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The Han dynasty extended the Great Wall across this corridor, building the strategic Yumenguan (Jade Gate Pass, near Dunhuang) and Yangguan fort towns along it.Remains of the wall and the towns can be found there.The Ming dynasty built the Jiayuguan outpost in Gansu.To the west of Yumenguan and the Qilian Mountains, at the northwestern end of the province, the Yuezhi, Wusun, and other nomadic tribes dwelt (Shiji 123), occasionally figuring in regional imperial Chinese geopolitics.

The Yellow River gets most of its water from Gansu, flowing straight through Lanzhou.By the Qingshui treaty, concluded in 823 between the Tibetan Empire and the Tang dynasty, China lost much of western Gansu province for a significant period. During that time, many of Gansu's residents were converted to Islam.Along the Silk Road, Gansu was an economically important province, as well as a cultural transmission path.However, due to extreme altitude, some areas of Gansu exhibit a subarctic climate (Dwc) – with winter temperatures sometimes dropping to −40 °C (−40 °F).Most of the limited precipitation is delivered in the summer months: winters are so dry that snow cover is confined to very high altitudes and the snow line can be as high as 5,500 metres (18,040 ft) in the southwest.

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