The headwaters of the Wei River are notable in the ancient history of the Northern Silk Road, one of four "Silk Roads" of antiquity. According to C. Michael Hogan, the Chinese segment of the Northern Silk Road is "the northernmost route of some 2600 kilometres, which connects the ancient Chinese capital of Xian to the west via the Chinese cities of Baoji, Tianshui , Lanzhou, Dunhuang, over the Wushao Ling Pass to Wuwei and emerging in Kashgar, China before linking to ancient Parthia. This route traverses the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu as well as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This most northern of the Silk Roads is characterised by its looping north of the Taklamakan Desert."
The Wei Valley is likely the earliest center of Chinese civilisation, and also the location of China's first major irrigation works.