In a land area of 45,000 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers 14 counties and cities in southeastern Gansu province, northwestern China. Tianshui is 1,100 kilometers southwest of Beijing or 328 kilometers west of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.
The population in the diocesan territory is about 6 million at end of 2004. (The population of the whole country is 1.3 billion). Most residents are ethnic groups of Han, Hui, Tibetan, Dongxiang, Mongolian, Tu, Yugur and Baoan. Gansu has been a multi-ethnic province since ancient times. 54 nationalities have inhabited here.
Catholicism was brought to the Tianshui area as early as 1870. The erection of the diocese came in 1905, when Gansu province, also named Long, meaning surrounded by mountains, was divided into North Long and South Long apostolic vicariates. Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Swiss Franciscan friar known as the poor people's lawyer who was canonized in 1746, was the patron saint for South Long. The two vicariates were then dropped and the area redivided east and west in 1922.
In 1924, East Long vicariate was renamed Qingzhou (Tsinchow, former name of Tianshui). It became a diocese in 1946. First entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, German Capuchins took over the area in 1922.
According to the Pontifical Yearbook, the diocese had in 1950 a number of 45,000 Catholics representing 1.8 percent of the population of 2,500 000. There was a total of 88 priests (78 diocesan, 10 religious) and 33 female Religious serving 24 parishes.
After foreign missionaries were expelled from mainland China, Chinese clergy became responsible for Church affairs in Tianshui. Father Augustine Zhao Jingnong led the diocese since 1951 until he and other priests were arrested in the Cultural Revolution.
In 1981, religious activities revived and Father Zhao was ordained a bishop. Under his leadership, the diocese restored confiscated churches and built new churches, and developed pastoral and evangelistic work. There has been no bishop since he died in 2004.
Gansu province was the start of the ancient Silk Road that indirectly linked China with Europe. Tianshui, 1,100 kilometers southwest from Beijing, is a historical and cultural city, since it was an administrative center for various Chinese dynasties as well as an anthropological center. Monuments and records there can be traced back a far as 7,800 years ago.
Tianshui is thought to be the birthplace of two legendary Chinese figures, Fuxi and Nuwa. Fuxi was a demigod credited with the invention of hunting, fishing and the domestication of animals. Nuwa, his wife, was a goddess who created mankind and used stones to patch the holes in the sky caused by the Spirit of Water.
The region has a temperate monsoonal climate with the marked transitional characteristics of a continental climate. Mean annual temperature is 9 degrees Celsius with July being the hottest month, averaging 20 to 24 degrees Celsius, and January, the coldest month with minus 12 to plus 2 degrees Celsius. The mean annual precipitation is 50-500 mm, decreasing from east to west.
Millet, corn (maize), winter wheat, kaoliang (sorghum), some cotton, and tobacco are grown in the area. Along the railway lie large, unexploited coal deposits. Tianshui is the centre of various industries, including machinery, textiles, electrical appliances, and tractors; other products are wine, furniture, and fine lacquerware.
The city stands in a small fertile basin, watered by a long-established irrigation system.