Lanzhou's history can be traced back to 86 BC. According to the historical record, gold was found there so the city was originally called "Jincheng", which means golden city in Chinese.
Another tradition is that the city was too strong to break into, it was just as stable as gold, and so was named golden city.
Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), in the third year of his reign set up a Lanzhou general administration office, which was the official source of the name Lanzhou in the annals of history.
After Qin Shihuang (259 – 210 BC), the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty unified China, the country was divided into 36 prefectures (ancient administrative divisions). Lanzhou belonged to Longxi prefecture.
In the early Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), Lanzhou still belonged to Longxi prefecture. In the first year of the reign of Emperor Zhao (86 BC), Jincheng (golden city) county was established in Lanzhou under the administration of Tianshui prefecture.
In 81 BC, the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Zhao, the county was upgraded to Jincheng prefecture. In the 12th year of "Jianwu", the reign of Emperor Liu Xiu of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Jincheng prefecture came under the administration of Longxi prefecture. At the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Jincheng prefecture was divided and Xiping prefecture came into existence.
In 583, Emperor Wen renamed Jincheng prefecture Lanzhou and set up a Lanzhou general administration office close to Gaolan Mountain which lies to the south of the city. In 607 Lanzhou was renamed Jincheng prefecture and administered Jincheng and Didao counties.
After the unification of China in the Tang Dynasty, Lanzhou experienced several name changes and finally the name Lanzhou was firmly established in 759.
In the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Lanzhou belonged to Lintao prefecture. In the fifth year of his reign (1666) Emperor Kangxi founded Gansu province with Lanzhou as its capital city. From then on, Lanzhou has always been the political center of Gansu.
At the initial stage of the Republic of China, Lanzhou went through several more administrative changes.
In 1941, Lanzhou was reorganized with a downtown over 16 square kilometers and a population of over 172,000. In 1944, its downtown area was enlarged to 146 square kilometers.
On August 26, 1949, Lanzhou was liberated. From then on, Lanzhou began a new historical era. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, Lanzhou's organizational system has changed a couple of times. Now, Lanzhou administers the five districts of Chengguan, Qilihe, Anning, Xigu and Honggu and the three counties of Yuzhong, Gaolan and Yongdeng.