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Bronze Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow, one of China's various craft masterpieces, is exhibited at Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou.

Lanzhou boasts a long and brilliant history. Originally part of the territory of the Western Qiang people, Lanzhou became part of the State of Qin in the 6th century B.C.

In 81 B.C., under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.), it was made the seat of the Jincheng Commandery. Later it was recognized as Jincheng County. With its original meaning being “the Golden City,” it was a major link on the ancient Silk Road and also an important historic Yellow River crossing.

After the fall of the Han Dynasty, Lanzhou became the capital of several tribal states. The Northern Wei dynasty (386–534) re-established the Jincheng Commandery, renaming the county “Zicheng.”

Under the Sui Dynasty (581–618), the city was named “Lanzhou prefecture” for the first time, retaining this name under the Tang Dynasty (618–907). In 763, the area was overrun by the Tibetan Empire and in 843 it was conquered by the Tang. It later fell into the hands of the Western Xia Dynasty (which flourished in Qinghai from the 11th to 13th century) and was subsequently absorbed by the Song Dynasty (960–1126) in 1041. The name Lanzhou was re-established, and the county got renamed “Lanzhuan.”

After 1127, it fell into the hands of the Jin Dynasty, and after 1235 it came into the possession of the Mongol Empire.

Under the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the prefecture was demoted to the level of county and placed under the administration of the Lintao superior prefecture; but in 1477, Lanzhou was again recognized as a political unit.

The city acquired its current name in 1656, during the Qing Dynasty. When Gansu was made a separate province in 1666, Lanzhou became its capital.

In 1739, the seat of Lintao was transferred to Lanzhou, which was later made a superior prefecture actually called Lanzhou.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) Lanzhou, linked with Xi'an by highway in 1935, became the terminus of the 3,200 km Chinese-Soviet highway, used as a route for Soviet supplies destined for the Xi'an area. This highway remained the primary traffic route of northwestern China, right until the completion of the railway from Lanzhou to Urumqi, Xinjiang. During the war, Lanzhou was heavily bombed by the Japanese.

In 1941, Lanzhou City was re-established after part of Gaolan County had lined out its administration area. On August 26, 1949, the city of Lanzhou was liberated and became the political, economic and cultural center of Gansu Province.

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