Sichuan, formerly romanized as Szechwan, is a province in southwest China occupying most of the Sichuan Basin between the Himalayas on the west, the Daba in the north, and the Yungui Plateau to the east. Following Chongqing's elevation to provincial status, Sichuan's capital became Chengdu.
In antiquity, Sichuan was the home of the ancient states of Ba and Shu. Their conquest by Qin strengthened it and paved the way for the First Emperor's unification of China under the Qin Dynasty. During the Three Kingdoms era, Liu Bei's Shu was based in Sichuan. The area was devastated in the 17th century by Zhang Xianzhong's rebellion and the area's subsequent Manchu conquest, but recovered to become one of China's most productive areas by the 19th century. During the Second World War, Chongqing served as the temporary capital of the Republic of China, making it the focus of Japanese bombing. It was one of the last mainland areas to fall to the Communists during the Chinese Civil War and was divided into four parts from 1949 to 1952, with Chongqing restored two years later. It suffered gravely during the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61 but remained China's most populous province until Chongqing Municipality was again separated from it in 1997.
The people of Sichuan speak a unique form of Mandarin, which took shape during the area's repopulation under the Ming. The family of dialects is now spoken by about 120 million people, which would make it the 10th most spoken language in the world if counted separately. The area's warm damp climate long caused Chinese medicine to advocate spicy dishes; the native Sichuan pepper was supplemented by Mexican chilis during the Columbian Exchange to form modern Sichuan cuisine, whose dishes—including Kung Pao chicken and Mapo tofu—have become staples around the world.