Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2012, Vol. 4 Issue (2): 211-220    DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1227.2012.00211
Research Articles     
The qanats of Xinjiang: historical development, characteristics and modern implications for environmental protection
WenJun HU 1,2, JieBin ZHANG3, YongQiang LIU1
1 Hohai University, Nanjing 210098, China;
2 The International Economic & Technical Cooperation and Exchange Center, Ministry of Water Resources, Beijing 100053, China;
3 Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
Download:   PDF(343KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      

Abstract  In China, qanats (kan’erjing/karez) exist only in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, being one form of traditional irrigation technology that made great contributions to oasis civilizations. There are different opinions on the origin and date of the qanats in Xinjiang due to a lack of adequate evidences. And uncontrolled over-exploitation of groundwater by pumping wells, as well as the expansion of surface water interventions nowadays, has caused serious impacts on not only the qanats, but also local ecological environments. There exist long-time arguments on whether the qanats should be restored or preserved. This study aimed to examine the historical development, geological conditions and characteristics, and modern implications of the qanats for oasis environmental protection, and to discuss the initiatives taken by local governments. The whole Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region was included as the study area, with a specific focus on Turpan prefecture. The materials and data were obtained from literature review and governmental documentation. Based on a systematic examination of three prevailing theories on the origination of Xinjiang’s qanats, it is suggested modern archaeological techniques could be good solutions to explore the origination in addition to historical records used normally. Although qanats fail to fully meet today’s enormous water demands, their rich historical, cultural, ecological and environmental implications in arid areas should not be underestimated. As a cultural heritage and ecologically-friendly engineering creation, qanat systems shall be kept in good condition and function by a valuable number. Recent initiatives to protect and restore target qanat systems in Xinjiang could provide positive examples for the practices in other regions of the world where the protection and restoration of qanats or similar technologies are desired.

Received: 25 August 2011      Published: 06 June 2012
Corresponding Authors: JieBin ZHANG     E-mail:
Cite this article:

WenJun HU, JieBin ZHANG, YongQiang LIU. The qanats of Xinjiang: historical development, characteristics and modern implications for environmental protection. Journal of Arid Land, 2012, 4(2): 211-220.

URL:     OR

Abudu S, Cevik S Y, Bawazir S, et al. 2011. Vitality of ancient karez systems in arid lands: a case study in Turpan region of China. Water History, 3(3): 213–225.

China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research (IWHR). 1987. China Water History III. Beijing: Water and Hydropower Press, 417–418.

Colburn M. 2002. The many faces of Afghanistan. Portland: Mercy Corps, 35–37.

English P W. 1998. Qanats and lifeworlds in Iranian plateau villages. Yale F&ES Bulletin, 103: 187–205.

Hansen RD. 1999. Karez (Qanats) of Turpan, China. DIALOG. [2007-11-16].

Huang S Z. 2003. Oasis Studies. Beijing: Science Press, 3–17; 246–80.

International Center on Qanats and Historic Hydraulic Structures (ICQHS). 2008. History of karezes. DIALOG. [2008-03-24]. http://www.karez. nfo/ n/history.php.

Kan’erjing Research Group under Xinjiang Hydraulic Engineering Society and Xinjiang Water Conservancy Bureau (KRG). 1990. A Study on Xinjiang’s Kan’erjing. Xinjiang Water Resources Science & Technology, 5: 32–37.

Lightfoot D R. 1996. Syrian qanat Romani: history, ecology, aban-donment. Journal of Arid Environments, 33: 321–336.

Li J C. 2005. A study on the origin and date of Xinjiang’s Kan’erjing. Journal of Xinjiang Normal University: Social Sciences, 26(3): 25–28.

Liu H. 2004. The “Underground Great Wall” may disappear in 25 years? —Urgent Crying for Help to Xinjiang Kanrejing. Xinhuanet News. [2010-07-25].

Mclachlan A. 1989. Qanat, Kariz and Khattara: Traditional Water Systems in the Middle East and North Africa. Wisbech, Cambridge-shire, England : Middle East & North African Studies Press, 10–35.

Mostafaeipour A. 2010. Historical background, productivity and tech-nical issues of qanats. Water History, 2: 61–80.

Rahman M. 1981. Ecology of karez irrigation: A case of Pakistan. Geojournal, 5(1): 7–15.

Rao S. 2004. Xinjiang Kan’erjing—the Source of Oasis. Geography Educa-tion, China. [2010-07-25].

Tayier A. 2007. An overview of the studies on Xinjiang’s Kan’erjing. Western Regions Studies, 1: 111–115.

Wang H T. 1992. Research on Kan’erjing in Xinjiang. Xinjiang Water Resources, 3: 11–18.

Wang H M. 2003. What Fate for Xinjing’s Kan’erjing?. The People’s Daily, China. [2010-07-25].


Wessels J, Hoogeveen R J A. 2002. Renovation of karezes in Syria. In: Zafar Adeel. Sustainable Management of Marginal Drylands, Appli-cation of Indigenous Knowledge for Coastal Drylands. Proceedings of a Joint UNU-UNESCO-ICARDA International Workshop, Alexan-dria, Egypt. Tokyo, Japan: United Nations University, 1–13.

Wulff H E. 1968. The qanats of Iran. Scientific American, 218(4): 94–105.

Xinjiang People’s Congress (XPC). 2006. Regulation on Protection of Kan’erjing in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions. The National People's Congress (NPC) of the People’s Republic of China.  [2010-07-25].

Zhong X Q. 1995.The shaft-tunnel method in the Central Plains and Kan’erjing in Turpan. Western Regions Studies, 4: 36–43.

Zhou K Y. 2002. Water Volume, China Science and Technology His-tory. Beijing: Science Press, 368–370.
No related articles found!