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N 48° 05′ 32′′, E 88° 55′ 40′′
1,961 MASL
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A meadow with the Altai Mountains in the background. The Altai Mountains form a 2000-kilometer-long natural border between the dry steppe zone of Mongolia and the rich taiga forests of Siberia. The Altai region, formerly controlled by Qing China, was divided between Outer Mongolia and Xinjiang in 1913. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the mountain stands where four countries meet, namely Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia.

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The Altay Prefecture exhibition booth at the 15th Xinjiang Winter Tourism Trade Fair in 2021. In recent years, the Chinese central government has identified the development of ice-and-snow tourism as having great potential for poverty alleviation and sustainable development in these alpine areas. A collaboration agreement has been reached by the Xinjiang and Jilin provincial governments to develop the Chinese Altai and Changbai Mountains into world-class skiing destinations.

1759: Increasing Russian and Qing interests started to overlap at the Irtysh basin and its source, the Altai Mountains, since early 18th century. Referred to in the historical Chinese literature as Jinshan, literally “Gold Mountain,” the Altai Mountains is rich in forest and mineral resources. Qianlong Emperor’s conquest of Xinjiang from the Dzungar Khanate (1758–1759) prompted Russia’s concern of the possibility of Chinese fleets sailing from Lake Zaysan down the Irtysh and into Western Siberia.


1864: The border between the Russian and the Qing empires in the Irtysh basin was established by the 1860 Convention of Peking, and the actual border line pursuant to the convention was drawn by the 1864 Protocol of Chuguchak. Lake Zaysan was assigned to Russia.


1871: During the Dungan Revolt (1862–1877), a Muslim rebellion in Xinjiang, Tibetan monk Bla Ma Dkar Po led a Mongolian volunteer army to defend Tibetan Buddhism in the region. Qing authority built a Buddhist temple with the name “Chenghuasi” to the northeast of the Ulungur Lake and praised the Tibetan monk as a great defender of the Qing territory.


1877: The Altai Uriankhai, a Mongol tribe around the Altai Mountains, had been organized into several banners and attached to Qing ambans since the 1759 Qing conquest of Xinjiang. In the aftermath of the Dungan Revolt, the Kazakhs also migrated into Altai Uriankhai territory, and the Chenghuasi area evolved into a sizeable settlement.


1895: Russian expansion into Mongolia was made feasible when St. Petersburg came to terms with Britain and later Japan. Russia and Britain exchanged identical notes delimiting their respective spheres of interest in China in 1895.


1906: The Qing court transferred the Altai Uriankhai Banner from the jurisdiction of Khovd frontier to the new Altai Region, with its capital at Chenghua (the present Altay City).


1911: On the eve of the collapse of the Qing dynasty, the Chinese government decided that Inner and Outer Mongolia should be formally incorporated into China.


1919: The Altai region was divided between Outer Mongolia and Xinjiang in 1913. Chenghuasi County and Buluntuohai County were established within the Altai Special District in Xinjiang. Buluntuohai County was renamed as Fuhai County in 1942, and Chenghuasi County was renamed as Altai County in 1953.


1939: The Altai region in Mongolia was established as Bayan-Ölgii Province, the country’s only Muslim and Kazakh-majority province.


1946: The independence of Outer Mongolia, or Mongolian People’s Republic established in 1924, was recognized by the Republic of China in 1946.


1956: Several Sino-Mongolian border conflicts happened throughout the 1950s. Mongolia entered China from the Xicha River and Hongshanzui and occupied approximately 720 square kilometers of territory within the Altai Special District.


1962: To appease Mongolia within the context of the Sino–Soviet Split (1956–1966), Sino-Mongolian Border Treaty was signed in 1962 in favor of Mongolia’s territorial request. A border defense wing and a border outpost were established at Hongshanzui.


1984: Altai County was upgraded to city status. Construction of a road connecting Altai City and Hongshanzui in the Fuhai County started.


1992: The Hongshanzui Port was established. A fully enclosed cargo yard and a border trade market have been built since then.


1996: The Altai Tavan Bogd National Park was established on Mongolia’s side of the Altai region.


1998: Russian Altai, or Golden Mountains of Altai, was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.


2002: Increasing discussion on promoting economic and cultural exchanges among four countries that share the Altai Mountains, namely, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia, started since 2002 when a trans-boundary coordination mechanism came into shape.


2010: China’s Altai was added to UNESCO’s “tentative” list of World Heritage, including nature reserves of headwaters for the Irtysh and Ulungur Rivers.


2013: With the 2013 National Highway Network Plan, the Xinjiang–Tibet Highway (G216) was extended north to Hongshanzui on the border with Mongolia and extended south to Gyirong on the border with Nepal.


2015: Proposal of establishing the Trans-Altai International Tourism Cooperative Experimental Zone was submitted by the Altai Prefecture government to the central government for approval.


2021: Strategic collaboration was formed between the Altai Mountain region of Xinjiang and Changbai Mountain region of Jilin Province to promote the development of “Ice and Snow” tourism economy (Bingxue Jingji).

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