Kashgar Travel Guide

Last updated by david at 2014/5/3

Kashgar Overview

The city of Kashgar, Xinjiang (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), is situated at the western extemity of the Tarim Basin, which also represents the western extremity of the Taklamakan Desert. Kashgar was the westernmost outpost of ancient China, and the westernmost junction of the Tarim Basin Silk Road routes (one northern and one southern), serving as well as the juncture for the Silk Road route that branched southward into India via the Karakoram Pass. The city of Kashgar has one of the richest patchwork histories of any city in the world, especially in terms of past ethnic, religious and cultural diversity; Kashgar was truly a crossroads in every sense.

Silk Road Tours

As is often the case, the unique attribute that contributes most to the greatness of a person or a thing is also its Achilles heel, or the attribute that contributes most to its weakness. France's President De Gaulle once lamented the prospect of governing a people (viz., the descendants of Obelix and Asterix, aka, the French people) who produce over 246 different cheeses. One might similarly ask, with Kashgar in mind, how one can hope to please - without being cheesy - a region that has been governed by 246 different rulers, as it were.

The present-day city of Kashgar has lost much of its diversity, in every sense, having become, over a millenium ago, a home away from home to the Uyghurs, one of the many nomadic Turkic tribes that arrived in waves in ancient China from the vast region to the north, much of it desert and steppe, that stretches from the Altay Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. As was the case with many of the other cities of the Tarim Basin at the time (the 10th century CE), the Uyghurs of Kashgar converted from Buddhism to Islam, whereafter the religious as well as the ethnic diversity of the region narrowed considerably.

It is hard to imagine any place on earth that has seen so many different rulers - and whose citizens, taken collectively over time, have exhibited such a diverse mix of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds - as the city of Kashgar, as the next section, which is a historical odyssey of dimensions, illustrates.

 

Kashgar: A Historical As Well As A Cultural Crossroads

The Xiongnu

During China's pre-Imperial (pre-Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty) period, the area corresponding to the Tarim Basin was occupied by various peoples, including Turkic nomads, though there was little, if any, unified organization among them. The Yuezhi (or Da ("Great") Yuezhi, aka Kushans during the time of the Kushan Empire*) entered the area during this period, having been driven out of their homelands farther east by the Xiongnu, who had descended into northern China from Siberia and other areas immediately east and south of Siberia in present-day Russia.

China had very little cultural or political exchange with the Tarim Basin area during the period in question, though the country did indeed have a great deal of negative experience with the warlike Xiongnu who had driven out China's relatively peaceful Yuezhi neighbors with whom China had gotten along well. By the time of the Han (BCE 206 - CE 220) Dynasty, the warlike Xiongnu had pushed westward into the Tarim Basin, where they once again drove out the Yuezhi. This time, however, the Yuezhi remained in the area, occupying the margins of the Tarim Basin, leaving the centers of influence to the more powerful, more warlike Xiongnu. Many Yuezhi lived east of the Pamirs, in the lands that correspond to the former Kushan Empire (see the first footnote below).

Under Xiongnu rule, the main cities of the Taklamakan Desert - Shule (Kashgar), Qiuci (Kucha) and Yutian (Khotan) - were not unlike Greek city-states, in the sense that they were in fierce competition, the one with the other, often engaging alternately in bloody skirmishes and ephemeral alliances. This "warring states" period of the Tarim Basin even resulted in the closing of the Silk Road trade through the Hexi Corridor for a time.

The rulers of the Xiongnu city-states of the Tarim Basin appear to have used the fear of the Tarim Basin's previously dominant group, the previously newly arrived Yuezhi, as a means to command obedience from the ordinary Xiongnu citizen. Whether this fear was rational or not, there were reasons enough  for the Yuezhi to be resentful, if not outright hateful, of the Xiongnu. In reality, however, it would seem that the ordinary Xiongnu citizen had more to fear from the fellow Xiongnu of rival Xiongnu city-states than from the Yuezhi, since the Xiongnu city-states were in a constant state of in-fighting, where the victors would exact gruesome reprisals on the villages they succeeded in conquering; like their Mongol relatives who would arrive in the region much later, the Xiongnu seemed to live to fight, alas, not the other way around.

The first mention in the Chinese historical annals of the Tarim Basin region in general, and of Kashgar in particular, occurred with the BCE 138 despatching of a special emissary - a certain Zhang Qian, during the reign (BCE 140-87) of Emperor Wu of the Western Han (BCE 206 - CE 009) Dynasty - to Central Asia and to India in order to observe the cultural and political organization of the peoples of these regions, and in general to serve as the emperor's diplomatic representative. Another aspect of Zhang Qian's mission was to try and locate the Yuezhi chieftains in order to propose a secret alliance between Imperial China and the Yuezhi aimed at ousting the Xiongnu from the Tarim Basin, though this plan was made redundant, by the time it could have been put into practice, by the self-inflicted vulnerability of Xiongnu "rule" (i.e., the "warring states", in-fighting condition between the Xiongnu city-states of the Tarim Basin).

Zhang Qian noted that the city of Kashgar had numerous bazaars, which he referred to as sule, a term derived from the Sanskrit word, sula, meaning harlot, from whence we gather that Emperor Wu's astute envoy was already fluent in the language of the Buddhist hosts to whom he was enroute. This was of course long before Islam made its appearnce in this part of the world - the belief systems of this part of the world during the Western Han Dynasty were mainly Zoroastrianism (think: Zarathustra), Manichaeism** and the newly-transplanted Buddhism.

The next mention of the area, as well as of the city of Kashgar, occured in BCE 76 when Emperor Wu, believing China to be strong and at the same time knowing via his military advisors that the Xiongnu were weak and divided, therefore vulnerable, launched an attack on the Xiongnu of the Tarim Basin. This was the beginning of a long series of on-again, off-again campaigns against the Xiongnu of the Tarim Basin, sometimes fought by Chinese armies and sometimes fought by local proxies, since it was expensive to maintain a Chinese army in such a remote region.

The financing of military campaigns was always a problem, since it required the levying of unpopular taxes. In this regard, Imperial China resembled the Roman Empire, even though the Chinese emperor did not face a rebellious Senate with a mind of its own. Nonetheless, the Chinese emperor faced a disgruntled populace and government ministers who were often opposed to expensive military campaigns in distant lands that did not seem all that important, ministers who generally had better ideas ("better" in the sense of 'more suited to their own personal ambitions') for how to make use of the state's resources.

The task of subduing the Xiongnu in the Tarim Basin would continue into the Eastern Han (CE 25-220) Dynasty, when a Chinese army under the leadership of the Chinese general, General Ban Chao (CE 32-102), Commander of the Western Regions, eventually subdued all of the Xiongnu of the Tarim Basin, also in their city-state strongholds of Kashgar, Kucha and Khotan.

Ptolemy (CE 90-c.168), whose Roman name was Claudius Ptolemaeus, the renowned Roman astrologer, astronomer, geographer and mathematician - who, not surprisingly, given his particular academic interests, lived in Alexandria, the ancient capital of Egypt founded in BCE 331 by Alexander the Great, and home to a great many mathematicians and astronomers - also mentioned Kashgar, referring to it as Kasia Regio (the "Region of Kasia", and note that an older name for Kashgar was Kashi), the Roman designation for the part of Scythia that lay beyond the Himalayas, which mountain range was very aptly termed Imaus ("Snow Hills") in Latin.

During the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period, the "Western Regions", including the Tarim Basin, were under the indirect rule of the Kingdom of Wei (CE 220-265). The individual kingdoms that made up the Tarim Basin paid their annual taxes to the Imperial court in the form of so-called tributes, which was a handy euphemism that made it look as if the kingdoms in question gladly and gratefully sent an annual present to the Imperial court, when in fact, the involuntary "tribute" was the Chinese emperor's share of the produce of the new territory.

 

The Turks

The system whereby vassal states paid taxes, or rendered tribute - or however one wishes to describe it - continued through the Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty and almost to the end of the Northern Dynasties (CE 386-588) Period, when a large contingent of Turks (often referred to as Huns by later historians), descending from the north, moved into the area and gained control over the Tarim Basin. The Chinese would again regain control over the region during the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty.

It was during the period of the Tang Dynasty that the monk, Xuan Zang - later made famous in the 16th century novel, Pilgrimmage to the West, aka Monkey - traveled the Silk Road enroute to India in order to study Buddhism at its source, so that he could bring back to China a better understanding of it (in reality, several different schools of Buddhism were cropping up in China at this time, each with its own interpretation of the Buddhist scriptures, though many of the fundamental precepts of these different schools of Buddhist thought were identical). Nestorian Christianity*** was making itself felt in the area as well, though on a much more modest scale, while Islam had not yet made an impact in the area, though when it would, it would become the near-dominant religion of all of Central Asia and much of the "Western Regions" of China.

 

The "Arabs"

Tang China not only extended its control over East Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang) but also over much of West Turkestan, or Transoxiana, but was finally checked by "the Arabs" (taken to mean the Muslims of the region, collectively) in CE 751, when the forces of the Abbasid Caliphate decimated the Chinese portion of the the Tang army - 2/3 of the 30,000 strong Tang army were Karluk (the Karluks, sometimes written Qarluks, being a Turkic tribe closely related to the Uyghurs) and diverse other Ferghana Valley (Tadjik, Uzbek and Kyrgyz, all Turkic tribes as well) mercenaries who defected to the "Arab" side, which numbered upwards of 200,000 men - at the Battle of Talas on the river of the same name, which river flows from southern Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan north of the Syr Darya River, where it roughly parallels the latter river.

The purpose of the battle was effectively to establish control of the Syr Darya River, which both sides in the conflict were focused on since the Syr Darya River was the northernmost natural defensive barrier protecting Transoxiana, while the Amu Darya, or Oxus, River was Transoxiana's southernmost natural defensive barrier. After the defection of the Karluk mercenaries and the decimation of the Chinese army (from 10,000 men to only 2000), Tang China withdrew to East Turkistan and the city of Kashgar, never to return.

This stinging defeat of the Chinese at the hands of the "Arabs" curiously resulted in a very positive development for all of mankind, namely, the art and science of papermaking was thereafter spread around the world, since, in routing the Tang army, the "Arabs" ran across the recipe for making paper 'the Chinese way', which was far superior to the method of coarse papyrus "papermaking" of the Egyptians (it is said that the art and science of making chocolate candy (chocolate as a sweet) was similarly an incidentally positive result of an otherwise ignominous historical event: King Ferdinand's and Queen Isabella's expulsion of Spain's Jews on the heels of their expulsion of the Moors... prior to this, chocolate had only been used to make non-dessert dishes... it seems that the Jews of Spain had discovered that by adding prodigious amounts of sugar to the dark substance, it made an excellent sweet treat... the Jews, driven out of Spain, fled 'to the four corners of the earth', spreading with them the knowledge of chocolate candymaking).

 

The Tibetans, The Uyghurs And The Karluks

The Tang rulers finally succeeded in reconquering the "Western Regions", but, weakened militarily, almost immediately lost them to the militant Tibetans, who wrested not only the Tarim Basin from the Imperial crown, but also much of present-day Qinghai and Gansu Provinces as well as Ningxia (Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region). Toward the end of the Tang Dynasty, much of the areas conquered by the Tibetans would return to Chinese rule, either directly or as vassal states. The Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khaganate - an area that stretched from the Altay Mountains in the west to Manchuria in the east - driven out of Mongolia farther north when the Uyghur Khaganate was crushed by Kyrgyz fighters in CE 840, pressed southeastward into the eastern Tarim Basin, making Turpan their capital.

The Uyghurs had ealier - since the 4th century CE - maintained close ties with Turpan as part of the Silk Road trade. They took over the city and held it briefly, from 605 to the 630s. They again controlled Turpan, as well as the city of Beshbalik and to some extent the city of Kucha, from the 790s to 821. It was therefore natural, after the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate, for the Uyghur people to resettle in the Tarim Basin, and in the Turpan area in particular.

At about the same time, another group of Turkic invaders, the Karluks, whose fellow tribesmen had defected from the Tang army at Talas (though, truth be told, the Tang army at Talas, even had it retained all of its 30,000 troops, was in no position to resist an "Arab" army of 200,000), settled in the western part of the Tarim Basin, eventually establishing the Kara-Khanid Khanate in the 10th century CE, with Kashgar as its capital (another group of Karluks settled in West Turkestan). Curiously, it is believed that it was a Kara-Khanid Karluk by the name of Satoq Bughra who, having been converted to Islam by a member of the Samanid family who ruled eastern Iran as well as much of Central Asia, especially the area of Transoxiana, brought Islam to the Tarim Basin, beginning first with the city of Kashgar.

 

The Arrival Of Islam

A wealthy merchant from Bukhara and friend of the King of Kashgar, a certain Nasr ibn Mansur, was given permission to build a mosque in the nearby city of Artush. When the young nephew of the king, Satoq Bughra, saw the piousness with which Nasr and his fellow Muslims from the passing caravans prayed at the mosque, he became intrigued, and eventually converted from Buddhism to Islam (the Turkic tribes of the Tarim Basin had theretofore largely practiced Buddhism in an effort to remain on good footing with Buddhist China, though Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Nestorian Christianity, as indicated, thrived as well in Kashgar). Some years later, when Satoq the young man had become a grown man, he, with the help of a group of residents of Kashgar and other sympathizers - or perhaps mercenaries - from the Ferghana Valley, overthrew the King of Kashgar (Satoq's uncle), and Satoq became the king-khan, whereafter he made Islam the official religion of the Kingdom of Kashgar.

Much of neighboring Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) - especially the area bordered by the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya Rivers, known in Latin as Transoxiana - had for ages been under Persian (Bactrian) rule, so although the Arab-led Abbasid Caliphate had nominal rule over the area, the local rulers, from princes to kings, were all Persian. There was also Greco-Bactrian influence in the area, as the Ferghana Valley, which spans the three aforementioned present-day Central Asian countries, was also home to the Dayuan, the remnants of Alexander the Great's army that had intermarried with the Bactrians when they chose to remain in the area after Alexander's untimely death during Alexander's final, bold campaign. Late in the 10th century, Kashgar and its environs became the Uyghur Kingdom, with most of the Uyghurs having converted to Islam. Thereafter all of the Tarim Basin was gradually Islamized.

The Uyghurs are themselves a mix of Turkic and Caucasian ethnic groups. It must be said that the Uyghurs and the Dayuan were not the only mixed-Caucasians in the region. Somehow, and from somewhere farther west, large groups of Caucasians had earlier migrated into Central Asia (it is also believed that the original Bactrians were of Indo-European origin, though Bactria would later become the northernmost outpost of the Persian Empire). The Beauty of Loulan (Loulan being an ancient Silk Road city in Xinjiang) had green eyes, reddish hair and a light complexion. The Tarim Mummies also had large, long, non-Chinese noses.

Ancient Chinese texts had mentioned peoples with these particular attributes, but later historians wrote them off as "tall tales", i.e., as an expression of an over-active Chinese imagination. Until, that is, the Beauty of Loulan, one of many excavated Tarim Mummies, was DNA tested by an international team of experts in 2007 and found to possess significant amounts of Caucasian DNA. These mummies showed evidence of Caucasian DNA that could be traced back to two sources: Siberia and Europe, suggesting that the "reverse migration", i.e., the waves of migration toward, not from, Central Asia, had come from multiple directions.

 

The Khitans And The Timurid Threat

The Uyghurs ruled parts of the Tarim Basin, with the blessings of the Chinese emperor, up until the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty re-established direct Chinese rule over all of the Tarim Basin in the middle of the 18th century. There was no unified rule in the Tarim Basin from roughly the beginning of the 12th century to the 18th century reassertion of Chinese rule. Instead, local potentates subservient to the Chinese emperor ruled the city-states of the Tarim Basin. One of the local Uyghur rulers of the Kingdom of Kashgar, a certain Shakesimirzha, built a large mosque, the Id Kah Mosque, in CE 1442. It remains to this day the largest mosque in all of China.

Other parts of the Tarim Basin were controlled by another Turkic nomadic group, the Khitans, a Mongolic ethnic group who, as rulers of the Liao (CE 907-1125) Dynasty (aka the Khitan Empire), moved westward into the Tarim Basin after their defeat by the Jürchen Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty in CE 1125, thereafter establishing the Kara-Khitan Khanate (CE 1125-1218), or the Western Liao Dynasty. Both the Jürchens of the Jin Dynasty and the Khitans of the Kara-Khitan Khanate would later be routed by the Mongol horde of Genghis Khan, yet another Turkic ethnic group. It was shortly after the rise of the Mongols in China that Marco Polo (CE 1254-1324) traveled extensively throughout that vast empire, passing through Kashgar, a city whose name Marco Polo wrote as Cascar, noting that the city had several Nestorian Christian churches.

In the late 14th century, rumors spread through the city-state of Kashgar that Timur (CE 1336-1405), aka Tamerlane ("Timur the Lame", a reference to the fact that Timur had been wounded in the foot in battle, and had never fully healed from the wound, limping for the remainder of his life and thus finding himself taunted with the epithet of "Timur the Lame" by his detractors), would be sacking the city, a rumor that caused much fear and panic, given the reputation for brutality that Timur had acquired. The threat never materialized, however. Indeed, Timur, a distant descendant of the Mongol horde of Genghis Khan, was known for his cunning use of misinformation in war (which, for Timur, was more or less his entire adult life), including exaggerations about the size, and fierceness in battle, of his army; Tamerlane may not have invented the art of psychological warfare, but he was one of the first to develop it methodically.

On the other hand, the Islamization of Central Asia - notably by the sword - can be credited to Timur, who destroyed Christian churches everwhere he went as a prelude to forcing Islam down the throats, as it were, of the local populace.

 

The Temporary Qing Reconquest Of The Tarim Basin

In 1759, the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty reconquered what was at the time called East Turkestan, or present-day Xinjiang, which includes all of the Tarim Basin. All of the local residents were rounded up and forced to live near Qing government military garrisons, where the military could keep an eye on them, in much the same way that the "Redskins", or Native Americans, were often rounded up and forced to live near U.S. Cavalry forts.

When the Qing emperor threatened to push the boundaries of the dominion farther westward, the peoples of Transoxiana appealed to Ahmad Shah Abdali, the King of Afghanistan, for protection, the net result of which was that the Qing government, though it felt little actual threat from Ahmad Shah Abdali - Ahmad Shah had enough on his plate just preventing the Sikhs from plundering the booty that the Afghans regularly plundered in India, including in the Punjab - nevertheless dropped its plans for Transoxiana (the Qing government probably had little appetite for seizing lands which it knew would be difficult, meaning costly, to hold, and the memory of the stinging defeat at the Battle of Talas had perhaps not faded either), while it fought vehemently to retain control of Kashgar, which it succeeded in doing, at least until the Dungan Revolt in 1862, when the Uyghurs of Xinjiang/ the Tarim Basin staged a revolt that was aped by the Muslim Hui of neighboring Gansu Province.

 

Revolt And Foreign Interference: The Dungan Revolt And The Great Game

Though the Qing government managed to relatively quickly put down the Muslim Hui rebellion in Gansu Province, it lost Kashgar and most of Xinjiang in 1865 to the Uzbek leader, Yakub Beg (1820-1877), and the otherwise prosperous development that was taking place in Kashgar under Chinese rule suffered a setback. This was at a time when the Second Opium War (1856-60) between Britain and China had just ended - and near the end of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64). It was also at the height of the Unequal Treaties (1842-1915) period, a time when the eight foreign powers ranged against China - including Russia and Britain - succeeded in wringing trade and territorial concessions from China.

It is therefore not surprising that both Russia and China, who at the time were engaged in what was later called the Great Game - i.e., the game of who, the Brits or the Russians, would ultimately win control over Central Asia - recognized the independence of the Islamic state of Kashgaria under Jakub Beg. Both Britain and Russia, who fanned insurrection in western China and Central Asia and who constantly spied on, and hatched intrigues against, each other, believed that by recognizing the independence of the Islamic state of Kashgaria, each would gain credibility in the eyes of the peoples of the area in their respective bids for the control of Central Asia.

For certain, if one of the players of the Great Game recognized Kashgaria, then the other was obliged to follow suit. Unfortunately for both Britain and Russia, the Qing government, upon the death of Yakub Beg in 1877, reimposed Chinese rule over Kashgar, though the Great Game would continue in the rest of Central Asia until 1907, when Britain and Russia came to an understanding that amounted to a stalemate - triggered by fears of what Germany was up to in neighboring Iraq (everyone in Europe seemed to sense that WWI was on the way) - that fixed the boundaries of the countries of the region (though Russian intrigue led to Britian's second and equally as humiliating Afghan war, the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80)), a corollary of which was that the Persians saw their empire effectively confiscated by the players of the Great Game, having been reduced to a tiny geographical area in the center of their former large empire, with Russia in charge of a northern Persian zone and Britain in charge of a southern Persian zone.

 

The Republic Of China And The First East Turkestan Republic

During the Republic of China (1912-49) rule, the First East Turkestan Republic (1933-34) was established when Uyghur fighters, supported by Kyrgyz allies loyal to the Kyrgyz emir, Emir Abdullah Bughra, declared independence from China. Two Chinese Muslim generals loyal to the Qing government, Generals Ma Shaowu and Ma Zhancang, thereafter stormed Kashgar with their respective armies and drove off the combined forces of Uyghur and Kyrgyz fighters. The first attack was led by General Ma Shaowu in 1933, then General Zhancang, also a Chinese Muslim loyal to the Qing government, joined General Ma Showu.

The Uyghurs, in the meantime, aided by their Kyrgyz allies, returned and put up a stiff fight, trapping Generals Ma Shaowu and Zhancang within the city, but the 36th Division of the ROC, under the command of General Ma Fuyuan, came to the aid of the two Chinese Muslim generals trapped inside Kashgar, freeing the trapped generals and their armies, exacting a heavy toll on the Uyghur and Kyrgyz fighters, and causing what one today would call massive collateral damage, i.e., massive civilian deaths as well. Thereafter the Chinese Muslim leaders exhorted the residents of Kashgar to show loyalty to the ROC. Many innocent foreigners residing in Xinjiang at the time - mainly trade folk - perished in the Dungan Revolt and the failed attempt at establishing the East Turkestan Republic that it spawned.

 

The Second East Turkestan Republic Forfeited To The Exigencies Of Communist Brotherhood

The Second East Turkestan Republic was set up by the Soviet Union in Xinjiang in 1940 in what looked like a bid to seize territory from ROC-led China, which government had serious difficulty exercising control over all of the lands formerly belonging to the Qing Dynasty, not least because the China of the ROC period was engaged in a civil war between so-called Nationalists and Communists, but it was also plagued with warlordism, or the breakaway of many small states under powerful local warlords. The Second East Turkestan Republic, or the East Turkestan Republic (ETR) as it came to be known, since the first attempt had failed, effectively lasted a decade, or until the Chinese Communists gained control over Xinjiang from the ROC. Moscow was then forced to accede to the wishes of a fellow communist leadership, breaking its ties with the leaders of the ETR and transferring its loyalties to the Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedung.

During, and in the period leading up to, ETR rule, the Uyghurs were very hostile toward the White Russian elements of the ETR "soviet", often targeting them personally and killing them when- and wherever they could, and mercilessly. The enmity that the Uyghurs felt for their former rulers, the Chinese, who - rightfully or wrongfully - were considered by the Uyghurs as foreign to the Tarim Basin, was transferred to the White Russians during this period (in reality, the Uyghurs are themselves foreign invaders of the Tarim Basin, since, as previously indicated, they first occupied the Tarim Basin during the mid-9th century, having been driven out of their Uyghur kingdom, Karabalghasan - which lay to the north and east of the Tarim Basin in what is present-day Mongolia - by Kyrgyz fighters, and in this the Uyghurs mimicked the many other waves of Turkic invaders before them, even if their entrance into western China was a defensive rather than an offensive move).

 

The Future

Following the return of Xinjiang to Chinese rule in 1949, the relationship between the "mainstream" Chinese and the area's Muslim Uyghurs (not all Uyghurs are Muslim, incidentally, though the large majority are) has continued to be less than ideal, though the cause of such conflicts, however political they may seem superficially, is often much more deeply rooted in economic disparities, meaning that an improvement in everyday economic life in Xinjiang holds out the hope that the current less than satisfactory relations between the haves (the "mainstream" Chinese) and the have-nots (the Uyghurs) will eventually disappear. Education is key, of course, but that is more of a long-term than a short-term perspective, therefore, as paradoxical as it may seem, "importing" specialists from "mainstream" China in order to create a growth engine - namely, a growth engine that will produce the type of jobs for which the local populace is currently qualified - is the better strategy, however controversial such a strategy may appear.

 

Back To The Present

The present-day city of Kashgar is undergoing a rapid transformation which, when completed, will make Kashgar a modern city with "vertical" work and population centers (i.e., high-rise apartment and office blocks), which in turn will free up more space on the city's perimeter for industrial use, providing the city's residents with much-needed jobs. Urban renewal is rarely ever popular with the people who live in the older housing units in the inner city that are to be torn down or renovated. This is a universal truth that applies to any city anywhere, from White Horse Village, Chongqing to Greenwich Village, NYC. Much of the crowded, one-storeyed Old Town area of Kashgar will be demolished in order to make way for the new development plans for the city, though a small section of Kashgar's Old Town will be preserved as a link to the city's ancient Silk Road past. The new construction will incorporate the best of the architectural themes of the old buildings, especially the Islamic themes.

As is generally the case, there are numerous good reasons for urban renewal. In addition to the above-mentioned reasons for renewing Kashgar - and in particular, its inner city - can be added the increasing need to make the city's buildings earthquake-proof, given the number of major earthquakes that have hit Chinese cities in recent years. But the main objective - the need for building high in the center of the city so that more space will be available on the perimeter for job-creating enterprises, is the driving force behind the decision to renew the city. Despite these renewal initiatives, the city of Kashgar will continue to preserve many links to its ancient Silk Road past.

Moreover, the desert (the Taklamakan), the rivers (the Yarkant and the Kashgar River systems, with their respective networks of tributaries) and the mountains (the Tian Mountain Range to the north, the Pamirs to the west and the Kunlun Mountain Range to the south) that surround Kashgar and which provide such a ruggedly beautiful backdrop to the city will still be there when the dust has settled on all of the new construction. The same applies to the arid climate and the peculiar ambiance of the combination of all the various elements, both physical and cultural, that made Kashgar the quaintly charming city, teeming with life, that it was in ancient times.

Also, the tradition of a large - monstrously large (upwards of 100,000 traders and visitors!) - open-air weekly market, selling everything from hats to heifers (and some of the finest bulls that can be purchased anywhere, for that matter); silk brocade; carpets; copper teapots; simple, handcrafted wooden jewelery boxes; a long list of livestock and other animals including sheep, goats, donkeys, horses, camels, chickens, pigeons and song birds; fruits and vegetables by the tons; and ready-to-eat dishes such as mutton stew with nain bread on the side, will continue to characterize the city of Kashgar, attracting not only international visitors, but also traders from Pakistan (via the Karakoram Highway) as well as from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the three contiguous countries of ancient Transoxiana.

In addition, Kashgar will always be dotted with mosques and holy shrines such as the Tomb of Abakh Khoja, the family cemetery of the late 17th century Islamic leader who ruled over Khotan, Yarkant, Korla, Kucha and Aksu, as well as Kashgar, and who is considered by some Uyghur Muslims as second only in importance to the prophet Mohammad (the khoja, a caste of Indian Muslims who were converted from Hinduism to Islam during the 14th century by the Persian pir, or religious teacher, Sadruddin, were adopted into the Shiite sect of Islam as members of the Nizari subsect). The Tomb of Abakh Khoja is regarded as Xinjiang's holiest Muslim site. Nevertheless, it is better known elsewhere in China - outside Xinjiang, that is (and no disrespect intended to Muslims in general or to Uyghurs in particular) - as the Tomb of Xiang Fei, the only Uyghur concubine (i.e., secondary wife) among the 40 concubines of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty.

According to legend, a female descendant of Abakh Khoja, a certain Iparhan, naturally exuded an enchanting fragrance, i.e., without the use of perfume, hence the nickname attached to her, Xiang Fei ("Fragrant Concubine"). Xiang Fei spent 28 years as a faithful concubine to the emperor, albeit, dutifully living in accordance with Islamic strictures. Xiang Fei loved to wear her ethnic Uyghur costumes, and her meals were prepared by a specially appointed Muslim chef. Before her death at the age of 55, Xiang Fei expressed a desire to be buried in her hometown of Turpan.

The emperor loved Xiang Fei and therefore desired, on the one hand, to accede to his treasured concubine's deathbed wishes. On the other hand, the emperor was loath to part with Xiang Fei over such distances, therefore Xiang Fei was entombed in Beijing in the east wing of the Imperial Qing Tombs. However, wishing in some part to accede to Xiang Fei's desire to be buried in her homeland, Emperor Qianlong, who ruled from 1735-1796, instructed that a coffin containing Xiang Fei's favorite ethnic Uyghur costumes be sent to Xinjiang to be buried there, though the emperor felt that the earthly effects of a concubine of the royal court deserved to be buried in more auspicious surroundings than a mere burial ground near the city of Turpan, therefore he instructed that Xiang Fei's wardrobe coffin be buried in the Tomb of Abakh Khoja, which mausoleum is the burial site of five generations of Abakh Khoja's family.

The ancient cart that was used to transport Xiang Fei's wardrobe coffin from Beijing to Kashgar still stands in front of the mausoleum in Kashgar, for it would have been unthinkable to have used it for any other purpose (learn more about the Tomb of Abakh Khoja).

Other attractions in and around Kashar include: the 15th century built Id Kah Mosque (alternately known as the Idgar Mosque and the Etigar Mosque); the Tomb of Mahmud al-Kashgari, a Karluk scholar and lexicographer of the Kara-Khanid Khanate period of Kashgar who, in CE 1072 compiled a dictionary of Turkic dialects known in English as "A Compendium of the Languages of the Turks"; the Three Immortals Cave, a Buddhist grotto relic that Kashgar's various tolerant Islamic rulers permitted to remain untouched (countless other Buddhist shrines in the cities of the Tarim Basin were not so lucky); the Tomb of the Kings of Shache (Shache, sometimes written as Suoche, being an old name for the nearby city of Yarkant (sometimes written as Yarkand), the closest city to Kashgar on the southern Tarim Basin route of the Silk Road); the Sunday Bazaar; the Livestock Market; Kashgar's new, extensive Fruit Orchards, where the visitor can always sample the latest harvest of melons, peaches, pomegranates, cherries, apples, figs, apricots or table grapes, among others; and - not to forget - Kashgar's Silk Road Museum.

Many traders in the region - both buyers and sellers - regularly pay a visit to Kashgar either from Kyrgyzstan or while on their way to or from Pakistan, since a visit to the Sunday Bazaar or to the Livestock Market in Kashgar, especially if one is a trader, is well worth the trip, however long, which helps to explain the immense numbers of weekly visitors who frequent Kashgar's renowned open-air markets. Kashgar also boasts a gargantuan (18 meters high) statue of Mao Zedung, one the few remaining large-scale statues of Mao Zedung in China. Lastly, yet another interesting Kashgar "first": the city served as the safe, alternative filming venue for the otherwise unsafe at the time (and still not so very safe) city of Kabul during the filming of the novel, The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini.

 

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* The Kushan Empire existed for about a century, from CE ca.25-127, and was roughly the size of India at the time, maybe slightly larger. Along its northern border, it streched from present-day Uzbekistan in the west to Turpan, Xinjiang (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China) in the east, in traversing present-day Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan. Along its eastern border, it stretched from Turpan in the north to present-day northern India in the south, in passing through Kashgar and Yarkand in Xinjiang as well as traversing present-day Tajikistan and northern Paksitan. Along its southern border, it stretched from present-day northern India in the east to the border with present-day Iran in the west, in traversing present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Along its western border, it stretched from the northern half of Afghanistan (roughly near the border with present-day Iran) in the south to present-day Uzbekistan in the north, in traversing present-day Turkmenistan.

 

** Manichaeism is a so-called Gnostic religion with a basis in Christianity. It posits God, the Creator, as imperfect, in the sense that He created mankind imperfectly, therefore mankind must struggle with good and evil in search of enlightenment. Good is light, while evil is matter. Light is trapped in matter, but by the proper application of effort (via meditation, via ritualism (including prayer)? - you tell me!), this light can be released from matter. The purpose of life is thus to achieve the mystical state of release from matter. Curiously, while Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism were each opposed to the other, the proponents of these established religions all seemed to denounce Manichaeism more vociferously, which they apparently saw as the supreme threat to their respective religions.

 

*** Nestorian Christianity differs from mainstream Chrisitianity in that it posits a loosely connected double identity for Jesus of Nazareth, yet where Jesus of Nazareth is seen as having a single nature, that nature being strictly human. The loosely connected double identity arises when Jesus of Nazareth serves as a conduit, as it were, for the Son of God, in which moments the Son of God resides in Jesus of Nazareth, rendering him (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth) divine. In the Nestorian sense, Jesus of Nazareth is like a mystic or a yogi who, on certain occasions, possesses supernatural powers (i.e., can harness the powers of the universe, or serve as a conduit for God). Mainstream Christianity, in contrast, posits an inseparably dual nature (two sides of the same coin, as it were) for Jesus of Nazareth: fully human and fully divine, which is easier said than understood.

 

 

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