Xinjiang History

Last updated by vickyct at 2017/5/13

A brief history of Xinjiang

Xinjiang (Chinese official name:  新疆 pinyin Xīnjiāng,  Uyghur region of Chinese Xinjiang is an autonomous province of the western extreme of the People's Republic of China, which extends over 1 646 800 km ², in a particular status, like Internal Mongolia or the Tibet.

It was formerly named Oriental Turkestan or Chinese Turkestan, spelled also as Turkistan. These designations are still sometimes used; in particular the Oriental Turkestan identification applied by the freedom fighters, but the Chinese government refuses them.

Xinjiang has a 5 400 km border and covers the sixth of the Chinese territory. Oriental Turkestan is populated for the greater part by the Uyghurs, speaking a Turkic language, but other Central Asia’s people such as the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz (also spelled Kirgiz, Kirghiz), the Tatars, the Uzbeks, and the Tajiks are also present. According to the last Chinese census, the population of these Muslims is a little more than 11 millions, among which, Uyghurs constitute the majority.

Han people which were less than 10 % in the middle of the last century represent currently more than 40 % of the total population and live especially in cities.


Located along the Silk Road, Uyghurs played an important role in the cultural exchanges between the West and the East and developed their own culture and civilization. Numerous languages of Kazakhs and Uyghur origins are spoken in Xinjiang. The ili turki is a Turkic language which has almost disappeared at the present time.

Xinjiang is the largest Chinese administrative division. Its capital is Ürümqi. Situated in the northwest of the country it has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region making it a strategic area for Beijing.

Xinjiang is surrounded by Tibet in the South, Qinghai and Gansu in the southeast, Mongolia in the East, Russia in the North and Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the part of Kashmir controlled by India in the West. Xinjiang administers the region of Aksai Chin, the region considered by India as a part of Jammu and Kashmir.

Due to its geographical situation in Central Asia, Xinjiang is a passageway where numerous ethnic groups live together as a result  of the diverse waves of colonization which followed one another: Indo-European populations (Tocharian or Tokharian and the Saka, being the latter of Iranian language) ancient nomadic-based people, the Xiongnu, primal - Turkish, Turkish and finally primal - Mongolian populations.

Xinjiang in China

The very last archaeological researches brought to light several very well preserved bodies among which most could have been the ones of Tokharian or Sakas. They date back from the 1st and 2nd millennium BC.

Existing Xinjiang results from centuries of fight between the Chinese dynasties and the colonizing people.The Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) failed repeatedly in its attempts to take control of the region: from the second century BC, the Chinese broke in the Xinjiang territory and were in conflict with the Xiongnu, ancient nomadic-based people which dominated Central Asia from 200 BC to 48 AD.

A principle of military colonies was established by Emperor Wu of Han, -also translated Han Wudi- the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty of China and his successors, but turned out to be a failure.


However, the Chinese dynasty of the Tang took back this idea and developed from the 7th century AD imposing officers in the cities of Karachahr, Kuqa City, Kashgar and Khotan. Tang Dynasty lost power over of the territory in the 8th century to the benefit of Tibetans and Uyghurs.

The Uighur Khan Bögü was converted to Manicheism after having taken Chang'an (Xi’an) in 762/63, and invaluable manuscripts dating from the end of the first millenarian were found in Xinjiang and in Gansu, located in the northwest of China: magnificent enlightenment near Turpan also known as Turfan or Tulufan, important religious texts discovered by the sinologist Paul Pelliot in the Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas forming a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang.

Nevertheless the reign of the Uyghurs suffered from significant events: the numerous Turkish ethnic groups defied their power, and forced them to require the protection of the Mongolian populations. However, the Turkish ethnic groups managed to defeat this protectorate and introduced the Muslim religion in Xinjiang during the 10th and 11th centuries, and installed it durably.

The Nestorian Christianity, which reached Mongolia and China, was during a long time present by the Uyghurs; in the 14th century, a Nestorian bishop's palace in Kashgar as well as the historic capital of Xinjiang gives evidence of it.


In 1759, the region was integrated into the Chinese State under the name Xiyu meaning Western Region.

The Manchu Empire gained a victory against Dzungar people with as consequence the incorporation of oriental Turkestan in the empire in 1876. This region is then set up as province under the name of Xinjiang, on November 18th, 1884.

After the Manchu Empire was destitute by the Chinese nationalists in 1911, Oriental Turkestan fall under the command of the nationalist Chinese government. Uyghurs, wanting to release itself from the foreign domination, fighted on numerous occasions against the nationalist Chinese power and twice, in 1933 and 1944, managed to install a Republic independent from the oriental Turkestan.

The second Republic of Oriental Turkestan, which remained independent during five years, fell prey to communist China in 1949 after its leaders were killed in a mysterious plane crash by fighting to a meeting with the Chinese president Mao Tse Tung.

Shortly after the People's Republic of China got back this territory, its borders were modified. Its surface reduced then from 1 820 000 in 1949 in 1 626 000 km ², for the benefit of the provinces of Qinghai and Gansu.

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