all the Uygurs are found in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region which
covers more than 1,709,400 square kilometers or approximately
one sixth of China's total landmass, and is by far the biggest
of the country's regions and provinces. It occupies much of the
Uygur ethnic group, Han, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Tajik,
Xibe, Ozbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar and Russian people also live
in Xinjiang. The Uygurs is the largest ethnic group in Xinjiang.
They believe in Islam.
The region is
bounded by the Altay Mountains in the north, the Pamirs in the
west, the Karakoram Mountains, Altun Mountains and Kunlun Mountains
in the south. The Tianshan Mountains divide Xinjiang into northern
and southern parts with very different climate and landscape.
Southern Xinjiang includes the Tarim Basin and the Taklimakan
Desert, China's largest, while northern Xinjiang contains the
Junggar Basin, where the Karamay Oilfields and the fertile Ili
River valley are situated. The Turpan Basin, the hottest and
lowest point in China, lies at the eastern end of the Tianshan
Mountains. The Tarim, Yarkant, Yurunkax and Qarran rivers irrigate
land around the Tarim Basin, while the Ili, Irtish, Ulungur
and Manas rivers flow through arable and pastoral areas in northern
Xinjiang. Many of the rivers spill into lakes. The Lop Nur,
Bosten (Bagrax), Uliungur and Ebinur lakes teem with fish.
is dry and warm in the south, and cold in the north with plenty
rainfall and snow. The Uygurs farm areas around the Tarim Basin
and the Gobi Desert. Wheat, maize and paddy rice are the region's
main grain crops, and cotton is a major cash crop. Since the
1950s, cotton has been grown in the Manas River valley north
of 40 degrees latitude. The Tianshan Mountains are rich in coal
and iron, the Altay in gold, and the Kunlun in jade. The region
also has big deposits of non-ferrous and rare metals and oil,
and rich reserves of forests and land open to eclamation.
been part of China since ancient times. The Uygurs, together
with other ethnic groups, have opened up the region and have
had very close economic and cultural ties with people in other
parts of the country, particularly central China.
called simply "Western Region" in ancient times. The
Jiaohe ruins, Gaochang ruins, Yangqi Mansion of "A Thousand
Houses," Baicheng (Bay) Kizil Thousand Buddha Grottoes,
Bozklik Grottoes in Turpan, Kumtula Grottoes in Kuqa and Astana
Tombs in Turpan all contain a great wealth of relics from the
Western and Eastern Han dynasties (206 B.C. -- A.D.220). They
bear witness to the efforts of the Uygurs and other ethnic groups
in Xinjiang in developing China and its culture.
who lived in the second century B.C., went to the Western Region
as an official envoy in 138 and 119 B.C., further strengthening
ties between China and central Asia via the "Silk Road."
In 60 B.C., Emperor Xuan Di of the Western Han Dynasty established
the Office of Governor of the Western Region to supervise the
"36 states" north and south of the Tianshan Mountains
with the westernmost border running through areas east and south
of Lake Balkhash and the Pamirs.
During the Wei,
Jin, Northern and Southern dynasties (220-581 A.D.) the Western
Reigon was a political dependent of the government in central
China. The Wei, Western Jin, Earlier Liang (317-376), Earlier
Qin (352-394) and Later Liang (386-403) dynasties all stationed
troops and set up administrative bodies there. In 327, Zhang
Jun of the Earlier Liang Dynasty set up in Turpan the Gao Chang
Prefecture, the first of its kind in the region.
In the mid-seventh
century, the Tang Dynasty established the Anxi Governor's Office
in Xizhou (present-day Turpan, it later moved to Guizi, present-day
Kuqa) to rule areas south and north of the Tianshan Mountains.
The superintendent's offices in the Pamirs were all under the
jurisdiction of the Anxi Governor's Office. In the meantime,
four Anxi towns of important military significance -- Guizi,
Yutian (present-day Hotan), Shule (present-day Kaxgar) and Suiye
(on the southern bank of the Chu River) -- were established.
In the early
eighth century, the Tang Dynasty added Beiting Governor's Office
in Tingzhou (present-day Jimsar). The Beiting and Anxi offices,
with an administrative and military system under them, implemented
effectively the Tang government's orders.
In the early
13th century, Genghis Khan (1162-1227) appointed a senior official
in the region. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) established Bieshibali
(present-day areas north of Jimsar) and Alimali (present-day
Korgas) provinces. The Hami Military Command was set up during
the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
the northern part of the Western Region, namely, north of Irtish
River and Zaysan Lake, was under Zuo Fu General's Office in
Wuliyasu. The General's Office in Ili exercised power over areas
north and south of the Tianshan Mountains, east and south of
Lake Balkhash and the Pamirs. Xinjiang was made a province in
1884, the 10th year of the reign of Emperor Guang Xu.
"unity" or "alliance." The origin of the
ethnic group can be traced back to the Dingling nomads in northern
and northwestern China and in areas south of Lake Baikal and
between the Irtish River and Lake Balkhash in the third century
B.C. Some people maintain that the forefathers of the Uygurs
were related to the Hans. The Dingling were later called the
Tiele, Tieli, Chile or Gaoche (high wheel). The Yuanhe tribe
reigned supreme among the Gaoche tribes during the fifth century
A.D., and the Weihe among the Tiele during the seventh century.
Several tribes rallied behind the Weihe to resist Turkic oppression.
Uighur people were finally conquered by Turkic Kirghiz in the
mid-ninth century. The majority of the Uighurs, who were scattered
over many areas, moved to the Western Region under the Anxi
Governor's Office, and areas west of Yutian. Some went to the
Tufan principality in western Gansu Province. The Uighurs who
settled in the Western Region lived commingled with Turkic nomads
in areas north of the Tianshan Mountains and western pasturelands
as well as with Hans, who had emigrated there after the Western
and Eastern Han dynasties. They intermarried with people in
southern Xinjiang and Tibetan, Qidan (Khitan) and Mongol tribes,
and evolved into the group now known as the Uygurs.
The Uygurs made
rapid socio-economic and cultural progress between the ninth
and the 12th centuries. Nomadism gave way to settled farming.
Commercial and trade ties with central China began to thrive
better than ever before. Through markets, they exchanged horses,
jade, frankincense and medicines for iron implements, tea, silk
and money. With the feudal system further established, a land
and animal owners' class came into being, comprising Uygur khans
and Bokes (officials) at all levels. After Islam was introduced
to Kaxgar in the late 10th century, it gradually extended its
influence to Shache (Yarkant) and Yutian, and later in the 12th
century to Kuya and Yanqi, where it replaced Shamanism, Manichae,
Jingism (Nestorianism, introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty),
Ao'ism (Mazdaism) and Buddhism, which had been popular for hundreds
of years. Western Region culture developed quickly, with Uygur,
Han, Sanskrit, Cuili and Poluomi languages, calendars and painting
styles being used. Two major centers of Uygur culture and literature
-- Turpan in the north and Kaxgar in the south -- came into
being. The large number of government documents, religious books
and folk stories of this period are important works for students
of the Uygur history, language and culture.
In the early
12th century, part of the Qidan tribe moved westward from north-east
China under the command of Yeludashi. They toppled the Hala
Khanate established by the Uygurs, Geluolu and other Turkic
tribes in the 10th century, and founded the Hala Khanate of
Qidan (Black Qidan), or Western Liao as it is now referred to
by historians. The state of Gao Chang became its vassal state.
After the rise of the Mongols, most of Xinjiang became the territory
of the Jagatai Khanate. In the meantime, when many Hans were
sent to areas either south or north of the Tianshan Mountains
to open up waste land, many Uygurs moved to central China. The
forefathers of the Uygurs and Huis in Changde and Taoyuan counties
in Hunan Province today moved in that exodus. The Uygurs exercised
important influence over politics, economy, culture and military
affairs. Many were appointed officials by the Yuan court and,
under the impacts of the Han culture, some became outstanding
politicians, military strategists, writers, historians and translators.
The Uygur areas
from Hami in the east to Hotan in the south were unified into
a greater feudal separatist Kaxgar Khanate after more than two
centuries of separatism and feuding from the late 14th century.
As the capital was moved to Yarkant, it was also known as the
Yarkant Khanate. Its rulers were still the offspring of Jagatai.
During the early Qing period, the Khanate was a tributary of
the imperial court and had commercial ties with central China.
After periods of unsteady relations with the Ming Dynasty, the
links between the Uygurs and ethnic groups in central China
became stronger. Gerdan, chief of Dzungaria in northern Xinjiang,
toppled the Yarkant Khanate in 1678 and ruled the Uygur area.
The Qing army repelled in 1757 (the 22nd year of the reign of
Emperor Qian Long) the separatist rebellion by the Dzungarian
nobles instigated by the Russian Tsar, and in 1759 smashed the
"Batu Khanate" founded by Poluonidu and Huojishan,
the Senior and Junior Khawaja, in a separatist attempt.
The Qing government
introduced a system of local military command offices in Xinjiang.
It appointed the General in Ili as the highest Western Regional
Governor of administrative and military affairs over northern
and southern Xinjiang and the parts of Central Asia under Qing
influence and the Kazak and Blut (Kirgiz) tribes. For local
government, a system of prefectures and counties was introduced.
court began to appoint and remove local officials rather than
allowing them to pass on their titles to their children. This
weakened to some degree the local feudal system. The court also
encouraged the opening up of waste land by garrison troops and
local peasants, the promotion of commerce and the reduction
of taxation, which were important steps in the social development
of Uygur areas.
completely under Qing Dynasty rule after the mid-18th century.
Although political reforms had limited the political and economic
privileges of the feudal Bokes (lords), and taxation was slightly
lower, the common ethnic people's living standards did not change
significantly for the better. The Qing officials, through local
Bokes, exacted taxes even on "garden trees." The Bokes
expanded ownership on land and serfs, controlled water resources
and manipulated food grain prices for profit.
rule and exploitation gave rise to the six-month-long Wushi
(Uqturpan) uprising in 1765, the first armed rebellion by the
Uygur people against feudalism. With the aim of preserving their
rule and getting rid of Qing control, Uygur feudal owners made
use of struggles between religious factions to whip up nationalism
and cover up the worsening class contradictions. Zhangger, grandson
of the Senior Khawaja, a representative of those owners, under
the banner of religion and armed with British-supplied weapons,
harassed southern Xinjiang many times from 1820 to 1828, but
failed to win military victory.
Customs and Habits
In the past,
many poor Uygur farmers lived on a diet of narrow-leaved oleaster
and dried apricot and peach, mulberry and grain porridge. Now,
wheat flour, rice and maize are the staple foods. Uygurs in
some areas like milk tea with baked maize or wheat cakes. Some
are made by mixing flour with sugar, eggs, butter or meat and
are delicious. Paluo (sweet rice), cooked with mutton, sheep
fat, carrots, raisins, onions and rice, is an important festival
food for guests.
cotton growing and cotton yarn spinning industry has a long
history. Working people usually wear cotton cloth garments.
Men sport a long gown called a qiapan, which opens on the right
and has a slanted collar. It is buttonless and is bound by a
long square cloth band around the waist. Women wear broad-sleeved
dresses and black waist coats with buttons sewn on the front.
Some now like to wear Western-style suits and skirts. The Uygurs,
old and young, men and women, like to wear a small cap with
four pointed corners, embroidered with black and white or colored
silk threads in traditional Uygur designs. The women's favourite
decorations include earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Some
paint their eyebrows and fingernails on grand festive occasions.
Girls in the past combed their hair into a dozen pigtails, and
regarded long hair as part of female beauty. After marriage,
they usually wear two pigtails with loose ends, decorated on
the head with a crescentshaped comb. Some tuck up their pigtails
into a bun.
Over the centuries,
many mosques, mazas (Uygur complexes, nobles' tombs), theological
seminaries and religious courts were set up in Uygur areas.
Over the past few hundred years, religion has greatly influenced
economic, judicial and educational affairs and the Uygur family
and matrimonial system. Some of the rich people made use of
religious rules to marry more than one wife, and had the right
to divorce them at any time. The marriage of the ordinary Uygurs
was mostly arranged by the parents. Male chauvinism was practiced
in the family, and Uygur women, humiliated and with nobody to
turn to, often retreated into prayer.
There are now
more than a dozen million Moslems in the country, compared with
eight million in the early post-1949 period. In 1953, the Chinese
Islamic Association was established with Burhan Shahidi as its
chairman. More than seven million people in Xinjiang believe
in Islam, accounting for well over half of the national total.
The region now boasts a
total of 15,500 mosques or prayer centers, or one for almost
every Moslem village.
and art, which have a long and rich tradition, has flourished.
Uygur literature is very rich in style and subject matter. Many
folk tales, parables, comedies, poems and proverbs praise the
courage, wisdom and kindness of the ordinary people, while satirizing
the greed, cruelty and foolishness of the exploiting classes.
For instance, "The Tales of Afandi" contain stinging
satire about the Bayis and Imams who bully the people.
Much of the
written Uygur literature has been passed down from the 11th
century, such as the epic "Kutadolu Biliq" (Blessings
and Wisdom) by Yusuf Hass Hajib, and The Turkic Dictionary by
Mohamu Kashgar, which are important works for students of ancient
Uygur history, culture and language. More modern works include
Maulabilalibin Maulayusuf's Wars on the Chinese Land, an epic
describing the 1864 struggle of the Uygurs in Ili against the
The Uygurs are
excellent at dancing. The "12 Mukams" (opera) is an
epic comprising more than 340 classic songs and folk dances.
After liberation, this musical treasure, which was on the verge
of being lost, was collected, studied and recorded. The "Daolang
Mukams," popular in Korla, Bachu (Maralwexi), Markit and
Ruoqiang (Qarkilik), is another suite with distinct Uygur flavor.
There is a wide
variety of plucked, wind and percussion Uygur musical instruments,
including the dutar, strummed rawap and dap. The first two are
instruments with a clear and crisp tone for solo and orchestral
performances. The dap is a sheep skin tambourine with many small
iron rings attached to the rim. It is used to accompany dancing.
The Uygur dances,
such as the "Bowls-on-Head Dance," "Drum Dance,"
"Iron Ring Dance" and "Puta Dance," feature
light, graceful and quick-swinging choreography movements. The
"Sainaim Dance" is the most popular, while the "Duolang
Dance," sometimes referred to as a flower of Uygur folk
culture, brims over with vitality. It depicts the hunting activities
of the ancient people of Markit. The movements portray strength,
wildness and enthusiasm. The "Nazilkum," popular in
Turpan, Shanshan and Hami, fully reflects the Uygurs' optimism
and gift for humor.