Yushu Overview

Basic Information

  • Chinese Name: 玉树
  • Location: Located in southwest of Qinghai Province (青海省)
  • Area: 267,000 square kilometers
  • Population: 409,500, Tibetan nationality is the vast majority nationality group
  • Language: Mandarin, Tibetan Kang dialect, etc.

Administration Divisions

Yushu is the first ethnic autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province and the second in China. It has jurisdiction over 1 city and 5 counties.


Yushu occupies most of the southwestern third of Qinghai, with the exception of the province's extreme southwestern corner (Tanggulashan Town唐古拉山镇), which is an exclave of the Haixi (海西) Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Almost all of the prefecture is located in the uppermost part of the basins of three of Asia's great rivers - the Yellow River (黄河), the Yangtze (长江), and the Mekong (湄公河), although in the remote areas of the far west of the prefecture, and along its northern borders, there are some endorheic basins as well. A significant portion of the prefecture's territory is incorporated into the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (三江源国家级自然保护区), intended to protect the headwaters of the three great rivers.

Most of the prefecture's population lives in its southeastern part: primarily in the valley of the upper Yangtze (长江), and some also in the valley of the Mekong. The highlands away from these two rivers, as well as the western part of the prefecture, have very little population.


With elevations above 3,600 meters (12,000 ft), the prefecture has a harsh climate, with long, cold winters, and short, rainy, and cool to warm summers. Specifically, in the Köppen system, the prefecture ranges from the alpine variation of the subarctic climate, to a full alpine climate, to a semi-arid climate. Most of the annual precipitation occurs from June to September, when on average, a majority of the days each month has some rainfall. The annual mean temperature in Yushu County, at an elevation of 3,690 meters (12,110 ft), is 3.22 °C (37.8 °F) and in Qumarlêb(曲麻莱县), in the northeast of the prefecture at 4,190 m (13,750 ft) elevation, −2.13 °C (28.2 °F). Sunshine is generous, ranging from around 2500 hours in the prefecture seat to 2780 hours in Qumarlêb. Read more about Yushu Climate.

The Best Time to Visit

Summer is the best season to travel Yushu because the temperature in summer is high, and it often rains at night, therefore it is humid. Although locating in the northwest, the climate is relatively stable. It is a natural summer resort because it is cool in summer.

Things to Do

1. Hoh Xil Nature Reserve (可可西里自然保护区)

Hoh Xil Nature Reserve, with a total area of 4.5 million hectares, is located in the western part of Yushu. It is one of the nature reserves with the largest area, the highest altitude and the richest wildlife resources in China. The reserve is mainly for the protection of Tibetan antelope, wild yak, Tibetan wild donkey, Tibetan gazelle and other rare wild animals, plants and their habitats

2. Qusay Lake (库赛湖)

Located in Wudao Township, Zhidoi County (治多县五道乡), Qusay Lake is a saltwater lake with an elevation of 4,479 meters and an inner-flow.

3. Tongtian River (通天河)

As the headstream of Yangtze River (长江),Tongtian River is 1,174 kilometers long, with a total basin area of about 140,000 square kilometers.

4. Essential Tibetan Temple (尕藏寺)

Essential Tibetan Temple is the oldest and largest Sa-skya monastery in Chengduo County.

5. Folk Singing and Dancing

Folk singing and dancing in Yushu are worth visiting. Yushu has always been known as the "hometown of singing and dancing". There is a saying in Yushu: "If you can talk, you can sing; if you can walk, you can dance". Singing and dancing are an integral part of Tibetan life in Yushu. Yushu folk song and dance is an art form of collective participation and have extremely high artistic and research value of folk custom.

6. Food

Zanba (糌粑), buttered tea (酥油茶), highland barley wine (青稞酒), beef and mutton are traditional Tibetan food, which must be in your to-do list.

History & Culture

Yushu prefecture is rich in Buddhist monasteries. Being a constituent of the former Nangchen (囊谦) kingdom, the area was, for most of the time, not under domination by the Dalai Lama’s Gelugpa order in Lhasa (拉萨). The different balance of power in this part of Kham enabled the older Tibetan Buddhist orders to prevail in Yushu. Of the 195 pre-1958 lamaseries only 23 belonged to the Gelugpa.

An overwhelming majority of more than 100 monasteries followed and still follow the teachings of the various Kagyupa schools (oral lineage school口头传承学校), with some of their sub-sects only found in this part of Tibet. The Sakyapa were and are also strong in Yushu, with many of their 32 monasteries being among the most significant in Kham. The Nyingmapa’s monastic institutions amount to about the same number, while the Bönpo are only met with in one lamasery they share with the Nyingmapa.
Prior to collectivization in 1958, the entire monastic population of present-day Yushu TAP amounted to more than 25,000 Buddhist monks and nuns, with approximately 300 incarnate lamas among them. On the average about three to five per cent of the population were monastic, with a strikingly higher share in Nangchen County, where monks and nuns made up between 12 and 20% of the community.


The eastern part of the Yushu is served by the China National Highway 214 and Yushu Batang Airport. The far western part of the prefecture is crossed by China National Highway 109 and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Planes and long-distance buses are available to get there, and buses, taxies and chartered cars are available to get around in Yushu. To know more about Yushu Transportation.


On this magic plateau of 260,000 square kilometers, 380,000 hard-working and intelligent Kangba children (康巴儿女) have lived for generations. The popularity of Yushu is well known to the world. By building a tourism and cultural brand, Yushu improves its popularity to reputation. It is an autonomous prefecture with the highest proportion of main ethnic groups, the largest land area per capita, the strongest Kangba culture and the most important ecological position among the 30 ethnic autonomous prefectures. It now has 10 national intangible cultural heritage items, 245 Buddhist temples and 54 festivals with ethnic characteristic


In 2005, the gross national product of Yushu reached 253.13 million yuan, including 154.23 million yuan in the primary industry, 47.95 million yuan in the secondary industry, 50.95 million yuan in the tertiary industry, and 129.77 million yuan in fixed asset investment, 1911.03 yuan in per capita income (comprehensive) for farmers and herdsmen, and 15.55 million yuan in local fiscal revenue. In April 2010, the economy of Yushu was damaged to a certain extent due to the April 14 earthquake.


Like other places in Tibetan areas, the dietary customs of Yushu not only have the characteristics of high nutrition, high calories and medicinal properties, but also have certain local characteristics in the preparation of meals. Zanba (糌粑), buttered tea (酥油茶), highland barley wine (青稞酒), beef and mutton are traditional Tibetan food. This is created, enjoyed and inherited by Tibetans in the long course of social and historical life. Like the rest of Tibet, the traditional staple food of Yushu people is mainly meat and highland barley fried noodles (青稞炒面), supplemented by dairy products such as ghee, and yogurt. To know more about Yushu Dining.


Most people in Yushu are Tibetans. During festivals, the locals wear their brightly colored national costumes and take part in all kinds of activities.