihua City became its capital. In 1954, five years after liberation, the city was renamed Urumqi. As a city Urumqi was only a little over 210 years old, and as a provincial capital, 101 years old.
Urumqi is a multinational city with a population of 1.5 million and a population density of 101 persons per square kilometer. There are thirteen nationalities living in the city, including the Uygur, Han, Hui, Kazak, Manchu, Mongol, Xibe, and Russian. Of the total population of the city 74.11 percent are Han nationality; 11.82 Uygur; 9.87 Hui; 3.10 Kazak; 0.29 Manchu; 0.23 Mongol; 0.16 Xibe and 0.09 Russian.
Urumqi is located in the temperate zone of a dry continental climate. The meteorological data indicate that the annual mean temperature in Urumqi has been 7.3°C for many years. The highest temperature recorded was 42.1 °C on August 1, 1973; the hottest month, July, averages 25.7 °C. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -41.5 °C on February 27, 1951; the coldest month, January, averages -15.2°C. The annual mean precipitation is 194 millimeters, while the frost-free period averages 179 days per year. Annual mean sunshine time is 2,821 hours. The annual mean difference of temperature between day and night is 10.7 °C. The difference between local and Beijing time is two hours.
The city is rich in natural resources. High-quality coal reserves of all kinds have topped nine billion tons. In the southeast there is forty square kilometers natural salt lake which abounds with salt and mirabilite. Furthermore, the northern part of the city is blessed with many other minerals, such as oil, natural gas, iron, manganese, phosphorus and limestone.
The songs and dances of Xinjiang possess a special charm owing perhaps to the magic quality of the wind and snow of the Tianshan Mountains. The artists of numerous songs and dances ensembles and theatres in Urumqi hold the audience spellbound with their wonderful performance. Many "nightingales" from the Tianshan Mountains create sensations all over China and the world. The vault roofed museum and exhibition hall house and display many rare cultural relics, the only one of their kinds in China and the world and witnesses the history of Xinjiang. They include implements used by prehistoric men, documents of ruling organizations set up by the Han and Tang authorities in the west region, seals engraved with the characters Han Gui Yi Qian Zhang (chief of the Qiang in Allegiance to Han), and Yi He Fu (Yi He Prefecture) and signifying the enfeoffment of the Mongolian tribe Tuerhute. There are also wooden tablets carved with ancient scripts, rubbings from tablet inscriptions, Chinese and foreign coins of different times, ancient silk, woolen and cotton fabrics, mummies 1,000 to 4,000 years and porcelain. A visit to this west region art gallery is simply an unforgettable experience.