Yaan lies in the center of Sichuan Province on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. It is bounded on the east by Chengdu, by Garze in the west, with Liangshan and Aba bordering south and north.

Yaan was long considered to be the territory of the Qingyi Qiang Kingdom, which was established in 816BC by a tribe of the ancient Qiang minority in western Sichuan. The city of Yaan has more than two thousand years of history since the Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC). During the early years after China's liberation, it was officially designated as the capital of Xikang Province.

Yaan is situated on the western fringe area of Sichuan Basin, lying in the transition zone from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to Chengdu Plain. It has complex landforms and the terrain rolls intensely. Daxiang Ling (or Niba Mountain) traverses the center of the city.

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