Known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan it is a province in Southwest China with its capital being Chengdu. The current Chinese name of the province 四川 is an abbreviation of 四川路 (Sì Chuānlù), or "Four circuits of rivers", which is itself abbreviated from 川峡四路 (Chuānxiá Sìlù), or ‘Four circuits of rivers and gorges’, named after the division of the existing circuit into four during the Northern Song Dynasty.
Sichuan has been historically known as the ‘Province of Abundance’. It is one of the major agricultural production bases of China famous for grain, including rice and wheat.
Sichuan is also one of the major industrial centres of China. In addition to heavy industries such as coal, energy, iron and steel, the province has also established a light industrial sector comprising building materials, wood processing, food and silk processing.
Chengdu and Mianyang are the production centres for textiles and electronics products; Deyang, Panzhihua, and Yibin are the production centres for machinery, metallurgical industries, and wine, respectively. Sichuan's wine production accounted for 21.9% of the country’s total production in 2000.
In the last 30 years great strides have been made in developing Sichuan into a modern hi-tech industrial base, by encouraging both domestic and foreign investments in electronics and information technology (such as software), machinery and metallurgy (including automobiles), hydropower, pharmaceutical, food and beverage industries. The auto industry is an important and key sector of the machinery industry in Sichuan with most of the manufacturing companies are located in Chengdu, Mianyang, Nanchong, and Luzhou.
Other important industries in Sichuan include aerospace and defence (military) industries. A number of China's rockets (Long March rockets) and satellites were launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in the city of Xichang.
Sichuan's beautiful landscape and rich historical relics have also made the province a major centre for tourism.
The majority of the province's population is Han Chinese, who are found scattered throughout the region with the exception of the far western areas where significant minorities of Tibetans, Yi, Qiang and Naxi reside in the western portion forming a traditional transition zone between Central Asian and East Asian cultures. The Eastern Lipo, included with either Yi people or Lisu people as well as the A-Hmao are among the other ethnic groups of the province.
Sichuan is currently the country’s fourth most populous, after Guangdong, Shandong and Henan.