The issue of the North-West, its developmental potential and significance as a national place, gained great attention in early and mid-1930s China. Early twentieth-century Chinese understandings of the North-West as a geographical region derived from Qing imperial order in the Inner Asian frontier lands of the empire but the term became more complex semantically in the Republic and by the 1930s it had gained a range of different meanings. Such complexity bespoke some of the tensions involved in conceptualizing the relationship between former Qing Inner Asian frontier lands and the Chinese heartland within the new territorial form of the Chinese Republic. This article traces changing meanings and uses of the term from the late Qing into the 1930s. It identifies and examines key areas of its discursive content and reveals the growing centrality of ideas of the frontier and North-West in Chinese nationalist discourse. This research highlights the importance of the frontier in post-imperial Chinese visions of the nation.